On Jabil’s Move into Engineered Materials for Additive Manufacturing
Ian Wright posted on January 31, 2019 |
(Image courtesy of Jabil.)
(Image courtesy of Jabil.)
Jabil has been aptly described as the biggest company most people have never heard of, but it’s been making waves recently with the announcement of Jabil Engineered Materials, which aims to foster the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) by expanding the selection of polymer materials. Engineering.com had the opportunity to sit down with Jabil’s John Dulchinos, VP of Digital Manufacturing, and Matt Torosian, Director of Product Management, Jabil Additive, to discuss this new venture and the materials challenges in the AM market today.

 

What motivated you to open Jabil Engineered Materials?

John Dulchinos, VP of Digital Manufacturing at Jabil. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)

John Dulchinos, VP of Digital Manufacturing at Jabil. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)

JD: If you look at one of the biggest hold-backs of moving 3D printing from prototyping into manufacturing, it's the ability to get real manufacturing-grade materials that solve true-to-life manufacturing problems. Over the last hundred years in manufacturing, there's been tens of thousands of different iterations of materials that have been created, but only a fraction of a percent of those have been brought over to additive. Most of the ones that have are base polymers like PA 12 or PA 11, without any of the engineering-grade capabilities that typically come along with the materials that allow you to solve a difficult application.

That gap has been a big constraint for us as we've looked at applications, so we embarked about 18 months ago on building a greenfield site that produces engineered materials all under one roof. You walk in with a set of requirements, and we start with beakers and flasks, and you end up with filaments or powders that can go into a 3D printer. We can do that in a matter of weeks—instead of months or years, which has been typical for materials development.


How are you able to deliver materials so quickly?

Matt Torosian, Director of Product Management, Jabil Additive. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)

Matt Torosian, Director of Product Management, Jabil Additive. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)

MT: The biggest edge is that we can do it all in one place. We’ve tried to develop materials where we compound in one place, then take it someplace else to have the filament or powder made, and then you take that to get it tested, and then take it some place else to be 3D printed. Being able to do the compounding, filament or powder making and testing all under one roof is the true trick of speed.

Of course, there'll be a bunch follow-up work, maybe some regulatory hurdles that need to be gone through and completed, but certainly the concept, the first article—it's very realistic to do that in two weeks.


Why did you choose to locate in Minnesota?

JD: Primarily because the weather’s so bad there that we know the engineers will just work the whole time rather than go out and play. [Laughs]

No, Minnesota in general and the Minneapolis area particularly, it’s a really well established polymer center. There's University of Minnesota, and obviously companies like 3M. There's a really rich history of material sciences and polymer R&D expertise there, so it was an easy place for us to build an office and be able to staff it. In the last nine months we've hired 40 people to put in the facility, and we've been able to hire the people we needed.


Why do you think this gap in AM materials exists?

JD: Polymer producers spend billions of dollars on reactors they need to sell hundreds of millions of pounds of their polymers. They have a small slate of products, but they make millions and millions of pounds of them, and that's the way the business model is set up.

MT: Those companies are launching or introducing maybe a few dozen new products each year, and they’re variations of six-to-10 polymers. They aren’t built to do something like R&D for 2,000 new products a year for customers with weird applications.

JD: Then there are the compounders, who fit that role of specialization and customizing materials in conventional processes for engineered materials.

Pallets of Jabil Engineered Material in filament form are prepared for shipment to Jabil customers and distribution partners. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
Pallets of Jabil Engineered Material in filament form are prepared for shipment to Jabil customers and distribution partners. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
JD: In additive, the polymer producers still play that same role of making the general-purpose compounds. They'll make some specialization, but their systems aren't really set up to do things quickly. The compounders are set up to do things quickly, but they don't understand additive manufacturing, so they have a hard time putting the materials in the right form—whether that be filaments or powders—to be used in an additive manufacturing system.

So, we’re aiming to fill a role we see in the additive space, adding that layer of customization to base polymers for reinforcement, flame retardance, conductivity, lubrication and managing friction.


What 3D printers are you using?

JD: All of this stuff is built on a foundation of open-source machines. If there's one thing we've learned over the past 50 years making things for some of the leading brands and companies in the world, it’s that they will not take a manufacturing solution to market that is proprietary and constrained by a single supplier. So, it's really been important to us as we built our foundation to build it on open platforms that allowed a range of solutions to be engineered for the market.

MT: Working with any open machine is really our goal. We have over 20 printers and all are open-source. We also regularly send out materials, as a final validation step, to some of the couple of hundred printers we have from various producers around the globe to print at our manufacturing sites.

Jabil Additive Manufacturing experts and chemists mix different raw materials during the formulation of Jabil Engineered Materials. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
Jabil Additive Manufacturing experts and chemists mix different raw materials during the formulation of Jabil Engineered Materials. (Image courtesy of Jabil.)
JD: We've also built a quasi-software solution that interconnects all our printers, so that now as we start to roll out printers across our different manufacturing plants, we tie them all together into a single network. It creates a single, digital thread that really makes it so we can run a regional, distributed network. That’s the last piece of the puzzle for us, along with materials, machines and processes: the software that interconnects all the printers.

MT: We're focusing on filament, powder and pellet, so when we look at what we're going to convert our finished engineered material into, we're looking at three substrates that we would deliver that can go into a range of FFF or FDM printers. We’re selling materials through a couple of channel partners; one is Chase Plastics and another is Channel Prime Alliance. They’ll be offering our materials through their distribution channels and there will also be print profiles available initially on Cura.


Have you given any thought to expanding into metal 3D printing?

MT: We don’t see the same gaps in that market to develop new materials. A lot of the new-generation metal 3D printers are adopting metal injection molding powders, and we’re hoping that will dramatically increase the range of powders that are available for metal 3D printing.

But we have customers right now asking us to produce parts for them, and there’s no material available on the polymer side that meets their requirements.


For more information on Jabil, check out How to Take Predictive Analytics Beyond the Manufacturing Floor.

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