Today, Jabil Engineered Materials debuts; we spoke with two executives to find out why the move is promising for the 3D printing industry.
“For the last four years we’ve been on a journey to take 3D printing and figure out how to take it to additive manufacturing. My perspective, four years in, is: it’s a long journey,” John Dulchinos, Vice President of Digital Manufacturing, Jabil, said in opening. “A lot needs to happen for us for this to be a mainstream solution in manufacturing.”
Having said that, though, he noted that that long road has been paved with some early successes. Jabil and its network of partnered technologies has been involved in usage that is “underscoring real applications around 3D printing,” he said.
“From our viewpoint, we’ve been systematically trying to knock down the barriers that have restrained our ability to produce production-grade parts at a price and quality level we’re used to in other industries,” Dulchinos continued.
For additive manufacturing to prove truly competitive to traditional manufacturing technologies, the process must be reliable, repeatable, and meet or exceed the performance qualities and price points of conventional solutions.
A huge part of that puzzle is in materials. For real-world use, real-world materials are needed. There’s been a growing focus on engineering-grade materials throughout the 3D printing industry lately, and Jabil’s throwing its hat into this ring is certainly no fluke. The company takes an MPM (material, process, machine) approach to qualifying 3D printing for use.
“From our viewpoint, we’ve been systematically trying to knock down the barriers that have restrained our ability to produce production-grade parts at a price and quality level we’re used to in other industries,” Dulchinos said.
One example of a real-world success comes through work Jabil has been doing with HP. For two years now, Jabil has been producing for HP the 3D printed parts that go into their 3D printers, which Dulchinos notes as “a very successful journey.” Dulchinos has told me in previous chats that Jabil has capacity in Singapore around HP’s 3D printers, with more than 140 parts qualified for production for the 300/500 series of Jet Fusion machines. Extending beyond a specific proven use into broader such scenarios is an underlying factor for the Jabil vision. Later this year, Dulchinos continued as we looked toward materials, we’ll be hearing more from Jabil about work in other industries like aerospace and medical, “and how 3D printing really becomes additive manufacturing.”
“In this industry, we’ve been working through the steps that drive additive manufacturing. We aligned with HP because we saw HP as an enterprise solution, working with enterprise-level customers, and thought their technology would be one to get us to a better price performance with integrity of parts,” Dulchinos continued. “We’ve expanded that with EOS and other laser solutions with machines offering a good set of open parameters to allow us to control batch parts.”
Last spring, Jabil looked to connectivity with its Additive Manufacturing Network that streamlines workflows for enhanced efficiency and agility.
“Our view is that our future is about optimizing a network, not optimizing a factory, so we needed a software platform to do that. We hired a bunch of guys from Boeing and through that have been building out this capacity around certification and qualification, really building some good quality and process rigor so we could have the confidence to make parts that we could trust were to whatever quality standards they needed to be,” he said.
And it’s in this context, of creating a comprehensive foundation for additive manufacturing, that “brings us to the last piece of the puzzle”: the new materials center in Minnesota. To the team’s knowledge, this new facility is “the only end-to-end center for innovation in materials for additive” that sees “chemists and other PhDs taking a base formulation, compounding it, creating the necessary additives to optimize for functional requirements, tuned for 3D printers, tune in to process, and end up with a certified manufacturing process.” Market-ready materials to emerge will be for both powder- and filament-based systems.
One “absolutely critical” piece of context for Jabil Engineered Materials is the scalability of solutions — and that means an open platform. Jabil, said Dulchinos, is “not a fan at all of closed ecosystems” as they are “very stifling to the market.”
“No major OEM company, GM or HP or whoever, is going to scale a solution that’s proprietary. Open solutions are the answer,” he said.
“Our rationale is really two-fold. Today materials come from two classes of suppliers, one is proprietary ecosystems […] the other is from big chemical companies like BASF and SABIC. We don’t think proprietary models get you anywhere to get additive manufacturing forward. Large chemical companies are large-scale operations, with this massive scale and volume to validate the investment. Jabil has all of these customers and have developed a deep understanding of requirements for functional needs to serve their requirements.”
