Using a 3D printer to produce parts for a 3D printer is just one example of how far the additive manufacturing industry has come over the past three decades. That’s what manufacturing solutions provider Jabil (St. Petersburg, FL) is doing for HP Inc. (Palo Alto, CA), which is rapidly scaling its 3D printer business. The primary benefit of 3D printing is faster time to market and a dramatic cost reduction in parts, which includes the cost of having to build molds and perform multiple design iterations.
|HP's Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printing system.|
Jabil currently uses HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D-printing technology to produce 50 tested and validated parts for HP printers. This has enabled the company to achieve break-even points at up to 40,000 units on some parts, while completing 18 design iterations in the time it normally takes to make one prototype. Production 3D printing of plastic components is the goal for many OEMs, but Jabil and HP seem to be making major headway in this effort.
According to John Dulchinos, Jabil’s VP of Digital Manufacturing, 3D printing of metal has made sense for production parts in high-value segments, such as transportation (aerospace and high performance automotive) and medical. “These industries value parts with optimal geometry and better performance, which comes with 3D-printed metal parts,” Dulchinos told PlasticsToday. “Plastic typically doesn’t have that kind of opportunity.”
While aerospace presents opportunities for 3D printing of plastic parts, the economics and applications are very different when it comes to metal parts. For example, Dulchinos explained that 3D-printed plastic parts tend to be located inside the airplane cabin. Additionally, “3D plastic parts are cheaper than metal parts because the upfront design and secondary processes are less costly,” he said. “This allows them to be used in a wider set of applications.”
Reducing the unit cost of plastic parts, including the mold, is a big goal for OEMs. “We’ve seen the first solutions that take classic 3D printing to a level that changes the economic equation to something meaningful—tens of thousands of parts now, rather than a few dozen or hundreds.” explained Dulchinos.
Jabil is looking to take additive manufacturing to a broad set of industries and attain volume levels that are competitive with injection molding and other traditional manufacturing processes. “In the next few years, we will see applications with 100,000 units as a break-even point and 3D printers with a level of output that will allow us to scale production volumes.”