What’s the potential for 3D printing when it comes to manufacturing production-ready parts at low- to mid-volume scale? Quite good, according to Jabil Circuit, Inc., one of the largest contract manufacturing companies in the world.
The company, which produces parts for some of the most recognizable brands across the globe, is one of the first customers in the world installing the HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D Printing Solution for their business. Scott Schiller, Vice President of Market Development for the HP 3D Multi Jet Fusion business, explored Jabil’s views on the industrial 3D printing market with John Dulchinos (pictured left), Vice President of Global Automation and 3D Printing at the company, which aims to leverage the new printer for a variety of industrial-strength jobs.
Scott: How is the HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D Printing Solution a critical component in facilitating the next industrial revolution?
John: The next industrial revolution will be driven by digital technologies such as 3D printing, which will make it possible to produce products closer to customer locations.
Think about traditional injection-molded parts and the substantial investment in part-specific tooling it takes to produce items at scale. Those molds could be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, if you want to produce the parts in five different locations, multiply that tool investment by five. With the HP solution, you can produce those products across different locations by simply sharing a file. That’s how digital technologies really enable you to be closer to the customer.
Scott: The HP Jet Fusion 4200 prints up to 10 times faster than FDM and SLS printer solutions at half the cost of earlier systems. How does this change the game for production-level 3D printing?
John: Up to now, in 3D printing, we lived with substantial compromises in speed, quality and cost to produce real parts. Today, most 3D printing is used in either prototyping applications or, if you are producing real end-use parts, they tend to be in very niche applications where volume is not very high.
The Jet Fusion 4200 offers the opportunity to produce end-use parts at a cost point, quality level and mechanical integrity level that is comparable to injection molding of certain plastic parts. Compared to injection molding, we’ve seen breakeven points using the Jet Fusion 4200 in the tens of thousands of unit volumes per year. So it’s starting to become as feasible to do low- to mid-volume scale production – thousands up to the low tens of thousands – with this printing as with traditional manufacturing processes like injection molding.
Scott: What new opportunities may Jabil be able to take advantage of as it adopts the HP solution for full-scale manufacturing?
John: Most of our factories are massive-scale facilities in low-cost geographies. This (3D) printer lets us rethink how we make parts: Instead of having to build large manufacturing operations with rows of part-specific tooling, we can have more generalized manufacturing solutions. We gain more flexibility, in addition to being able to produce parts closer to where our customers are. We simply have to put the printers there.
Scott: What applications best fit HP’s 3D printing solution?
John: We have a pretty high spec of parts that are relatively low to mid-volume because we produce such a wide variety of models for our customers. HP’s 3D printer can come in whenever we have to make hundreds, thousands or maybe even in the low tens of thousands of units per year of different versions of something. That could be footwear in different sizes, for example, or medical devices that have to be personalized for different types of patients or industrial products that have a variety of different configurations.
Scott: Why did you partner with HP for 3D printing?
John: Part of that has to do with the solution’s technical capabilities. But it was also very important for us to work with a company that has an open ecosystem. 3D printing is all about the materials. Most 3D printing companies have created a limited set of materials that are exceptionally high cost, and they won’t let others innovate on their platforms. HP’s Open Platform for materials innovation means we and others can substantially extend the capabilities of the printing platform, which is so important.
Scott: What has been your experience working with HP to accelerate 3D printing for manufacturing?
John: We have had a really open and collaborative working relationship. I’ve been pleased at its willingness to learn from partners like us about what it takes to truly manufacture end-use parts.