The company turned to additive manufacturing, recognising its potential to accelerate time-to-production and better respond to its customers’ needs. It removed the back-and-forth between itself and the tooling shops it typically outsourced these tasks to, achieving an 80% reduction in delivery time, and a 30-40% reduction in cost.
Engineers at the firm’s Auburn Hills facility took the step to incorporate Ultimaker 3D printing technology some years ago, to improve its services to customers in healthcare, transportation, IoT, and analytical instrumentation. Andy by doing away with their previous approach, which would often see them waiting three weeks for a simple tool, and up to two months for a more complex tool, like on with moving parts. The ability to customise parts for themselves without too much engineering, would mean quicker manufacturing, quicker results, and ultimately a greater satisfaction for the customer.
“3D printing reduces the constraints associated with traditional manufacturing technologies,” explains Rush LaSelle, Senior Director of Business Development, Jabil. “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.
“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,” LaSelle continues. “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.”
After growing frustrated with the traditional process of producing jigs and fixtures, Jabil’s Auburn Hills team received training from the company’s additive manufacturing specialists. The company reports that just three hours after installing the first Ultimaker machine, it received an order to print spare parts. With such immediate success, it soon ramped up its AM capabilities.
“With 3D printing, there is no minimum quantity, and one-offs are no longer a cost-constraint,” comments John Wahl VI, Tooling and Manufacturing Engineer, Jabil Auburn Hills. “By locating machines within Auburn Hills, we could dictate the priority, timeliness and printing method ourselves.”
An early application of Jabil’s 3D printing repertoire served to assist a medical technologies company. This customer wanted to streamline the production of a mobile imaging system, and Jabil’s engineers recognised potential areas for improvement in both fixture aesthetics and product functionality. The team modelled and produced some 3D printed fixtures and tools overnight, tested them, and validated their performance.
“We verified design change and then printed a full working unit in hours,” Wahl recalls. “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.”
The team is particularly happy with their new-found ability to build tooling based just on the CAD models of parts, rather than having to wait to see they physical component. They appreciate the freedom to iterate quickly and optimise designs, and are receiving good feedback from customers. Now, the company is exploring the option of increasing its number of 3D printings, bringing in higher capability machines, as well as developing an infrastructure to support the further expansion of its customers’ needs.
“We’re continuing to advance our use of 3D printing technology, working with our business and operations teams to address emerging customer requirements,” says Karin Alcorn, Operations Manager for Auburn Hills. “I’m excited to see what’s next.”