On the heels of Jabil’s recently announced collaboration with Fictiv, we catch up directly with the digital manufacturing company for a look at their latest 3D printing strategies.
I spoke with Jabil’s Vice President of Digital Manufacturing, John Dulchinos, for insights into the Fictive relationship, facilities updates, and a general look at where additive manufacturing makes economic sense in manufacturing today.
We also discussed the company’s COVID-19 response, which revealed interesting depths of the value proposition of 3D printing in the supply chain, published as the first part of this interview.
One important thing to remember about Jabil is that the company is quite pragmatic; while they’ve invested deep into 3D printing, this isn’t the place for pie-in-the-sky plans. Jabil is a serious company and takes the business of manufacturing quite seriously, and well beyond the startup perspective. Indeed, Dulchinos noted as we started our chat, “We’re coming at this from a manufacturing perspective.”
When it comes to building up capabilities in additive manufacturing, the ‘where’ matters; this is why we hear so many announcements about new technology centers — they’re rather important. Having properly equipped facilities staffed with knowledgeable employees is key to the success of any endeavor.
For Jabil, these facilities include:
- A Materials Innovation Center opened in Chaska, Minnesota about 18 months ago dedicated to Jabil Engineered Materials operations
- An AS9100 Rev D- and ISO 9001-certified facility in Seattle
- A metal additive manufacturing operation going live in Albuquerque
- An additive manufacturing lab and service center at the San Jose Blue Sky Center
- An operation in Singapore producing industrial printer parts and servicing greater Asia
- A medical center in Waterford, Ireland recently qualified for 3D printing
- A tech center in Switzerland
Dulchinos broke it down as well by where they do what. For operations in Albuquerque, Waterford, and Switzerland work focuses on medical 3D printing, while in Seattle the focus is on polymer 3D printing for aerospace, and general industry operations take place at the tech center in Blue Sky.
“These are all production operations, except for the Switzerland lab. These are production centers with manufacturing certifications, including certifications needed for operating in aerospace and in healthcare,” Dulchinos noted. “We’re making good progress. I think we’re focused in the areas where the best adoption is today for production, healthcare, and aerospace. Those are where people really value the flexibility that 3D printing allows in design and in lack of tooling.”
In terms of the Fictiv partnership announced last week, Dulchinos noted that they have used the company as a partner over the last 12-18 months to connect with customers who need parts.
“The appeal for Fictiv is bringing them manufacturing quality and certifications they don’t necessarily have access to across the rest of their network,” he continued. “This is the beginning, I think, of a step by companies like Fictiv to be able to introduce more production-oriented applications. Network built around prototyping and parts that didn’t have a level of manufacturing behind them, but gain them through this relationship with Jabil; that’s our forte. Our belief is that over time this will start to reduce the transaction cost associated with procuring components. We’re seeing early adopting with Fictiv around that; ti’s the beginning of what will, I think, be a rebalancing as our customers procure certain parts in the manufacturing supply chain.”
Jabil has “produced hundreds of parts” with Fictiv, and now will “continue to scale the partnership.”
Jabil Engineered Materials
Last year, Jabil introduced its Engineered Materials business, and we caught up with the team at that time to discuss potential implications. Now that the business is up and running, we’re due for an update.
“As we talked about before, we opened this end-to-end materials innovation center and site in Minnesota. We opened the doors probably two and a half years ago, and it came live last January with engineering operations. We’ve introduced a number of different filaments now with some really interesting properties. We have an awesome replacement for TPU, for example, with better characteristics and printability that’s used in tooling operations. We’ve been able to create some really differentiated filament that has grown out of our expertise inside the company around applications that we have and need to solve. We’re using those materials in-house,” Dulchinos said.
In addition, Jabil has been establishing partnerships with companies like MakerBot and channel partners like DigiKey, “to make these materials available to a wider audience than Jabil.”
These materials may appear as coming from Jabil Engineered Materials, or have also been white labeled and “supplied to suppliers who brand their product lines.”
“We’ve also been working on some really good innovations around powders. We haven’t formally announced any yet, but will be in the very near future. They have some really great characteristics as well,” Dulchinos teased.
For Jabil Engineered Materials, the goal isn’t to reproduce other 3D printing filaments (or powders) one might find elsewhere. As Dulchinos noted, the team uses these materials internally as well as selling them, and each has been developed for its specific material properties to address real-world needs.
“Our focus is not just to duplicate materials or commodity materials, it’s really on engineering for better performance of the product or application, or for better printing characteristics that allow us to be better as a platform,” he explained. “One way to think about it is, at the core we’re doing basic materials science around polymers and thermoplastics. Things fit into a variety of form factors; some making filament, others 3D printing powders, and in other cases we’re making pellets. At the end of the day, the form factor of the material shipped out the door is the last step in the process.”
To illustrate the addressing of these specific needs, Dulchinos pointed again to the work Jabil has been doing in pandemic response. With shortages for not just equipment but also materials, Jabil discovered a significant need for filter media for N95 and other face masks. The engineering team was then “able to find solutions for those gaps that allowed us to produce mask and filter media when there wasn’t a good supply.”
“Having this technical expertise in materials allowed us not only to create new applications with differentiated properties, but also allows us to deal with supply chain shortages and be able to shore up gaps in the marketplace and supply where we wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” he said.
Jabil Additive Manufacturing Strategy
As a digital manufacturing solutions provider, Jabil is not in and of itself a 3D printing company. Rather, the business model is one that seeks the best-fit manufacturing solution — and it just so happens that increasingly 3D printing is that solution.
“We don’t really have a dog in the fight. We’re not a 3D printing company saying ‘let’s make 3D printing work in this application’, we’re not an injection molding company forcing you to go down that path. What we do is look at this wide range of technologies and make the best recommendation to customers,” Dulchinos said.
“No technology is perfect. We look at a wide range of capabilities. We’re extremely bullish on 3D printing, and continuing to build out our capabilities at a strong pace. In the broad scheme of things, though, that’s still a narrow value proposition. We’re looking at a range of new and traditional capabilities where we can shine and where we can really help customers.”