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So the Human World has fallen apart: the grid is down, governments have imploded, the economy is in shambles, people have died in the billions, global warming has made severe weather (much more) commonplace and the survivors are warring for dominance Mad-Max-style in ramshackle battle buggies and living off scavenged materials.

Handwaving the plausibility of it (I don't know about that), what if one group decided to rebuild or revive factories and start mass-producing weapons and vehicles? What would be the most viable path of industrial development for such an endeavor? Starting with a stable community of a few hundred with sustainable farming, scavenging, and crafting industries established. Where should they go from there in terms of industrial advancement?

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  • $\begingroup$ You'll have to tell us what is left. If you are starting from, say the Middle Ages, the best path that we know of is the path that history took. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Feb 20 '18 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ Australia, since it is not a nuclear power, and is in the southern hemisphere, isolated from the northern hemisphere radioactive winds, is the most likely country to survive relatively intact. Brazil would be a pretty close second. Neither is a major military threat, nor in anyone's Armageddon sights. If this is the case in your scenario, I would suggest Australian industrial production would be the most likely to come back. Please clarify, is it a military conflagration? $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 20 '18 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Maybe I should have mentioned that there wasn't a nuclear war. $\endgroup$ – Geoffrey Carlton Feb 20 '18 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, perhaps you should edit and make that clear. Also, is it an economic collapse? That is a very under-rated reason for such a scenario, especially as it would impact on health care. I am reminded of the Benet Buggies in Western Canada during the depression. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 20 '18 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ If the governments collapsed, did the corporations as well? They seem like the ones to take power once there is no one in their way. The only thing that will destroy them is widespread (nuclear) war. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Feb 20 '18 at 20:26
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Before I give you my details, I have one word for you, just one word...

Stability

It is impossible to reintnroduce manufacturing on a 20th or 21st century level without it. If your world is still burdened by semi-mechanized banditry, you're going to be out of luck, because they know as well as everyone else that the reintroduction of mechanized warfare numbers their days.

Having said that, all you need do is examine the chain of dependencies to realize what you need.

Electricity Nuclear, wind-farm, solar-farm, coal, hydroelectric.

  • Coal is likely the easiest to maintain (requires the least amount of specialized employees to fix anything), but it requires access to coal (railway, mining) and so has the highest dependency.

  • Solar farms are likely the easiest to get going and operate, and they require the least in terms of source material, but they'll be harder to defend (they cover more area than coal. A lot more area), and very difficult to maintain (second highest dependency on specialized labor).

  • Wind farms aren't worth it. Compared to everything else they break quickly and are easily broken. You need cranes to fix just about anything. Post-apoclypse, I'd leave these to the ruffians.

  • Hydroelectric means dams. There aren't very many of them, and once something about the turbines breaks you're very much out of luck. I'd ignore these, too.

  • Nuclear power is interesting. It has the highest dependency on specialized labor, but once it's running, it runs for years without refuling (the average plant refuels every two or so years, but that's at full operating capacity). I suspect that low refuel dependency would make them very, very desirable.

Communication Telegraph, 1970s/80s phones, VHF, cell phones.

  • The strength of telegraph is that it's simple, and post-apocalyptic, simple is good. The weaknesses of telegraph include (a) you need a set of wires between every pair of points that need a conversation (or you need to cache your conversations) and (b) only one conversation can be had on a set of wires at one time. That's a little limiting, but probably your best choice because, with a bit of patience and coordination, it would work. Of course, all those miles of undefended wire is, well... undefended.

  • Modern phones require fewer wire pairs to have all those conversations and, thanks to signal multiplexing, you can have as many people talking (basically) as you want. But, by comparison, they're infinitely more complex than telegraph, requiring specialized labor to maintain the service. They're more convenient, but there's still all that undefended wire....

  • VHF radio has the benefit of no wires and isn't all that complicated. It's probably the superior solution over relatively short distances (5-20 miles). The problem is line-of-sight, which radio depends heavily on. Sure, you can add signal repeaters, etc., but now you're adding specialized labor on top of specialized labor. Yuck. If everything's inside the same valley, this is your top choice.

