Jabil (NYSE: JBL) has long been in the 3D printing space. In fact, it’s probably been in additive manufacturing (AM) longer than many of us even know. That’s because, as a manufacturing services provider, the $29.3 billion firm is involved in making the parts for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). It was not only one of the first development partners for HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology, but it continues to produce parts for MJF systems today.
But it was with the creation of MJF when Jabil really threw its hat in the ring. It now runs a fleet of over 100 industrial 3D printers for its manufacturing operations globally, performs research in a lab equipped with just about all of the cutting edge AM machines you can imagine, and operates a materials development facility that engineers additive feedstocks for customers “from beaker to box.”
All of this and more was discussed with 3DPrint.com at RAPID+TCT 2022, as Jabil launched a new 3D printing material: PK 5000. We sat down with Jabil Additive’s Matt Torosian, Director of Product Management, and Luke Rodgers, Senior Research and Development Director, who not only discussed the latest product but elucidated the company’s role in the 3D printing space.
As it stands, selective laser sintering (SLS) in particular is extremely limited to the variety of plastics that can be used. Typically, users are left with some form of polyamide (nylon/PA): PA12, 11, or six that may be mixed with another material, like carbon or glass fiber to provide additional capabilities.
Pitched as an attractive alternative to PA, PK 5000 is the first polyketone product available for 3D printing. While it offers physical strength similar to the ubiquitous PA12, it has the toughness and elongation of PA11, the machinability and wear resistance of polyoxymethylene (acetal/POM), and the chemical resistance of polyolefin.
Unlike nylon, the material remains stable across many environments, humid or dry. So, it won’t absorb the moisture from the air and become soft or overly brittle in dry air. And it maintains its size, as well, so that it doesn’t lose the dimensional accuracy with which it was originally printed once it’s in operation. Additionally, it can resist acids and other chemicals that might negatively affect a polyamide. The Jabil team used sodas as an example.
“It’s got this little trifecta of amazing chemical, physical and wear properties that allows it to be used in a lot of different applications,” Rodgers explained.
For clarity, polyketone is not to be confused with the polyaryletherketone (PAEK) family of plastics, such as polyether ketone ketone (PEKK) and polyether ether ketone (PEEK). Those in the additive community are familiar with these for their use in aerospace and oil and gas, due to their high strength and chemical resistance. PAEK materials are a bit like PK on steroids, in that they are stronger and more chemical resistant, with inherent flame retardant properties. However, PAEK is also extremely expensive. PK is cheaper than both the PAEK polymers and polyamides.
Designing Materials with Sustainability in Mind
Interestingly, the product also plays a small role in carbon sequestration. To make its polymer, Jabil relies on carbon monoxide(CO) captured via industrial processes, such as the manufacturing of steel, and polymerizes that CO into the polymer backbone, thereby sequestering the CO into a solid form. As a result, PK 5000 can reduce carbon footprint by up to 60% when compared to PA12.
The material fits into larger sustainability initiatives the company engages in with customers. Within materials engineering, Jabil will look at either side of the material pipeline: resource management and waste management, the beginning and end of a material’s life.
The former relates to where a feedstock comes from: a renewable source, fossil fuels, or both. The latter is associated with whether the material can be recycled, potentially composted—either in an industrial facility (like PLA) or in a consumer’s home—or fully biodegradable so that, in the event that the product winds up in the environment, it will safely decompose.
“Understanding the ecosystems, infrastructure and products—where they go to and the probability of them falling within one of those streams—is super important for the packaging industry today to try to understand,” Rodgers said.
As an example, Rodgers described an electronics product that might be made out of a traditionally recyclable plastic, like ABS. However, if a company incorporates something like silicone padding into it, it immediately becomes difficult to recycle. By designing with the product’s end of life in mind, more responsible and sustainable decisions can be made.
“If you think about the entire lifecycle of a product, from concept to end-of-life, I think we’re very uniquely positioned to aid that process—whether it’s a concept that we’re getting to production or taking an item from production to end-of-life, and how it is disposed of in a manner that’s not detrimental in the environment,” Torosian said. “Because we are involved end-to-end, it gives us a unique position to really be able to influence it. We can think about design for circularity or design for end-of-life at concept and carry that through the whole process to manufacturability and scalability. And then how it is disposed of in a responsible manner.”
Jabil as Solutions Provider
Whereas, in the past, Jabil may have been described as a contract manufacturer, the company is now presenting itself as something more. Contract manufacturing almost has a subservient connotation, wherein the company is working for an OEM to make their product. In reality, Jabil is a solutions partner that collaborates with a customer along every step of the production workflow.
The firm’s Materials Innovation Center is a good demonstration of this. With its “beaker to box” concept, Jabil is working on a product at its most basic, chemical level. The company engineers a formulation for the manufacturing process deemed most appropriate for a given application. However, Jabil can also help design components and then manufacture them, as is the case with HP’s MJF systems.
As for PK 5000, this is an interesting move by the company, given the fact that it is not inherently a materials company. Nonetheless, it does dovetail with its mission as a solutions provider. Several OEMs, including EOS, Farsoon and 3D Systems, are already taking on the new material, as are internal Jabil customers. Depending on its success, it’s likely that there will be even wider adoption and, in turn, we’ll see even more materials coming from Jabil in the future.
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