At the Future Centre we started to study the future of manufacturing considering 3D printing and nanotechnologies several years ago. Now, at EIT ICT Labs we are looking at Industry 4.0, a dramatic change in the manufacturing landscape that will take place in the next twenty years but, and here is why we are working on it, that it is starting to affect niches right now.
Hence my interest for the announcement by DARPA (the same guys that 50 years ago set in motion the what became the Internet, so you've got to pay attention).
The program, A2P -Atoms to Products, was announced at the end of August 2014 and aims at creating the basic technological building blocks that will make bottom-up manufacturing (from atoms to products) possible in the range between the "nano" and the "hundreds of microns", an area where we are missing industrial assembling technology. The goal is to be able to design desirable characteristics at material level (which is possible with nanotechnologies) and then to manufacture objects exploiting them.
In the words of John Main, DARPA program manager:
“We want to explore new ways of putting incredibly tiny things together, with the goal of developing new miniaturization and assembly methods that would work at scales 100,000 times smaller than current state-of-the-art technology. If successful, A2P could help enable creation of entirely new classes of materials that exhibit nanoscale properties at all scales. It could lead to the ability to miniaturize materials, processes and devices that can’t be miniaturized with current technology, as well as build three-dimensional products and systems at much smaller sizes.”
This is nothing new: Nature works exactly in this way, from atoms and molecules up to living beings. We are "manufactured" in this way from a oocyte and a sperm cell to a full human being.
Proposers days webinars took place in September. Now we just have to wait and see what industry and universities will propose as research paths to reach this goal.