  • Cell phones are out. You need cell towers and satellites and wealthy girls carrying toy dogs and a whole host of voodoo. It's actually quite impressive, the labor dependency we have for the luxury of our cell phones. I wouldn't even consider this. Unfortunately, the world is becoming less and less land-line-based. That means that, post-apocalypse, cell phones might be the only available solution... but the dependencies... they wouldn't stay running very long, and once they're gone, it's unlikely you'll get them back soon. You may need to string your own wire with telegraph, but at least it could be depended on (except for all those miles of undefended wire... sigh...). Of course, to string telegraph wires you need wire....

Raw Materials—Iron/Steel, rubber, brass/copper, diesel/gasoline (we're mechanized, right?).... This is almost the deal killer.

The problem with raw materials is that they're almost never where you need them. One might be here, but another is way up north, and another is on the other side of a difficult to defend bridge, and yet another is hundreds of miles away. Each facility requires electricity and communication, defense, plus all the tools they need to dig, extract, purify, and transport their production. Oh, did I say transport? Dang... this is getting messy...

Transportation trucks, big trucks, little trucks, and the cars that help people get to where the trucks are.... And that means fuel, and lubricants, and tires (lots and lots of tires), and more metal, and the ability to construct and maintain them. Which means we need wrenches....

Dependency Manufacturing

This is the real killer, and I apologize for the lengthy path to get to this point — but it's a path that had to be experienced. To run a factory (and all of its dependencies, which I've only touched on... and that should terrify you, by the way...), you need tools. Those tools come from somewhat simpler factories, which need tools, which come from (occasionally) somewhat simpler factories, which need tools. This is THE vicious circle when it comes to bringing any form of modern technology back to life. You need nuts & bolts, screwdrivers and wrenches, welding and die cutting, rolling and molding, and a whole lot more. I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that the manufacture of a tank — even a simple tank like a Sherman — requires 30+ factores OTHER than the tank factory making all those other tools and parts. Remember, you also need trucks and conveyor belts, and mining drills, and gunpowder... somewhere somebody had better be making the gunpowder... Ugh.

And, of course, each of those factories requires access to raw materials, electricity, communication, transportation...

Now you have a city, and need much more than just what your tank needs

You need food distribution, waste disposal, utiltities, a judiciary, and recreation (if you don't want a riot on your hands), and (of course) government, police, fire, medical, and janitors... everybody always forgets the janitors....

Modern technology of any kind sits atop a pyramid of technological advancement and both social and manufacturing infrastracture. That pyramid is astonishingly massive in a way that makes the Apollo moon missions seem like a quick pop to the corner store for a burrito. Yes, you can do without some of that pyramid... but not all of it... or even most of it. If it were possible to "just build a tank" then people would be doing it in their garages for fun.

Which brings us back to stability

A political collapse means looting and vandalism, but most of the infrastructure is still more-or-less intact. You need the specialized labor, but that can be retrained with time. All you need is stability and you can get people back to work.

The question is, can you restabilize a city, plus the farming and mining areas it depends on, before the skills are injuriously lost or the machines, etc., begin to decay (rust stinks...)?

If the answer is yes, then the most viable path is the path to stability, which might require an army, which requires logistics and support, which requires manufacturing...

Oh, dear...

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    $\begingroup$ Repeat after me: Rule number one: 'There is no such thing as 'All you have to do is...''. Rule number two: 'There is no such thing as 'All you need is...''. Rule number three: 'There is no such thing as 'All you have to say is...''. Rule number four: 'There is no such thing as 'All you have to make is....'' ... $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 20 '18 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ The overlooked feature here is that there is an enormous wealth of intermediate materials already available for scavenging. There are enough components available in any small city to supply survivors with just about everything they need for a considerable period of time. There are more than enough tools, bolts, motors, electrical cabling, and solar panels available - you don't need to build it all from scratch. The lack of available labor, after meeting the basic needs for survival, for specialists to do this manufacturing is the true limitation. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 20 '18 at 19:16
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There was a nifty book about this and one of the big surprising things for me was the need for stainless steel to get a chemical industry going (necessary for everything else).
Many of the points made are stated by the other answers here (and diplomacy is major, aiding stability and resources, rivers and roads to transport them on, etc).

1632 is the initial novel in the best-selling alternate history 1632 book series written by American historian, writer and editor Eric Flint published in 2001. The flagship novel kicked off a collaborative writing effort that has involved hundreds of contributors and dozens of authors. The premise involves a small American town of three thousand, sent back to May 1631, in an alternate Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War. (wikipedia)

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The most important thing is electricity

Factories run on the electric grid these days. If you have electricity, you can restart factory equipment.

