Saturday, December 29, 2007

Starship Production Times in Star Trek

Originally Posted by Falin:
I proposed that the larger and more complex a ships design, the long it would take to be constructed. I used the example that the Big D took approximatly 15 years to be built, and that it was the third ship f it's class to be constructed.

Phillip countered that as the more are built, the faster the process goes.
Aren't both of those observations true?

The observation that complex things take longer to create than simple things seems pretty self-evident.

But it's also true that most things that are intended to be produced more than once typically have a long development time, an extended initial production time, and a shorter long-term production time as efficiencies are found in the assembly-line production process.

So the time to produce any such thing, whether it's a battleship or a sub or a fighter aircraft, is directly proportional to its complexity and inversely proportional (to a lesser degree) to the number of units previously assembled.

I don't see any reason to think these effects wouldn't still apply to starship construction, even if replicators and robotic assembly are factored in. Complexity (size, advanced materials, state-of-the-art subsystems) would still tend to increase the base production time, and having built several ships would still tend to reduce construction time by some amount from the first ships off the line (10-20% doesn't seem unreasonable).

Another thing: I'm less sure that this matters in the Star Trek universe, but in our world there's also usually a reduction in the cost per unit over the life of a production line. Every time some new weapon system comes up for funding, the number of units to be produced is always a major point of discussion because that has a significant impact on the overall cost of the program -- more units means a lower per-unit cost.

Finally, it should be noted that the more complex vehicles tend to be built by multiple subcontractors in multiple locations. This creates all kinds of funky side-effects, in particular political log-rolling. A politician can create many jobs by having part of a major vehicle built in his or her district, while the threat of closing down such a fabrication site can also be used as a tool for extracting votes on other issues from the politician in whose district the production line is located.

But I'm sure that would never happen in the happy Federation, right?