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3D Printer / Replicator : Raw Materials and Distribution Cables


So let's say you have a starship like in Star Trek and you want a Replicator, but don't have the ability to convert matter to an energy form to pass their electrical cables. Basically you have an advanced 3D printer.

What Raw Resources would you need to make just about anything with this device?
Could you reliably and easily transport these materials through a cable system that doesn't have huge cables from a cargo hold?

Also, I know we can print meat, but could we print things like a cooked egg? Or even an uncooked egg?

I'm trying to figure out whether it is better to have such devices in crew quarters on a ship rather than a refridgerator, a mess hall, or some other way to get food and supplies. And also what type of "plumbing" would be needed to set it up.

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3 answers


Without energy to matter converters or desktop controlled fusion (to create one element from another), you need to have as input every element that you want in your output.

You don't need every element - just the most common. The trace elements can be added with special "element cartridges". Based on earth's composition == most commonly used for lots of things Wikipedia list of earth's most abundant:

  1. Iron (32.1%)
  2. Oxygen (30.1%)
  3. Silicon (15.1%)
  4. Magnesium (13.9%)
  5. Sulfur (2.9%)
  6. Nickel (1.8%)
  7. Calcium (1.5%)
  8. Aluminum (1.4%)

That covers 98+% of the earth. Plus you need a few more elements that are biologically important Wikipedia composition of the human body

  1. Carbon
  2. Hydrogen
  3. Nitrogen
  4. Phosphorus
  5. Potassium
  6. Sodium
  7. Chlorine
  8. Magnesium

which together with the first 8 elements comprise 99+% of the human body and most of the things humans eat.

Assuming your advanced starship has nanotechnology capable of performing any reasonable chemical transformation, you just need to have your elements in an easily stored form that is also easily transportable from cargo hold to your shipwide system of replicators. This would certainly include liquids at room temperature. Water (hydrogen + oxygen) and alcohol (carbon + hydrogen + oxygen) provide some key elements on their own and both are excellent solvents for many other elements. In addition to ordinary liquids, gases (e.g., nitrogen) and possibly slurry for large amounts of silicon, iron or similar elements could be piped from the cargo hold to the replicators as well.

A handful of pipes should be sufficient:

For example, a simple saltwater solution includes hydrogen + oxygen + sodium + chlorine, and can include potassium (as potassium chloride) very easily. Additional elements can be included as long as they are mixed thoroughly so that distribution is consistent. Magnesium is a relatively significant element in Earth sea water and can be included here too.

Alcohol can dissolve many things better or more easily than water.

Noble gases can be mixed together with nitrogen as a gaseous feed. I wouldn't include hydrogen or oxygen in that pipe as they can be extracted from the water and alcohol.

Total pipes: minimum 4 (water solution; alcohol solution; slurry for silicon, iron, etc.; gas) but probably 6 - 10 total depending on combinations of elements if multiple water, alcohol or other solutions will more easily provide a useful and homogeneous (each pipe should provide a homogeneous mixture so that your nanobots don't have to wait for anything to be available) mix of elements and to avoid dangerous interactions. Plus the "trace element cartridge" installed manually as needed for gold, silver and other small (by quantity) but important elements.

Route the bundle of pipes as a group together throughout the ship - similar to running cold water + hot water or power + phone + network cables. Every replicator will have everything it needs on tap to produce tea, Early Grey, hot, a raw or cooked egg, steak and potatoes or a replacement part for the Retro Encabulator.



For raw resources, as a baseline, I would say that you need everything non synthetic on the periodic table, with some advisory on which radioactive elements you want (they can be useful in applications like medicine but you probably don't want Joe Blogs running around with plutonium or thorium). Almost every element is used for something so if you don't have a particular element you won't be able to make something that needs it.

If you can predict what you'll need you can limit it to those elements required. So if it's food only then you'll only need biologically important elements. If you're fabricating metal then you'll only need the base metals as well as alloying elements. If you need to do a bit of everything then you come back to that baseline of pretty much everything.

As for transport there are a few possible ways. First up i'm assuming that there is a elemental store of the most commonly used elements for a particular machine in situ to provide an immediate response to common requests.

Then to restock you could: Melt or dissolve everything and pipe the liquid through or powderise the solids and make a slurry. But I feel that this would require a tube for each element so as not to contaminate or cause unwanted reactions which would quickly require a massive bus of tubes so my personal favourite is a pneumatic tube type system (probably an electromagnetic version of the sytem). As the machine gets low, or receives a request for an element it doesn't have it sends a signal to the central storage requesting a top up, this top up it popped in a capsule and whisked away to the correct machine.

As to printing complex structures like eggs. We can not do it today but it is likely just a matter of time.

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How does your body do it?

A fluid carries nanoscale capsules of all kinds. Each is tagged with its contents, and it's expandable to new types as well.

The unit grabs the capsules it wants and passes the rest. Common capsules carry atoms for most common uses. Specialized jobs may need different capsules bearing unique atoms.

The fluid is looped, so the central supplier can see what's coming back and top off what was taken. If mpre rare capsules are needed, the fluid runs through the loop until enough is gathered, and the supplier can be informed of the need and dump a quantity into the stream.

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