As far as surviving an apocalypse, gas and oil plants will have supply problems; you need some complex infrastructure to mine, refine, and transport that stuff, and much of the necessary infrastructure may be damaged.

Nuclear plants are heavily over-engineered, and I'd wager that most nuclear plants will still work, if they've been shutdown for the whole time and not damaged. On the other hand, there is a lot of risk in starting up a plant, and the knowledge to operate is pretty specialized and rare.

Coal power plants are a good bet to restart. They are mechanically rather simple, and coal is relatively easy to mine and easy to transport. Hydroelectric plants where the dam has not been damaged will still be in working condition.

For both coal and hydro power, however, there is the problem of the electric generation parts. The electric windings, if undamaged by looting, are unlikely to be functional due to corrosion over some decades. Furthermore, modern generators are electronically regulated, and all that electronics would be expected not to work.

You are probably going to have to re-build an electric generator from scratch to attach to a hydro- or coal plant's turbines. This will be the first step to re-industrialization. Once someone figures out how to do that, and starts generating electricity, a lot more scavengable machine tools will become available.

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I dabble in machining my own guns. I can tell you right now that getting a factory running again is one thing, but who is replacing the parts used to make the parts? In real life factories are themselves supported by yet other factories making the tools that make the tools. Contrary to popular belief piles of ore dont go in one side while fully equipped humvees pop out the other. Also, as dramatic as having some pale-faced warboyz huffing paint and throwing grenades at eachother is its pretty hard to imagine such people coming back from a raid, sitting down, and studying complex geometry, metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, and matierial sciences and physics so they can machine new fuel injectors for thier engines. If they were that smart they wouldnt need to be out raiding in the first place. If such intelligent people managed to get established and organized in the first place wiping out raiders would probably be a prerequisite event prior to setting up all of thier facilities.

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In addition to great @JBH answer I would say

Mass production requires mass demand

Any factory generates its production in large amount. This is what distuingish factory from handicraft and was the main advantage of mass production. As JBH said, your factory depends on many others which have to produce raw materials like steel and machine tools like crane in mass. If nobody except you needs crane then there are no factory which producing cranes.

If you decide to start from scratch then you have to build up the ecoconomic industrial system in a country scale. Top and highly mechanised weapons like aircrafts or tanks could produce only few countries so you have to build up system of big size like Germany. I suppose that Greece-sized industry doesn't enough to make tanks in mass.

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There is a wealth of fantastic information in the other answers, so I will simply stress on one point which needs to be addressed in order to have mechanized warfare (or mechanized anything, really) and that is the ability to manufacture and maintain the engines which power the machinery.

Leonardo da Vinci drew perhaps the first known "tank" in 1498, and modern teams have reproduced versions of the "tank", including firing replica cannons from inside. Except for fixing the gearing, the tank actually works, but like much of Leonardo's catalogue of inventions, it is powered by human muscle, and real version of the tank can only move on hard, level ground. Humans don't provide enough energy to move cross country, uphill or over broken ground.

enter image description here

Leonardo's sketch of an Armoured Fighting Vehicle

Leonardo also invented a "car" to amaze the guests of the Duke d'Sforza. Powered by large springs, it actually runs, and modern reproductions can move about 40m before the springs unwind.

enter image description here

Leonardo's spring powered car

Various inventors looked at mechanized warfare after Leonardo, but the essential ability to provide a self contained engine with a high enough power to weight ratio eluded inventors until the creation of the internal combustion engine (and even then, the first machine we would recognize as a "tank" did not appear until 1915)

enter image description here

Little Willie, the first modern tank

So mechanized warfare depends first and foremost on having efficient engines that can actually power the machines followed by the logistical train necessary to build and repair these engines, as well as supply sufficient qualities and quantities of fuel and lubricants to run them. In essence, it is more important to have workshops and fuel trucks than it is to have tanks!

