Expert Interview: Jabil’s Rush LaSelle on the Future of Additive Manufacturing
28 February 2019
Once described as the manufacturing giant most people have never heard of, Jabil is in fact one of the world’s largest manufacturing solutions providers. With more than 100 facilities in 29 countries and 190,000 employees worldwide, the $22 billion company offers a wide range of manufacturing services, spanning industrial design, supply chain and logistics.
Jabil also has a long and accomplished track record in 3D printing. The company recently announced Jabil Engineered Materials, an initiative that aims to accelerate the adoption of 3D printing by making available a wider and more diverse selection of polymer materials.
AMFG had the opportunity to speak with Rush LaSelle, Jabil’s Senior Director of Digital Manufacturing, to learn more about Jabil’s strategic approach to additive manufacturing. With over 25 years of manufacturing experience, LaSelle has spent the majority of his career working in advanced manufacturing technologies, predominantly in robotics automation, and now is a key stakeholder in driving Jabil’s additive manufacturing strategy.
Could you tell me about your work at Jabil?
I joined Jabil almost five years ago, with a focus on digital manufacturing. Digital manufacturing is a pretty broad umbrella that includes automation and, of course, additive manufacturing.
With digital manufacturing, we’re trying to bring a degree of agile development, which the software space is very familiar with, into the physical world and real-life factory floors.
Most recently I’ve been focusing more on our additive strategy. Now, my principal focus is building business models and operational best practices around additive technology.
For Jabil, the significance is that we see a lot of our customer markets being disrupted by digital and e-commerce activities. Additive always will be, in our mind, one of the most important shifts in manufacturing technology going forward, one that will enable a multitude of things.
Certainly, the first is being able to distribute our manufacturing footprint: taking large, monolithic-looking factories, ones that you might expect from a steel mill or automotive factory, and getting them to look more like a kiosk in the mall. That’s the trajectory we see.
Of course, this won’t hit all industries, but it’s one area additive can directly enable, ultimately allowing our factories to deliver customer products a lot faster. So that’s really the essence of what we’re doing at Jabil.
What are some of the specific areas you’re focused on at Jabil?
We look at a couple of different things.
For example, we’re actively looking at where the intersection points are for converting more traditional manufacturing processes. This could be injection moulding, CNC, or anything else that Jabil has invested in and needs to run at high volumes to be profitable.
We’re focused on this area because our customer base wants to produce shorter-lifecycle products. You can look to the cellphone industry as a great example — it used to be that a product would last three years, and now it’s maybe a year.
This trend is wholly consumer-driven and we must be responsive. That means we have to figure out how we can make products much more easily.
So we’re looking at which applications make more economic sense to use additive as compared to injection moulding. That’s the bottom-up manufacturing view.
On the more customer-facing side, we’re looking at what we call “the digital front end.” For example, this could be looking at what is possible with generative design for aerospace. The result would create lighter, higher-strength parts that probably cost less to put into an aircraft.
There are two sides we’re evaluating: one is on the factory floor and the other is what this looks like for design and the supply chain.
How do you see additive manufacturing impacting supply chains?
From the supply chain perspective, it’s all about volume and speed.
Essentially, you’re giving a consumer product company the ability to economically run a batch of 10 where it originally had to run 10 million. That’s one of the huge shifts.
Speed is the other side of the equation. Something we’re really proud of is that we’ve demonstrated over the last 18 months that Jabil can now put a printing asset in Singapore in exactly the same way we put it in San Jose, Calif., or Michigan. We can distribute files instead of moulds or other equipment and therefore distribute our manufacturing.
What this represents for our customer base is that if they urgently need a certain component in Singapore, we can simply transfer the file there. If they need that same component in Michigan, we can transfer the file immediately and produce it the next day.
So on one hand, additive is helping reduce the complexity of the supply chain for us. For our customers, it’s about giving them a lot more freedom.
Are there other opportunities you see with additive manufacturing going forward?
Part consolidation is a huge opportunity in our business.
When we talk about part consolidation, we’re talking about taking multiple components and redesigning them to become one, or some less number, of what it would be using traditional manufacturing processes.
This has a lot of benefits: from reducing the cost to assemble, to the cost of storing components before they are assembled. Part consolidation and redesigning components are, therefore, a big area of focus for many of our customers.
Another major opportunity—primarily in aerospace and high-performance automotive—is gaining the ability to reduce the weight of a part or make it more aerodynamic. It’s offering the opportunity to create a better design using additive technologies as compared to traditional. This is attractive to our customers as well.
Standardisation is a complex issue for the AM industry. What is Jabil’s approach to standardisation?
It’s absolutely very complex! In fact, the whole question of standardisation is really a multi-level discussion.
