Jabil Uses Ultimaker 3D Printers to Make Manufacturing Quicker and Cheaper


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Jabil has an ambitious goal: to become the most technologically advanced manufacturing solutions provider in the world. And it’s doing quite well at pursuing that goal, in fact. In its 100 facilities across 29 countries, the company is connecting people, processes and plants with suppliers, partners and customers through digital technology. At Jabil’s Auburn Hills, Michigan facility, the company is especially focused on new technology – like 3D printing.

“We must ensure Auburn Hills delivers excellence in execution by offering the best solutions for our customers,” said Karin Alcorn, Operations Manager for Auburn Hills. “At our facility, the team works hard to empower innovation for a variety of healthcare and industrial customers.”

Ultimaker print racks used to produced tooling, fixtures and manufacturing aids at Jabil’s Auburn Hills facility

Jabil also serves transportation, IoT and analytical instrumentation customers, all of which have one thing in common – they want to reduce time, cost and risk in bringing products to market.

“Typically, products are made in very high volumes to bring down costs, which means you would have the same product over a lifecycle measured in millions of parts,” said Rush LaSelle, Senior Director of Business Development, Jabil Additive Manufacturing. “New technologies, such as 3D printing, completely change the economic value equation because now we can produce a lot size of one as affordably as much larger volumes.”

The Auburn Hills facility was an early adopter of additive manufacturing, trying to reduce reliance on machine shops while better addressing smaller batch sizes and reduced product lifecycles. Machine shops have traditionally provided things like fixtures, jigs and other tooling to manufacturers, but timeframes and cost could vary greatly depending on quantity and design complexity.

“It could take up to three weeks for a machine shop to make a simple tool,” said John Wahl VI, Tooling and Manufacturing Engineer for Jabil Auburn Hills. “For something more complicated with moving parts, it could take up to two months.”

3D printing was the answer to that problem, as it can quickly produce parts, even custom parts, that can take weeks and months to create by other means.

“3D printing reduces the constraints associated with traditional manufacturing technologies,” said LaSelle. “Product designers are empowered to focus on outcomes and part performance as opposed to investing excessive time and expense designing for the production process itself.”

The cost to produce one-off parts by traditional means was significantly higher than producing tooling in large volumes. Customers were also concerned about sharing new product designs with anyone outside Jabil. Conveying designs without much detail about the end product often led to extra design cycles. Traditional tooling made it difficult to streamline new product introductions since multiple iterations were needed to finalize fixtures.

“We were challenged to get what we needed, when we needed it,” said Alcorn. “We decided to take control of our destiny and develop our own tooling capabilities to better support our customers.”

The Auburn Hills team began exploring 3D printing as a way to make tooling, fixtures and jigs in-house. They underwent training from Jabil Additive’s specialists in 3D printing hardware, software and Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) principles.

“We realized benefits almost immediately. Within three hours of setting up the first Ultimaker 3D printer, we had a job to print spare parts,” said Wahl. “The alternative was to stop manufacturing until the part could be produced, but we made them that day using 3D printing. With 3D printing, there is no minimum quantity, and one-offs are no longer a cost constraint. By locating machines within Auburn Hills, we could dictate the priority, timeliness and printing method ourselves.”

One early case involved a medical technologies customer looking to streamline production of a mobile imaging system. Jabil’s engineers used additive manufacturing to improve fixture aesthetics and product functionality while simplifying and speeding production and making the line move easier for the operator. They 3D printed the fixtures and tools overnight and then conducted testing to qualify and validate performance. The ability to quickly make changes to the design was crucial to its success.

“We verified a design change and then printed a full working unit in hours,” said Wahl. “Previously, a typical timeframe to go from problem discovery to final solution could take months. With 3D printing, we completed that entire process in weeks.”

Assembly fixture used in production manufacturing at Jabil’s Auburn Hills facility

Another case involved developing drawings, models and assembly concepts for tooling, fixtures and jigs for a new product. Jabil developed these manufacturing aids in-house and was able to cut design time in half as well as significantly reduce lead time to produce the parts. If they had used an outside machine shop to produce the part, it would have taken up to two months. Instead, with 3D printing, it took four days, at only a fraction of the cost.

Jabil can now create tooling based on customer product CAD models prior to receiving the actual parts, which saves even more time.

“3D printing has saved the day on numerous accounts,” said Wahl. “There were several times when something broke or malfunctioned on the production line, but we could quickly replicate the broken part or implement another tool or fixture using 3D printing. Before people even knew the line was down, we got them back up and running again.”

Jabil’s Auburn Hills facility is achieving upwards of 30% price reductions in the cost of tooling and an 80% decrease in the time required to produce final tools and fixtures. Customer feedback has been highly positive.

“They love everything about it,” said Alcorn. “The fact that it’s flexible, and there’s a faster turnaround time, enables us to deliver better results
because we can react immediately to manufacturing opportunities.”

The ability to 3D print any design affects both ends of the product lifecycle, including Maintenance, Repair and Obsolescence (MRO).

“3D printing is a critical pillar in the overarching digital manufacturing umbrella as we’ll start to see spare parts made in the field from a digital
file,” said LaSelle. “This alleviates a lot of pain on the back-end of a product’s lifecycle.”

The Auburn Hills team is looking into adding different materials as well as different 3D printers to its inventory. It’s not just Auburn Hills, either – other Jabil facilities across the world are beginning to use 3D printing in the same way as well.

“This is a case where the network effect of the digital thread is connecting our design community around the world,” said LaSelle. “The idea of design democratization is emerging from Jabil’s strong design competency for additive manufacturing, which will result in a global repository of great engineering, designs and parts.”

You can read the full case study here.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Images via Jabil/Ultimaker]


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