However, mechanized warfare does not entirely depend on armoured fighting vehicles. So long as you have the logistics train to maintain scavenged vehicles and can make or supply your own fuel and lubricants, then you can create a mechanized force using these:

enter image description here

Technical in Yemen

Since Pickup trucks and SUV's are incredibly popular in the United States, finding working examples and salvaging others for parts isn't going to be a great issue. Finding skilled mechanics to keep them going and having enough industrial capability in the "homeland" to distill alcohol fuel or make biodiesel or use pyrolizers to make "wood gas" to run them will be the key limitation.

enter image description here

Modern wood gas generator

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My answer is going to depend on a few assumptions, that are not addressed in your handwaving. However, these assumptions are not absolute, and are done for illustrative purposes only. They just set the stage for the answer.

If we projected your timeline to a few decades from now, the following scenario is plausible.

1) Climate change storms have devastated the economy. This year, for instance, a few severe storms have cost America upwards of five percent of its GDP just to get back on its feet. Extend this for ten years, of increasingly more severe storms, and you have the case of the Red Queen running all out just to stay in one place. Eventually, the entire GDP goes just to repairing storm damage.

2) All coastal areas have been flooded, and wiped out by repeated tsunamis and storm surges. The death toll is in the billions.

3) Severe drought, and severe rains, have combined to destroy significant vast swaths of agricultural lands. Famine is extent.

4) Severe weather has significantly destroyed much of our power generation. Storms have taken out much of the grid. Hydro projects are wiped out due to flooding. Dams have collapsed. There just isn't enough human resources to repair it all. Think Puerto Rico on steroids. As soon as a transmission line is repaired, another storm comes along and takes it down.

5) Enough Fukushimas have occurred, that nuclear power stations have all been decommissioned. Wind is erratic. Solar farms can not keep up with storm damage. The earth has run out of oil and gas. Simply put, there is not enough power.

6) With the loss of power, the computer infrastructure shut down. Huge server farms could not be cooled. (Already, more of Iceland's power goes to crypto-currency server farms than is used by the public). The 'cloud' simply over-heated and melted. Crypto-currencies had become endemic, but the huge server farms that support it have all been turned off. Vast wealth has just disappeared overnight.

7) With the collapse of digital banking, bank accounts are meaningless. There is no stock market. Paper trails no longer exist. Most greenback wealth has been wiped out. The world economy has become hard cash only.

8) The general public has become demoralized, and have lost all faith in their leaders to protect them and keep them safe. People have simply lost trust in political leaders. The law has become so corrupt, and ideological, that it can not be relied upon. People have lost hope. Military discipline has collapsed, and revolted. Society has become a leaderless free-for-all. Everyone for themselves.

9) Hospitals lost funding, were pushed over the limit by disaster victims, medicine was in short supply. Disease became rampant. Modern medicine is only useful if it is manufactured, distributed, and dispensed.

10) The youth of the world became despondent. Nothing to look forward to. They just stopped going to school. The educational system collapsed. They were demoralized by the depravities of their parents. Social mores collapsed, the worth of a human life became determined by 'status', and they just gave up. No more engineers, doctors, physicists, chemists, teachers, programmers, tradespeople were being trained. The youth just gave up completely on school. The world simply had no one left to maintain the infrastructure. No one left to do the repairs. No one left to design the machines. The youth all walked out of school, and never returned. They completely lost hope.

TL:DR

It is point number 9) health care and 10) collapse of education that are the important ones to this question. Both of these require a strong central government and infrastructure. They require resources and planning. They require an economy. They require leadership and central planning.

No society can re-build without a health care system and an educational system. It needs healthy, well-trained motivated youth to sustain it. Once a society looses the motivation and the drive of young people, there is not much hope. When the youth become disillusioned and turned off, the adults are toast. Adults grow old and die off. Add to this the technological demands of rebuilding a society - the old technology just isn't going to work any more, brand new ways of doing things are going to have to be developed - the requirements for young, bright, well-trained healthy (mentally and physically) eager minds becomes crucial. Without new trained creative minds, the end result is inevitable. The world has become uninhabitable by humans under the old system, and it needs fresh, new, intelligent healthy minds to create a new order.

So that is the key to your solution.

You need a strong leader that can motivate, instill confidence in, give hope to, and organize the young people that are left. The second step is to establish an educational system and educational institutions that can attract, recruit and train the youth that will become the professionals that will be needed to rehabilitate society. Youth whose minds have been reset into a completely different zeitgeist than the one that created the mess in the first place.

But absolutely, the zeroth step is to repair the moral fabric of the society. You can't build up on the backs of demoralized youth.

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