Jabil’s Blue Sky Center: Robotic Automation, Supply Chain Control Towers, Customer Proximity

I had the chance to moderate two panels at Jabil Circuit’s grand opening of their multi-million dollar Blue Sky Center in San Jose, CA. I have to say, I was blown away. I didn’t know a lot about the $16B, 200K person, 45 year-old design, manufacturing and supply chain company before I walked into Jabil Circuit’s Blue Sky, but like anyone visiting the Blue Sky Center, you’ll get an education once you’ve toured it. Believe me, the cutting edge technology and engineering capabilities were impressive, but the reality is that most of Jabil Circuit’s prior success came from the close proximity to their customers versus being the “cheap guy” like others. But let’s talk about the company and the tech first.

Jabil Circuit, known simply as “Jabil” provides ideation, design engineering, manufacturing and supply chain services for a wide variety of companies in healthcare, mobility and wearables, lifestyle, enterprise and cloud ready infrastructure, IoT-connected smart cars, smart homes, retail IoT, printing, and energy. Yes, that’s very broad set of capabilities in a broad range of sectors. While Jabil maniacally protects the identities of the customers and their IP, they did get authorization to show off some of the products Jabil enables in one or many aspects of the product lifecycle.

Augmented Reality City Planner (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)Augmented Reality City Planner (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)

The end-consumer products I recognized at Blue Sky were Walt Disney’s MagicBandPhilips Sonicare toothbrush, Advair Diskus inhaler (GlaxoSmithKline), VeinViewer Flex vein finder, Tile lost and found device, Athos Fitness Clothing, Whistle dog Activity Monitor, 94Fifty Smart Sensor Basketball and the Tesla Motors Model S. I had consumer product executives on my panel from Crestron, Tile, Athos, Whistle, and Honeywell International.

The enterprise side of the Jabil house is also impressive, but they don’t always make the best demos. On my panel, I had executives from enterprise companies NetAppZebra Technologies, Honeywell International, and Crestron, and we saw some impressive medical device and scale-out data center server demos.

Full-Spectrum Photonics (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)Full-Spectrum Photonics (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)

Jabil had some impressive equipment on hand as well, some which I had never seen before. They showed off one of world’s largest curved, multi-touch displaysaugmented reality city visualization tool using three projectors to beam real-time city status onto a small-scale version of a connected city, augmented reality based workspace, high procession factory automation solutions, five different kinds of 3D printers, a sterilized operating room, and an Intera 3 Robot-called “Baxter” from Rethink Robotics.

One of the world's largest curved, multi-touch displays (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)One of the world’s largest curved, multi-touch displays (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)

The biggest surprise was their Supply Chain Command Center, where in real-time they can predict and proactively deal with issues and opportunities across 7M parts and 17K vendors globally on a 24x7x365 basis. This was in addition to what you’d expect to see like full SMT lines to populate PCBs, clean rooms, and labs for specialized soldering, materials characterization, mechanical characterization and destructive analysis. There were also fully-automated, standard integration modules, and precision assembly modules for things like precision optics you might find in a GoPro.

“Literally, you could ideate, engineer and rapidly prototype as well as manufacture a breakthrough product in one single 100K square foot building at the Blue Sky Center.

Jabil claims that no other organization can execute this much under one roof.

Many of these capabilities and equipment I discussed are differentiators, but what got Jabil to the “show” was its intense focus on their customers. Sure, that’s not as sexy to read about as a smiling Intera 3 Robot, but it’s the huge part of what’s created the $16B company. I moderated two panels with Jabil customer executives from NetApp, Crestron, Honeywell International, Zebra Technologies, and startups Tile, Whistle, and Athos. What I was struck with and surprised about was how many times the customer conversations got back to the strength of the relationship and the ability to “rely” on Jabil and that they were “always there to help”. Sure, their customers got on stage to support Jabil and I’ve moderated lots of customer panels, but I didn’t expect them to literally gush over them.

Jabil Supply Chain Command Center Display (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)Jabil Supply Chain Command Center Display (Credit: Patrick Moorhead, Moor Insights & Strategy)

In harder terms, Jabil has capabilities that creates the environment where their customers can “rely” on them. Here are a few things I uncovered about Jabil related to “reliance”. They have:

  • End to end product lifecycle capabilities – I’m unaware of another contract manufacturer that can take a company from ideation, to UX/UI design, to industrial design, to rapid prototype to full scale production, and delivery. Oh and in one physical place.
  • 1,600 different engineering capabilities across 13 sectors- deep expertise in active alignment (3D camera’s, VR, etc), adhesives (over 100 different types of adhesives and coatings, including a coating to is waterproof and bacteria killing – huge in healthcare), miniaturization, LED lighting, optical networking and material sciences (think 3D printing), to name a few.
  • End to end digital supply chain visibility and control- includes what they call the world’s largest Supply Chain Control Center, powered by a single global instance of SAP.
  • Secure IP Workcell- Jabil says they are the only product realization company to provide a “secure IP workcell” model, which means each customer gets a dedicated leader who owns the P&L, a dedicated team, and a dedicated set of production lines. These “firewalls” limit any chance that anything could ever crosses over to other customers and minimizes the chance that IP is leaked.
  • A no “headlines” policy- Jabil claims to have an extensive social and environmental set of policies that are fully enforced, to protect their customers’ reputation. Ensuring the workplace and the environment are kept completely up to the highest standards.

These are some “hard” capabilities that I believe make a real difference to Jabil’s customers.

I have worked as an OEM and worked with the largest ODMs and contract manufacturers (CMs) in the world in my career, and I’m impressed by what I saw and heard at Blue Sky, particularly from their customers.

While Jabil will always say and act in accordance with what their customers want first and not upstage them, the reality is that value chains are shifting rapidly. Hardware OEMs are moving to a software and services model, ODMs are moving into the OEM space, and frankly CMs need to deliver much greater value and full solutions if they want a future. And that’s exactly what Jabil Circuit’s needs to do and is doing, with the Jabil Blue Sky Center as the shining example of their capabilities.