One thing you have to appreciate about a company like Jabil and our peer group — we’re not unique in this regard — is that when we produce things, we tend to put a very high bar around our warranties and certification, like ISO 9001.
If you look at a lot of the terms and conditions of buying something online from a service bureau — and there are great service bureaus, I’m not disparaging them — but if you look at their warranties, there isn’t a lot. It’s more a case of whatever you design they print.
In our world, we have to qualify and certify to whatever requirements our customers have and those of their governing bodies, if it’s healthcare or aerospace. We have to live within those strict guidelines.
Underpinning all those things is the rigour that is qualifying the materials, the printers and, ultimately, the processes required to produce a given component to those certifications.
That’s where we invest a lot of energy and R&D, and Jabil is very proud of the foundation we’ve built from the manufacturing perspective.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s start with Jabil being ISO 9001-certified. Now that’s just the bare minimum — you need to ensure you have repeatable and rigorous manufacturing processes. This means what we put into a printer relative to materials, inks and so on is the same for every part, every machine and in each factory and so on.
That’s the foundation with which we must start.
But then you go into areas like AS9100 for aerospace, or the regulations required for us to print implants for the medical industry. It’s then that you need to put the additional layers that have to do with the quality systems, the traceability systems — and all those things are well documented.
How does standardisation for additive differ from traditional technologies like injection moulding?
Most manufacturers are learning quickly that unlike injection moulding, where you have a big piece of steel that doesn’t change from print to print, once you go to digital manufacturing, you have to lock down a lot of other variables. You now have the possibility for things to change from one print run to the next.
Those are the things we’ve had to spend a lot of time certifying and validating. This has meant an unbelievable amount of data capture to get to the point where we have the standards that those governing bodies require.
And how does Jabil approach the issue of data security?
Jabil certainly already has become adept at securely managing our customers’ data in the form of designs and CAD files. We have numerous means by which our IT infrastructure ensures the security of proprietary information.
For example, within the ITAR community where we’re servicing the U.S. defence industry, we’re already qualified to manage their data in secure servers and all of the rigours that come with ITAR compliance.
The additive aspect is just an extension of that — to ensure the processes that result in a part that needs AS9100 qualification, in the case of an aircraft, will follow the same stream of rigour.
So you have the IP attribute, which is the customer’s ownership, which we store securely the very same way we securely store the processes, the digital files and manufacturing processes that result in meeting a part’s requirement.
On the materials side, Jabil has recently announced Jabil Engineered Materials. What is the vision behind this and what does Jabil hope to achieve?
One of the biggest challenges—beyond the cost of the printers and implementing them—has been the cost of materials.
So one of our strategies is to source materials at a much lower cost than OEMs are providing today.
The second part to that is there are some big companies out there, like BASF, Arkema and a whole host of others, that are doing great work. But the reality is their business is still volume-based. Therefore, the volumes of additive currently aren’t interesting or profitable to such companies.
For example, if you have an automotive company requiring a very specific polymer type, these companies aren’t incentivised to engineer that because the volumes aren’t high enough yet.
Jabil is filling that void. We have intimate access to the customer requirements and problems they’re facing in the factories, which in turn inform what we need to design. We have an agile engineering team and operation that can develop those materials very quickly and make the materials available for us to do the testing and meet the requirements of the end-user.
We fully expect that this will go a long way to satisfying some of our customers’ requirements. We’re also partnering with other established companies, so when we come up with something new we aren’t viewed as just another competitor in the ecosystem.
Are you considering developing metal materials in addition to polymers?
It’s certainly something we’re looking at.
The great thing about Jabil is that we serve the Fortune 350 — the biggest companies that come to us and ask for parts to be produced. This enables us to listen to them and what their needs are.
We’re certainly hearing a lot more requests for new metals. At this time, however, we’re not as far down the path in metals for the material side as we are with polymers.
You mentioned that materials companies aren’t interested in producing materials for low volume applications. Do you think AM will get to the point where it is suitable for high-volume manufacturing or we still very far off?
There are already a number of markets where additive parts are being produced in high volumes. Look at dental aligners, for example.
Now in mainstream manufacturing, when we talk about disrupting a trillion-dollar casting market for automotive, there will be cases where it makes sense. But those are predominantly driven by design requirements, like producing lightweight parts, for example.
At Jabil, we run about 25,000 CNCs and over 5,000 injection moulding machines. I don’t see a time—even in five or ten years—when those machines won’t have a use for our customers. Rather, I think that as the cost of AM drops, the technology will increasingly intersect with what you do today in traditional machines.
So I think we’re there with high-volume manufacturing, but it’s a question of more applications finding their way onto additive machines. This’ll happen as the machines get faster and cheaper and as materials get cheaper as well.
Can you give me an example of a recent Jabil success story with additive manufacturing?
