RAPID + TCT kept a steady pace of introductions and announcements this week, as 2017 represents a year of growth across the board. While we hear often from companies developing 3D printers and the materials that go in them, contract manufacturers have kept a lower profile — though that’s changing, as the world’s third largest contract manufacturer, Jabil, becomes more invested in additive manufacturing and the potential it represents to the company’s customers. Jabil has been increasing its participation, focusing on enhancing digital offerings as part of its extensive portfolio and offering advanced manufacturing solutions designed to add value and smoothness in operation. The company made some waves in the 3D printing industry last spring when MakerBot announced the shuttering of its NYC manufacturing facilities and the outsourcing of 3D printer production to Jabil, and has since then announced partnerships with companies such as HP, Desktop Metal, and Impossible Objects as 3D printing becomes a larger part of the company’s strategy.
John Dulchinos, Jabil’s Vice President of Global Automation and 3D Printing, has previously shared his thoughts with 3DPrint.com regarding the company’s “extensive evaluation and collaboration” with HP as a foundational partner as Jabil took delivery of North America’s first two production Jet Fusion 3D printers in December. This collaboration was critical to the development of HP’s 3D printing ecosystem, and Dulchinos spoke to this theme at last year’s RAPID event when the technology was formally unveiled. Jabil has worked to advance the place of 3D printing in coming to the mainstream, as Dulchinos recently noted, and is looking to further this work.
At RAPID + TCT in Pittsburgh, Dulchinos shared his thoughts in a panel presentation on Tuesday called “New Frontiers in Metal 3D Printing” alongside Ric Fulop, CEO, Desktop Metal; Kyle Nel, Founder and Executive Director, Lowe’s Innovation Labs; and Don Jones, Director, Global Aftermarket Parts Strategy and Transformation, Caterpillar Inc. Dulchinos spoke as well in his own session, entitled “Additive Manufacturing – From Fiction to Factory,” later that morning.
“Who’s heard of Jabil?” Dulchinos asked the audience at the metal panel. Several hands were raised throughout the crowd. “That’s more than at most panels I sit on. We actually don’t want you to know who we are, because our customers don’t want you to know who we are.”
He continued of the company, “I think one of the things we do incredible well is we do scale.” Later in the presentation, he added, “We talk a lot about quality and consistency, it’s very important that we be able to stand behind the products that we make.”
During the metal-focused panel, Dulchinos addressed Jabil’s partnership with Desktop Metal, and I had the opportunity to talk with him later that afternoon at HP’s booth on the exhibit floor to learn more about his thoughts and Jabil’s approach to such collaborations.
“Desktop Metal is an interesting technology,” he told me. “We’re about two to three years out before it gets adopted.”
He noted that key points of interest regarding Desktop Metal include an open materials solution like HP’s, high-speed powder bed solutions like HP’s, and offers a nice tool to prove out good work on supports and eliminating post-processing. It’s taking aim, he said, at constraints that have kept metal to high-value applications like aerospace, which “makes it intriguing to us.” Jabil has been 3D printing for a number of years, he noted, and has been aggressive over the last year for manufacturing aids, seeking use cases and financial returns on investment that make sense.
Turning to HP, Dulchinos noted that that partnership is centered on end-use parts. “What we like about HP is — hey, it’s HP,” he said with a smile while standing next to a Jet Fusion 3D printer. The technology’s ability to create high-integrity parts at scale, wherein more parts added don’t slow it down, along with a clear roadmap focused on open materials innovation, he noted, will make for an interesting 12-24 months.
“We work with 250 of the best brands in the world,” Dulchinos explained. “To us, this is a tool to take to key customers. We want to take advantage of the key benefits of 3D printing — no molds, the creation of unique geometries.”
Work with Impossible Objects represents a longer-term strategy, as the new Model One 3D printer and supporting CBAM (composite-based additive manufacturing) is an earlier-stage technology. Manufacturing has a lot of use cases, Dulchinos noted, and it’s important to think about a range of solutions for a broad swath of applications. Historically, bigger parts meant worse economics for 3D printing; CBAM technology may produce big parts at a justified cost.
“There is tremendous opportunity for manufacturing. It’s not an overnight thing. As the technology gets better, the materials get broader. The more we prove it out, the more applications we’ll see,” he said looking ahead.
“Proving it out” is a big focus at Jabil, as the contract manufacturing company is at its core focused on pragmatism. Big partnerships represent not pie-in-the-sky hopes, but well-planned investments resulting from careful analysis and very intentional collaboration efforts.
“We don’t want to misrepresent expectations,” Dulchinos told me, “but do want enough press to drum up interest. Our focus is in functional part applications. We want companies to feel: ‘This is real, I want to know about it.’ We need people to try it, this is how we get word out.”
We wrapped up our chat with a look at the strategies behind some of Jabil’s partnerships and approach to bringing viable 3D printing-based solutions to customers. Dulchinos noted that Jabil has a lot of FDM technology available for fixtures and tooling, and that Desktop Metal offers these opportunities for metal-based creations as well, while HP technology remains a production-level focus, and the Desktop Metal powder bed solution may be similar on that front.
“Desktop Metal is the first platform with the potential to change at scale. It’s a great team, one of the best in the industry. We are confident to stay the course,” he said.
Talking with Dulchinos offered me a deeper look into Jabil’s perspective as the company fully embraces additive manufacturing as a rising solution for legitimate end-use part production. The pragmatism with which the company approaches 3D printing is refreshing following years of hype that had previously surrounded the technology. To truly disrupt manufacturing, additive manufacturing has to offer proven solutions and improvements; the companies with which Jabil is throwing in its chips represent beacons of realizable potential and technologies to watch as they progress and commercialize. Discuss in the Jabil forum at 3DPB.com.