This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing. To celebrate 5 years of reporting on the 3D printing industry, we’ve invited industry leaders and 3D printing experts to give us their perspective and predictions for the next 5 years and insight into trends in additive manufacturing.

Rush LaSelle is the Director of Digital Manufacturing at Jabil. Founded in 1966, Jabil are a global manufacturing services company operating in over 20 countries and with more than 175,000 employees. 

3D Printing The Next Five Years by Rush LaSelle, Director, Digital Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing will transform industries over the next decade in a magnitude comparable to that of the Industrial Revolution. In the very way the previous revolution ushered in manufacturing processes and technology that made products (such as the automobile) affordable for the masses, additive manufacturing will make tailored products available to a larger percentage of consumers. As products become regionalized on the road to fully personalized, they will be produced in smaller lots, which will reduce dependencies on large-scale industrial operations. The benefit: Products then can be designed and delivered locally, which will drive greater intimacy between buyers and sellers.

John Dulchinos (left), VP, Global Automation and 3D Printing, and Bill Muir, COO, next to the first production units of the HP MJF 3D Printer at one of Jabil’s additive manufacturing labs. Photo via Jabil.

John Dulchinos (left), VP, Global Automation and 3D Printing, and Bill Muir, COO, next to the first production units of the HP MJF 3D Printer at one of Jabil’s additive manufacturing labs. Photo via Jabil.

Additive Manufacturing is a Critical Tool

Jabil’s history with additive is like most manufacturers: Its use has been limited to a few areas, including prototyping, and for specific applications, such as creating injection molds with conformal cooling. The company expanded its investment over the past few years as additive has presented cost models appropriate for a widening set of uses across the production spectrum. As technology improves and material prices drop, additive increasingly is being considered for production of final parts where small batch sizes challenge the investment in traditional production techniques, like injection molding. Plus, additive offers significant reductions in time-to-market for new products. The most competitive weapon in business is time, and additive is beginning to prove itself a critical tool in new-product-introduction, similar to how computing has accelerated back-office processes over the past two decades.

We believe several attributes are critical to accelerating the benefits of additive, and by way of extension, distributed manufacturing. First, a robust and secure digital thread to manage products efficiently from concept to end-of-life. Having a well-architected digital thread enables the democratization of design and the ability to distribute manufacturing to any location with digital manufacturing systems. Second, manufacturers will need to rethink traditional design and realization processes to align with accelerated product development efforts. Third, it is critical that additive technologies, like all new process equipment, go through rigorous readiness and qualification steps. Unlike prototyping, when additive is considered for manufacturing, thorough qualification of the machines, materials, processes, and ultimately the parts themselves, is required.

Jabil ensures the quality and consistency of an additive part using a CT scanner. Photo via Jabil.

Jabil ensures the quality and consistency of an additive part using a CT scanner. Photo via Jabil.

The Decision to use Additive Manufacturing

With over 50 years of manufacturing and supply chain experience, Jabil has developed a network of systems enabling faster and more efficient management of product lifecycles and specific manufacturing processes. Connectivity across internal and external infrastructure is a critical aspect of driving distributed models that will power the proliferation of additive over the next five years. Only then can the network leverage vital resources–whether they are man or machine– permitting replication of tasks around the globe in predictable and repeatable manners.

As industry works to deploy appropriate processes and infrastructure, today’s choice of whether to use additive still comes down to comparisons with more traditional and lower-risk manufacturing technologies such as injection molding. Generally speaking, smaller parts tend to have higher breakeven points when compared to injection molding, while larger parts tend to have lower breakeven points. A review of a recent program for an electrical assembly enclosure saw component volumes range from 5,000 parts to 25,000 before it becomes more economical to invest in tooling for an injection mold vs. additive. We expect that over the next three years, both material and platform costs will decrease rapidly, which will increase breakeven points in these types of comparisons to well in excess of 100,000 parts. Until a more robust supply-chain is built around additive with the appropriate control systems in place, the decision whether to use additive will continue to revolve around comparisons with more well-known technologies such as injection molding and casting.

End-use parts produced by the HP MJF 3D Printing System awaiting clean-up. Photo via Jabil.

End-use parts produced by the HP MJF 3D Printing System awaiting clean-up. Photo via Jabil.

“We are hitting inflection points”

From an industrial manufacturer’s perspective, the past 20 years of excitement around additive is on the verge of unlocking new manufacturing paradigms. Even today, the technology is only mature enough to impact a fraction of a percent of manufacturing operations. As companies work through the exacting process of qualifying machines, processes, materials and parts, the transformation will accelerate such that in five years it will represent a measurable impact on a $13 trillion market. With the continued release of platforms that offer step-function change, such as HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, there will be a business imperative for companies to have the digital, physical and process infrastructure in place to employ highly efficient conversion systems, such as additive, capable of supporting distributed manufacturing networks. We are hitting inflection points across technology platforms that suggest the next five years will see additive manufacturing more frequently rival traditional production solutions.

Jabil’s custom-designed industrial print rack for 3D printing tooling and fixtures. Photo via Jabil.

Jabil’s custom-designed industrial print rack for 3D printing tooling and fixtures. Photo via Jabil.

This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing, if you’d like to participate in this series then contact us for more information. For more insights into the 3D printing industry, sign up to our newsletter and follow our active social media channels.

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More information about Jabil is available here.

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Featured image shows Rush LaSelle, Director, Digital Manufacturing, Jabil.

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