The company is looking to “address the void between availability and scale” for new formulations,” Dulchinos noted.
Matt Torosian, Director of Product Management, Jabil Additive, shared a closer look at what that product development looks like.
A strong foundation for Jabil’s confidence in stepping forward with a materials-focused solution is its close relationship with those in need of the solutions.
“When it comes to intimacy with customers and knowledge of their requirements, this is really the basis for materials whether for additive or conventional manufacturing,” Torosian noted. “We’re leveraging those requirements and relationships to develop materials in a way that’s orderly and certifiable. All our facilities will be a minimum of ISO 9001, with further certifications down the road.”
Such industrial certifications are necessary in establishing confidence in manufacturing, particularly for more critical industries. Aerospace and medical, for instance, necessarily have very exacting requirements. Jabil will be “really targeting those markets that are underserved in the additive manufacturing space today, and translate that into parts down the road that need a higher level of certification for more critical applications,” Torosian added. For aerospace, medical, and automotive industries, that means more focus on meeting certifiable needs in that alphabet soup: ISO, UL, FST.
“We’re working with materials, machines, and processes that can easily be certified in a highly regulated market space, and do it in a way that’s commensurate with the speed in additive manufacturing,” he said.
Current certifications in developing customized materials solutions are “not going to cut it,” Torosian said. Jabil wants to drastically cut back the current times it takes to develop customized materials solutions — now at six months to two years. Weeks would be better.
The real hopes for materials focus hinge upon a faster development process with the peace of mind of guaranteed performance.
“We’re really hoping to step into that space in the long tail of engineering with these unique attributes that are really tailored to application-specific requirements. Having that intimacy and knowledge of customer requirements, we can develop materials in a very quick time frame. This then can be integrated in a form a machine can use, powder or filament, and a set of print profiles completed so we can print parts with high confidence. Or maybe we employ these in our own plants that customers can have parts delivered — and be confident parts will be repeatable with the quality Jabil provides around the globe for contract manufacturing,” Torosian said.
With shipments beginning this week, the go-to-market strategy is firmly in place. Jabil will be offering materials to the open market, as well as through internal and external distributors. Working with Chase Plastics and Channel Prime Alliance, materials will go toward the outside world while internally and through established relationships, Jabil will sell direct.
Another relationship notable in this new endeavor is one with Cura for FFF 3D printing, Torosian added. They will provide a print profile that now sees about a 90% success rate using their materials on Ultimaker with Cura, or with Cura on another 3D printer.
“The rationale is,” Dulchinos added of the go-to-market strategy, “we’re looking back at how to serve a market that requires a legitimate supply chain. One thing important to us is that ultimately OEMs will want to get product from multiple sources. Our materials business is set up to be impartial. We’ll supply materials to the Jabil parts business, and separate tot hat if we do a parts contract to GM with Jabil and two others, we’d be able to sell to those other suppliers so they could get multiple sources of supply.”
The team at Jabil is very excited about the new Engineered Materials offering — and for good reason. It represents a strong positioning in an industry in need of that full MPM security. An end-to-end solution is what will set additive manufacturing in motion as a viable solution for scale production.
“What we’re doing is filling a void in the offering of an ecosystem that is limiting the ability to get applications to production scale,” Dulchinos said in closing. “We’re super excited internally: this is something we’ve been working on a long time. Jabil does materials science, so it’s not new for the company in terms of materials science expertise. We continue to focus in additive, and this offering has a lot to offer.”
The industrialization of additive manufacturing will take a village. The open positioning is especially important as well, as advances require leaders to advance, but no one entity will do it alone. Partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, dedicated comprehensive facilities — the introduction of Jabil Engineered Materials is something of a feel-good story in realistic steps forward in industrialization.