The one that’s the most publicised is our partnership with HP and its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing platform.
Jabil took on serial number 2 of that product and developed all the manufacturing processes around it, including quality systems, that allow us to produce the majority of the 3D printed parts that are ultimately used in that printer during its assembly.
We’ve qualified more than 150 polymer parts that are produced on MJF platforms that are ultimately used to assemble the MJF printers.
All the work required to certify and get compliance was done in San Jose, where we had a team that worked on the qualification. We call it our MPM (Materials, Processes and Machines) — only when we qualify all those three things together, do we get to a certified part production that meets our strict ISO 9001 requirements.
Then, what was really impressive is that we took all of that highly engineered and designed work and transferred it to printers in Singapore. Now they’re producing just the same way we would produce on injection moulding machines.
This is one of our first case studies showing volume 3D printing, but we’re also doing metal implants printing and spare parts printing for off-road vehicles. We’re really starting to see new use cases in different areas.
What would you advise a company looking to start with additive manufacturing?
Great question. I think it’s a question at the top of everyone’s list, no matter where they are in the supply chain — whether it’s materials, machines or manufacturers like us.
Manufacturing is going through a revolution. It’s a strong word, but I believe it to be true. What’s changing for us is the new ecosystems forming.
Historically, manufacturers have been siloed in their thinking, viewing everybody as a competitor.
For anyone entering the space today, I’d invite them to look at it more collaboratively and understand that you’re going to need to participate in the ecosystem with people who historically might have looked like competitors. You have to open up your blinders from the competitive advantage point.
We recently worked with the highly regarded Dartmouth College professor Richard D’Aveni, who just published a book called “The Pan-Industrial Revolution: How New manufacturing Titans Will Transform the World.” His vision for the overarching manufacturing community reflects what I’ve just said. I’d advise people to read that book, as it’s quite insightful.
What trends do you see coming that will shape the industry in the next five years?
I think one of the key constraints right now, beyond the cost of the machines and materials, is the ability for companies to adopt and implement the strategies around design, qualification and utilisation of the technology.
For big companies, this will mean a significant culture shift, and that’s a challenge.
Another trend is that a lot more people are seeing the promise of the democratisation that comes with digital technologies. The younger generation will help to reshape the manufacturing industry and so it’s a pretty exciting time to be part of this change.
Are you seeing any immediate challenges that need to be overcome to accelerate adoption?
Beyond what I’ve already mentioned, one of the greatest challenges is for organisations like the FDA, FAA and other governing bodies, which have been built over time to protect consumers from bad manufacturing practices.
They will need to revisit how they approve, certify and accept digitally-produced products. Right now it’s antiquated, slow and not appropriate for the speed of digital. Those are some of the challenging issues.
The other one — and it’s going to start to get a lot more attention — is the management of IP. IP used to be able to be protected simply because a company invested so much capital to get a product to market.
Now, I can potentially go and print a whole lot of different things on my home printer. This opens up a number of questions: who owns the IP of a file? Who owns the liability? These are areas that will be really pivotal for the industry over the next five years.
What are your thoughts on Industry 4.0? Have we reached the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’?
I believe we have. For example, you can see the extent to which more companies like Jabil are putting the physical assets in place that will more fully connect to the cloud.
The next big growth area where people will start to see the impact of Industry 4.0 is in spare parts for high-value assets. This could be for aircraft, commercial or military, or even high-value mining equipment, where it costs owners tens of thousands of dollars per hour when machines go down.
Industry 4.0, and additive manufacturing more specifically, will start to cut down a lot of inventory for those companies trying to keep their customers happy.
So yes, we’re absolutely at Industry 4.0.
In terms of Jabil’s next steps with additive manufacturing, what does the future hold?
We’ve been successful in proving that we can distribute digital manufacturing. This gives Jabil the opportunity to take our 130+ facilities and start to connect them digitally. We’re going to continue to expand what we’ve done in five facilities now to the broader sets to serve more customers.
And again, just in the short time we’ve been at it, we’ve seen the point by which we intersect the cost curve between additive and injection moulding continue to grow. So more applications are finding their way onto our printers, which is really expanding what we’re doing today.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
One other element that is often overlooked is the complexity associated with the AM work-stream and digital thread. This includes the complexity of determining the costs of producing a part with additive, managing the design file and putting the quality systems in place to ensure that the part can be put into a complex assembly.
Whether you call this the digital thread, value stream mapping or something else — this is an area where we haven’t yet seen a comprehensive solution. And that’s a very important part of the whole journey.
To learn more about Jabil, visit: https://www.jabil.com/additive
AMFG’s Expert Interviews series showcases innovative companies and individuals helping to shape the future of additive manufacturing. For more information about participating in the series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.