It’s blue skies for Jabil and its customers

headJabil Circuit, the contract manufacturer, chose a hot day in Silicon Valley on Thursday afternoon to show off its hot new Blue Sky Innovation Center in San Jose, Calif., inviting in the press for a tour of the facility and having city officials attend a formal ribbon-cutting.

While making printed circuit boards is still a big business for the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based multinational company, which boasts 90 plants in 24 countries around the world, the Blue Sky Center emphasizes that Jabil has progressed from being a board manufacturer to a full-service supply chain management firm.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the tour was the Jabil Control Tower, a large room that looks like a setting from a James Bond movie or a conspiracy thriller, with one wall given over to a giant screen that presents data from around the world on the company’s customers, suppliers, and operations. The Control Tower features a circular table, with comfortable chairs, not unlike the War Room in Dr. Strangelove, only with nicer, subtler lighting.

The Jabil Control Tower was put into action last weekend following the devastating earthquake in Nepal, as personnel looked to identify how many suppliers were within a 500-mile radius of the epicenter. It was quickly determined there were 131 suppliers in Nepal and northern India, so Jabil could begin the process of contacting those suppliers and checking if their operations were disrupted by the quake.

As central and powerful as the capabilities of the Jabil Control Tower are, the company also made sure to make it accessible from the field, with a mobile application available to employees, officials said.

Jabil has some 3 billion control points in its worldwide operations, said Ross Valentine, the company’s director of solutions innovation, who spoke about the company’s Jabil InControl platform and the Buzzie artificial-intelligence bot that can speak with people in the Control Tower.

In addition to identifying potentially affected suppliers, Jabil reached out to its employees of Nepalese heritage to find out how they and their families were doing. “Safety first, then let’s keep the supply chain moving,” Valentine said.

Chief Operating Officer Bill Muir opened the press conference saying the Blue Sky Center is “about boundless creativity” – creating an environment for Jabil employees to collaborate with customers on ideas for new products, prototyping new product designs, and handing off designs to its plants. “We’re looking to package these solutions for our customers,” he said.

“The race is on to connect products,” said Joanne Moretti, Jabil’s senior vice president of marketing and sales enablement, speaking about Internet of Things applications in health care. Customers now “want partners, they want collaborators,” she said. While Jabil was once in the business of strictly taking customer designs and quickly turning them out in its factories, the company is now expected to provide more services in the supply chain, according to Moretti. “Now (customers) say, do more,” she said.

Erich Hoch, Jabil’s executive vice president of engineering and technology services, said the Blue Sky Center allows the company and its customers to pursue customization, miniaturization, and personalization in product design and manufacturing. “It’s everything under one roof,” he said. “It’s here. It’s real, in the Blue Sky Center.”

The company showed off its IOT Lab and other facilities in the new building, including a cleanroom.

The press conference ended with a panel session led by Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, featuring executives of NetApp, Crestron Electronics, Honeywell, Tile, Zebra Technologies, Athos, and Whistle Labs – all Jabil customers.

The event then moved outside for the ribbon cutting with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (pictured), former Mayor Chuck Reed, other city officials, and Jabil executives.

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