WorldChanging has put up an interesting interview with the Center For Responsible Nanotechnology entitled Revolution In A Box.
A fitting name for the next upcoming industrial nanotech revolution.
CRNano explains the possibilities and implications of a nanofactory:
CRN: The first, tiny nanofactory will be built by intricate laboratory techniques; then that nanofactory will have to build a bigger one, and so on, many times over. This means that even the earliest usable nanofactory will necessarily work extremely fast and be capable of making highly functional products with moving parts. So, in addition to laptops and phones, an early nanofactory should be able to make cars, home appliances, and a wide array of other products.
Medicines and food will not be early products. A large number of reactions will be required to make the vast variety of organic molecules. Some molecules will be synthesized more easily than others. It may work better first to build (using a nanofactory) an advanced fluidic system that can do traditional chemistry.
Food will be especially difficult because it contains water. Water is a small molecule that would float around and gum up the factory. Also, food contains a number of large and intricate molecules for taste and smell; furthermore, nourishing food requires mineral elements that would require extra research to handle with nanofactory-type processes.
CRN: It's important to understand that molecular manufacturing implies exponential manufacturing--the ability to rapidly build as many desktop nanofactories (sometimes called personal fabricators) as you have the resources for. Starting with one nanofactory, someone could build thousands of additional nanofactories in a day or less, at very low cost. This means that projects of almost any size can be accomplished quickly.
Those who have access to the technology could use it to build a surveillance system to track six billion people, weapons systems far more powerful than the world's combined conventional forces, construction on a planetary scale, or spaceflight as easy as airplane flight is today.
Massive construction isn't always bad. Rapid construction could allow us to build environmental remediation technologies on a huge scale. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are suggesting that equipment could be built to remove significant quantities of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. With molecular manufacturing, this could be done far more quickly, easily, and inexpensively.
In addition to being powerful, the technology will also be deft and exquisite. Medical research and treatment will advance rapidly, given access to nearly unlimited numbers of medical robots and sensors that are smaller than a cell.
This only scratches the surface of the implications. Molecular manufacturing has as many implications as electricity, computers, and gasoline engines.
Also worth reading are Explosion Expected For Nanotechnology and New Device Revolutionizes Nano Imaging.
The latter one describes a fairly impressive breakthrough in science's quest for advanced nanotechnology (that includes nanofactories):
Georgia Tech researchers have created a highly sensitive atomic force microscopy (AFM) technology capable of high-speed imaging 100 times faster than current AFM. This technology could prove invaluable for many types of nano-research, in particular for measuring microelectronic devices and observing fast biological interactions on the molecular scale, even translating into movies of molecular interactions in real time.