3D Printing Gives U.S. Manufacturer A Leg Up On Competitors

Robin Meyerhoff

You might not have heard of Jabil, but you have probably have a product made by the company that you use daily in your home or office. As one of the largest and most technologically advanced manufacturers, Jabil creates products for more than 250 well-known global brands.

Founded in Michigan 50 years ago, Jabil started out making electronic parts for the automotive industry. Since then, the company has grown from a small family business on the outskirts of Detroit to one of the largest global manufacturers, working with industries ranging from household appliances to healthcare–and almost everything in between.

Over the past several years, manufacturers have been digitizing operations, embracing Industry 4.0 using new technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) to improve performance and efficiency. But as consultancy KPMG points out, “The vast majority of leading manufacturers admit they are not yet prepared to fully integrate the lessons of Industry 4.0 into the way they view and manage their products.”

Jabil is bucking that trend. Recognizing that manufacturers need to be more nimble and personal in how they relate to customers, Jabil has been adopting new technologies like 3D printing to help clients meet those challenges head on.

“The digital transformation in manufacturing is going to be enormously impactful for companies like Jabil,” said John Dulchinos, vice president of digital manufacturing for Jabil. “We see it as a tremendous opportunity for us to respond to customers more quickly, to build products in regions that are closer to where the end customers are and to open up entirely new business models.”

Touring Jabil’s Blue Sky Innovation Center and manufacturing operations in San Jose, evidence of how these digital technologies can impact products was everywhere. The lobby displayed smart watch bands and electric toothbrushes in personalized colors, and tailored packaging for household products. There was a room of robots, including one that was creating Disney MagicBands. Most impressive were the 3D printers, which ranged from small (comparable to a microwave) to HP printers the size of a small room.

John said, “3D printing is one of those really amazing technologies. As we look at where 3D printing will take us in the future, we think it’s going to impact the entire product lifecycle from very early innovation and ideation, through manufacturing and product introduction. Ultimately we can provide support for spare parts and other needs later in the product lifecycle. We think 3D printing will impact all of that.”

He continued, “What really excites us about 3D printing is it gives us the ability to free up designers to create the most optimized, intricate designs. We now have a way to bring manufacturing options closer to where customers are, and deliver goods that are more targeted and responsive to their needs.” 

John explains that Jabil has been on top of the transition to digital and computer-driven manufacturing since the 1980s. It shows in Jabil’s strong numbers: For the past 30 years they’ve continued to grow, and their stock price recently hit a 52-week high.

As Jabil embarks on its next growth phase, John believes “a digital backbone is the most important asset for manufacturers like us to achieve those goals.”

Jabil relies on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to support critical supply chain and manufacturing operations. Supply chain experts at Jabil use an in-memory computing platform for real-time analytics and reporting.

Manufacturers around the world like Jabil are facing similar issues: They want to optimize their supply chain, bring production closer to customers and offer new personalized products and services. The company is using a distributed manufacturing solution and a digital innovation system that brings together the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain and advanced analytics to its cloud platform. Through this technology, Jabil is helping its customers deliver innovative, locally manufactured and customized goods. The entire process – from inception to delivery – is transformed into a 100% digitally native process.

In addition, the company is integrating 3D printing into procurement, sales, inventory, and logistics systems with greater ease. By combining this rising technology with an Internet of Things-based distributed manufacturing solution, Jabil is better positioned to evaluate which parts should be digitized and can more easily collaborate to approve parts for 3D printing.

For more on digital transformation strategies, see Five Pillars Of Digital Transformation: Invest In Digital Technology Capabilities.


About Robin Meyerhoff

Robin has been at SAP for almost 10 years. She started in product communications and has covered a variety of technologies: analytics, sustainability. mobile, databases, cloud and SAP HANA. She currently works within Global Corporate Affairs as a writer on the Content Team and leader of the Innovation Campaign.