Replicators are available in small stand alone units, and these must be supplied with power and periodically re-stocked with raw material to keep them running. However, most replicator systems consist of little more than a rematerializing unit and a computer subprocessor / interface panel. Many thousands of these units can be connected to a large central dematerializer and transformational matrix system, controlled by a computer holding many thousands of stored patterns and stocked with many tons of raw material. When a user wants to replicate something he or she inputs the request to the terminal, which requests the item from the central system. Once the dematerialization and patterning processes are complete, the matter stream is routed through a network of wave guides to the terminal which originated the request and dematerialized there. This system saves having to keep thousands of individual replicators constantly stocked with raw materials.
In theory any object can be made from any basic raw material, but in practice significant energy saving can be made by using certain materials; for replication of food items an organic particulate suspension is used; a combination of long chain molecules , this substance has been specially designed, statistically speaking, to require the minimum number of molecular transformations to achieve the maximum variety of foodstuffs. Equivalent stocks are available for replication of non foodstuffs, with the control computer making the choice automatically.
Replicators which also have a dematerialization system installed can also serve as waste receptacles; waste placed into these can be dematerialized and returned to the central stock, ready to be replicated again. Until recently it was far more efficient to simply collect and recycle the waste by conventional methods, and using replicator terminals in this way was rare. However, recent advances in replicator technology have made such systems a viable proposition and this form of recycling is gradually becoming more commonplace.
Larger scale industrial replicators are available for the creation of a very wide variety of items which previously required dedicated factories to manufacture them. However, these replicator systems are limited in their abilities - the main such limit being the size of the object produced. For larger manufactured items, it is necessary to replicate smaller components and assemble them via traditional methods. Unfortunately the dream of the replicated skyscraper or starship remains a long way off!
All present day replicator systems share one basic limitation; they operate at the molecular resolution. As such, significant numbers of single bit errors will occur at the quantum level during any replication. Many claim that this gives replicated foodstuffs a distinctly inferior flavour to the 'real thing', although this may be more a question of bias against the technology rather than any discernible difference.However, the errors are more than sufficient to prevent replication of the precise energy states involved in neural and bioelectric patterns. These patterns, which are reproduced exactly during the operation of the transporter, are necessary to materialize a living being; this limitation therefore prevents the replication of any living thing via standard methods.
This information is courtesy of the Daystrom Institute Technical Library and copyright Graham Kennedy.