At Spin Two Swords
Industry in the Future
(1 star) Manufacturing:
There are four tiers of manufacturing: human (or alien) built, robot built (factory built), printer built (factory built), and nanite built. At reasonably low tech levels (TL 7), it is still possible to underbid a robot manufacturing force by exploiting a human population. Humans, at this point, are better than robots at changing tasks. At TL 8 and especially at TL 9, robots can switch from one manufacturing job as fast or faster than humans. At this point, it is economically unfeasible to pay people a living wage for their work. A factory at TL 8 has very few humans in it, and as tech level goes up, there are fewer and fewer humans in the factory.
This means that on a TL 7 world, there will be factories making in-house items using human workers, but it is highly unlikely that anything they received from a megacorp would have been touched by a human hand, even by the hands of overly oppressed and dominated humans.
Manufacturing isn’t big business in an of itself. Things can be simply and cheaply made and the point when materials become sturdy and reliable enough that designed obsolesce is no longer a solution to this problem.
(2 stars) Research and Design
Design is an important industry to a limited degree. Design is aided by computers at TL 7. Computer and robotic aid increases with TL. Employing user feedback and computer modeling, a human eventually is unnecessary to produce innovation. At the same time, the Imperium is more than 1500 years old. New things don’t pop up that often.
On TL 10 or lower, research and design are still carried out by humans using computers as tools. At higher TLs, human designers are no longer necessary.
For in house technology, human designers and researchers are necessary only on planets with tech levels lower than 10, but anything mass produced in the imperium by a mega corp will be designed by a combination of computers and user input.
(1 star) Shipping
Even at its best, shipping is problematic. In-house manufacturing may require materials from off-world and will probably also require products be shipped to them. At around TL 9, however, it becomes just as easy to simply send the plans to the 3d printer and have it print things out. Between 3d printers and nanite tech, it is still necessary to have printing ‘inks’ which must be shipped. At the point when the nanites become available, they may require shipping, but materials do not. At each stage, less and less weight requires shipping. The idea of a ship flying to the front lines with a hull full of guns is somewhat passé. It’s far more likely that someone will build a massive 3d printer near the war zone, and the ship carries heavy ‘inks’ to the heavy printer, or makes short jumps from the printer to the warzone.
(3 stars) Refining
Refining is huge business precisely because refined materials are necessary for interstellar travel and because 3d printer ‘inks’ are composed of pure (though complex) molecules.
(3 stars) Reclamation
When high tech materials can be made with 3d printers and pure materials, the result is an abundance of trash. Where, after all, do all the nanite materials end up if not in the dump. Like all other TL effects, reclamation becomes easier and easier. Nanites begin to work in reverse to create pure materials from composite machines, for instance. But as long as the materials need 3d inks, they will, necessarily, require a technology to dismantle printed constructions back into inks. Moreover, reclamation is always 2 tech levels beyond the industry. Thus, if the industry could print any non-living material at TL 10, they could only reclaim materials at TL 12. At that tech level, reclamation is probably done in large city-sized factories. At one TL higher, reclamation plants become the size of factories, at a TL higher than that, reclamation might take place in the space the size of a garage, and at a TL higher than that, reclamation probably takes place in a device the size of a washing machine. Nanite processes are part of this technology.
Reclamation technology generally means that shipping moves in the opposite direction. If planets can make something at TL 10, they will need to have that material shipped to a TL 12 world in order to reproduce it into inks, which are then shipped back to the TL 10 world. Instead of raw materials being shipped from low TL to high, the process is reversed.