JABIL Flexes 3D Printing for Manufacturing with HP’s Multi Jet Fusion
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on February 14, 2017 |

Last year, HP finally introduced its Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology to the market. With it, HP promised the ability to produce end parts with quality and efficiency unmatched by other additive manufacturing (AM) processes on the market.

If there’s one company that would be able to vouch for these claims, it’s Jabil Circuit, a massive contract manufacturer with 90 facilities across 23 countries and, also, HP’s foundational partner for MJF.

ENGINEERING.com spoke with John Dulchinos, VP of Global Automation and 3D Printing at Jabil, about how a large manufacturing services company like Jabil uses AM in house and MJF as a technology for end part production.

Jabil’s Early Adoption of 3D Printing

Dulchinos explained that Jabil, like any larger manufacturer, was an early adopter of 3D printing for such applications as rapid prototyping. For some time, the company has used just about every technology, including fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA), as well as inkjetting and metal 3D printing systems.

Jabil’s custom-designed industrial print rack for 3D printing tooling and fixtures. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
Jabil’s custom-designed industrial print rack for 3D printing tooling and fixtures. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
While just about any system might be used for prototyping, depending on the exact requirements of a job, FDM is more suitable for 3D printing fixtures, assembly jigs and other manufacturing aids.

“We have also used 3D printing in some of our facilities to create conformal cooling channels around mold jackets or on our mold cavities so that we can really accelerate the cycle time on injection molded parts,” Dulchinos said.

The broad range of systems is typical of a company like Jabil, according to Dulchinos. He relayed, “The broader your business is and the more verticals and applications and parts of the product lifecycle where you use 3D printing, it generally requires a wider set of technologies. That’s kind of a price of admission for people like us.”

For this reason, it was natural for HP to partner with a company like Jabil when developing the MJF platform.

Jabil and HP

Jabil received the first MJF system delivery in the world, an early alpha stage machine, in the summer of 2016. As a foundational partner, the company provided HP with the feedback necessary to refine the MJF platform.

Dulchinos explained, “We’ve been doing a lot of development work on process refinement to really characterize the capability. Then, last December, we got the first two production machines from HP that were able to deliver some of the machine specifications that we were talking to HP about.”

John Dulchinos (left), VP, Global Automation and 3D Printing, and Bill Muir, COO, at Jabil’s San Jose additive manufacturing lab, next to one of the first production units in North America of HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Printer. (Image courtesy of HP.)
John Dulchinos (left), VP, Global Automation and 3D Printing, and Bill Muir, COO, at Jabil’s San Jose additive manufacturing lab, next to one of the first production units in North America of HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Printer. (Image courtesy of HP.)
According to Dulchinos, MJF is one of the few technologies capable of delivering production-grade parts with cost-effective efficiency. He relayed a story in which a large consumer products company asked Jabil’s business unit to 3D print a detergent bottle cap with MJF. Though Dulchinos thought Jabil shouldn’t pursue the request for a variety of reasons, the engineering department missed the message and 3D printed the cap anyway.

In turn, the client compared the 3D-printed cap with the standard injection molded one, only to learn that it was a nearly perfect replacement, well within production tolerances. “They couldn’t believe 3D printing could produce that kind of quality,” Dulchinos said.

He continued, “For us, what’s powerful is the ability to produce quality parts with consistency, a high level of mechanical integrity and at speeds that allow us to define a break-even point for traditionally made parts using the HP platform. We can get parts that can start to rival injection molding performance parameters with a cost model that can be competitive with molding parts.”

Parts 3D printed by HP with the MJF platform. (Image courtesy of HP.)
Parts 3D printed by HP with the MJF platform. (Image courtesy of HP.)
Not only can strong parts be made quickly with MJF, but, according to Dulchinos, prepping CAD models for the process is also relatively easy. Unlike other 3D printers, which may require a number of steps to modify a file for 3D printing, such as adding support structures, it’s not difficult to take a CAD file for a traditional manufacturing process and port it over for 3D printing MJF.

Distributed Manufacturing with MJF

For Jabil, MJF now makes it possible to 3D print parts with an efficiency that really makes 3D printing a suitable replacement for other manufacturing technologies. Nevertheless, no AM technology is yet able to replace mass production techniques altogether.

The first consideration one may have before considering the adoption of MJF is the volume of production. “If you’re making injection molded parts at volumes that are in the hundreds or thousands of units—maybe low tens of thousands of units—then we’ve seen economic models where the HP printer can produce parts at the same cost or lower cost than injection molded parts.” If that’s the case, the next step is determining if 3D printing adds value to a given application.

“What 3D printing opens up is the ability to create a geometry you can’t produce with molding,” Dulchinos said. “As anyone who is a hardened manufacturing engineer knows, you design for your process. People havelearned how to design parts for injection molding machines. Really, they learn how to compromise their design so that they can make it work in a molding process.”

With MJF, however, it’s possible to design one’s dream part, more or less without compromising that design for the production process. A case in point was a ducting unit that Jabil 3D printed for a client. Typically, the assembly was comprised of three or four different pieces glued and screwed together, but Jabil was able to 3D print the entire unit in one piece.  

Widespread adoption of the technology won’t be without a learning curve, Dulchinos admits. “There’s up-front process development work. It’s not fully digital in the sense that you can just take a file, send it to the printer and start producing hundreds of parts.You have to go through process engineering to ensure quality, certify parts and meet the required level of consistency and performance parameters,” he said.

This is what makes Jabil different from another company that might decide to adopt 3D printing as a production technology. “Jabil is a global world-class manufacturer,” Dulchinos said.“We have significant capabilities across a large set of manufacturing processes. To really get 3D printing into the supply chain requires a kind of end-to-end manufacturing capability. To get the true cost that a customer is going to put into the products, it’s more than just printing. There’s a whole series of secondary processes that may take their part to a final level of part quality and finishing and color that would be suitable for specific applications.”

Although MJF is one of the newest and most exciting technologies to have hit the 3D printing industry in the past year or so, it is not the only one. Dulchinos pointed out continuous digital light processing, such as technology from Carbon, as a promising AM technology as well.

Those may be the two processes at the top of Jabil’s list, but numerous new platforms are being unveiled regularly, a sign that 3D printing really may be becoming more than just a prototyping process. Jabil is set to prove it later this year when it begins delivering the first of its end parts manufactured with MJF.

To learn more about Jabil’s use of 3D printing, visit the company website.

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