Just got an email from someone pointing to a rapid prototyping patent application and commenting, "This sounds like "Electromagnetic Molecular Manufacturing"."
I have several doubts about the physics feasibility of the proposed process. But leaving those aside, the point I want to make here is that this process talks about a ten-micron particle size. Molecular manufacturing could build quite a large CPU inside a ten-micron particle!
Rapid prototyping is certainly one of the technologies that's pointing the way toward molecular manufacturing, and giving us a very mild preview of some of its benefits. And it's one of the technology fields that I tend to get emailed about, asking "Is this new breakthrough interesting? Is it related to molecular manufacturing?"
Almost always, it turns out that rapid prototyping technologies, even the most advanced ones, just aren't very close to molecular manufacturing. None of them is atomically precise, and without that, you don't get zero-wear machinery. In fact, most of them use particle sizes on the order of microns--they aren't even nanotechnology.
Rapid prototyping currently has one of the advantages of molecular manufacturing: rapid manufacturing directly from blueprints. However, it is lacking many others:
- Manufacture of complete products (though this is coming closer (and has been for years))
- Atomic precision
- Nanoscale machinery (useful for medicine, etc.)
- High functional density
- High product performance
- Exponential manufacturing (though Neil Gershenfeld is doing exciting work in this direction)
It is good to get excited about what rapid prototyping can do. But it is also important to realize that molecular manufacturing will be able to do far more.