This sponsored story was produced in association with Jabil, not by MIT Technology Review editorial staff.
Dream big or go home.
That’s the unofficial motto of Jabil’s new Blue Sky Center in San Jose, California, where the company is assembling a concentration of brainpower and engineering capabilities that’s impressive even by Silicon Valley standards.
The center — actually a 100,000-square-foot campus — is designed to serve simultaneously as a showcase and an R&D hub for the global design, manufacturing, and supply chain services giant.
“We named it ‘Blue Sky’ because we want people to know that the sky’s the limit when it comes to innovation,” says Joanne Moretti, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Jabil. “It’s fertile ground for innovation, where our top people, our capabilities, our partners, and our customers can all come together to realize their dreams.”
Jabil: A Major Player Transforms Itself
Of course, thinking big is nothing new for Jabil, which reported nearly $16 billion in revenues for 2014 and currently ranks 155 on the Fortune 500 list. The company employs more than 180,000 people in 24 countries and works with 17,000 suppliers. Its customer base reads like a Who’s Who of both big brands and promising startups. Apple, Athos, Crestron, Honeywell, NetApp, Tesla, Tile, Whistle, and Zebra are just a few of the companies that count on Jabil’s services.
Jabil designs and builds across the entire digital universe, from device to data center to the cloud. For example: in 2014, it produced 300,000 smartphones a day for one customer and manufactured 15 million wearable and lifestyle devices for another. Other products include smart energy meters, “connected” home devices and clothing for remote health monitoring, and cloud-ready infrastructure, including servers, storage systems, and networks. Jabil’s Nypro division designs health-care products that range from small pharmaceutical devices to large diagnostic and hospital equipment.
“We enjoy an interesting spot in the technology ecosystem,” says Erich Hoch, Jabil’s executive vice president for engineering and technology services. “We have direct connections into the top 250 brands in the world across multiple sectors, including top suppliers like Intel. We can all collaborate to help our customers gain differentiation and first-mover advantage.”
Founded in 1966, Jabil started out as an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) contract manufacturer. Today, it’s repositioning itself as a full-service solution provider, delivering solutions for the entire product lifecycle, from conceptualization to design engineering to development of industrial solutions to manufacturing to distribution.
“Our customers are asking us for more than ‘build to order’ services,” Moretti says. “They want us to come to the table with innovative ideas. The beauty is, we cut across 13 industry sectors and can cross-pollinate our capabilities from one industry to another to help them gain competitive advantage in the face of accelerating change.” As one example, she cites Jabil’s design of a novel hospital feeding tube equipped with a tiny 3-D camera, an LED light, and specialized adhesives that must meet FDA standards. This invention combined four of Jabil’s engineering capabilities. Moretti notes: “The four came together to provide unmatched differentiation to our customer in the space.”
In an era of growing personalization — that is, tailoring of products to users — and increasing consumerization, Jabil customers expect the company to be agile and fast, Hoch observes. For that reason, Jabil leverages big data and analytics for its factory-automation and 3-D printing processes, all managed through its Intelligent Digital Supply Chain.
Ultimately, three factors set Jabil apart in the marketplace, Moretti explains. “First, we will never compete with our customers. We protect their intellectual property, and their reputation, with our lives.” Second, but equally important, is Jabil’s ingenious workforce. Finally, there’s the company’s unified IT backbone, “which gives us 24 x 7 x 365 global visibility and underpins our Intelligent Digital Supply Chain,” she concludes.
A New Hub for Innovation
The new Blue Sky Center, launched in April 2015, is where all Jabil’s capabilities come together for the benefit of Jabil’s customers. Jabil has been moving key employees from all over the world to this new location, where about 350 people work now. “Having most of our experts on one campus will help us get more things done in real time,” Hoch says. “It will move the needle for us — and even more so for our customers.”
The center also houses Jabil’s Intelligent Digital Supply Chain Operations Center, which resembles the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise of Star Trek fame. Jabil’s system includes a giant screen that can show any Jabil customer’s supply chain in real time. The system identifies high, medium, and low risks in the supply chain, as well as opportunities for optimization. It provides visibility into weather, points of failure, potential labor issues, freight considerations, geopolitical unrest, and changing levels of demands for products. Jabil can assess all those factors to proactively determine the optimal supply-chain configuration for any customer. What’s more, Jabil does this modeling at the beginning of the product lifecycle, not as an afterthought, Hoch says. About 60 Jabil customers are already using the system, with new ones coming online almost daily.
In addition to housing R&D, design, and prototyping activities, Blue Sky also serves as a customer engagement center, Moretti says. The center’s Innovation Hall features what Jabil believes is the world’s largest curved, full-touch-screen explorer wall. The hall also contains a movie theater, an IoT-enabled city model, and other features reminiscent of a science museum, all intended to illustrate Jabil’s vast portfolio of engineering capabilities and simultaneously stimulate its visitors’ imaginations.
Ultimately, the Blue Sky Center — like Jabil itself — is about realizing dreams and pushing both engineering and imagination to new heights.
For more information, visit www.jabil.com.