When selecting an EMS provider, ask yourself what you really need from a partner, rather than writing a list of dream credentials, advises Redcom’s Kevin Moriarty
Sourcing professionals tasked with finding candidate EMS providers for a new project often start by looking at what’s out there. If you google the term ‘electronics manufacturing services’ more than 45 million pages return. If you search the ThomasNet web site for EMS providers, you’ll see more than 700 listings in the USA. There is clearly no shortage of choice, yet it is unlikely that you would be satisfied with a company picked at random.
Instead, it’s more effective to put time into understanding what your company requires from an EMS partner. The following is a list of common considerations for new/small OEMs and start-ups.
ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 certifications, AS9100 cert, ITAR registration and IPC-A-610E and IPC-A-620A workmanship standards are commonly requested, but how important are they to your success, and why? Does it mean you can skip your own assessment of an EMS partner’s quality management system (QMS)? Does your end customer require industry specific certification? Is your end product controlled by ITAR export regulations?
It’s easy to mandate credentials, but you might arbitrarily rule out a provider able to meet more of your requirements, so be sure there’s a solid reason for stipulating any certificate.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to encounter surprises when it’s time to finalize the bill of materials (BOM). Perhaps an EMI shield or an unusual connector is necessary to avoid redesign. EMS providers with a full engineering staff can suggest solutions.
Your EMS provider may also be the first to spot obsolete parts because it is informed by its suppliers. Often, a substitute/equivalent part will be suggested so if you are running lean and don’t have in-house engineering support,
make sure that your EMS partner can provide it.
Consider the importance of inventory management practices. If you supply parts to your EMS partner, are they kept secure and separate from those of other customers? Does your provider return parts kits with a final count tally? The more costly the BOM, the more important this is.
Credit and financing
There’s a spectrum of credit-granting policies in the world of EMS and it’s difficult to discern from an internet search the policy of any prospective EMS supplier. How quickly after the first order will your EMS provider extend credit? Will they
agree to build a twelve-month supply of your product and allow you to take monthly or quarterly shipments, billing you only when shipments occur? If cash flow is a major concern, this arrangement can be extremely valuable.
Here’s a simple selection rule: the smaller your volume requirements, the smaller your EMS provider can be. If your requirements are modest, you don’t want to engage with an EMS company whose customers are mostly OEMs with much larger programs. Normally they would politely tell you to go away, but when business is down, it’s hard for any EMS to turn business away. If a long term relationship is required, be careful.
To find out how big the EMS provider is, run a D&B report, which will also tell you something about their
Last but not least, consider trust, which needs to work both ways. If your EMS provider trusts you, it may be possible to start buying material before a product order is issued, thereby trimming four or five days off the final product delivery date.
Of course, there will be more requirements to consider when choosing an EMS provider, but you’ll be off to a good start if you pay heed to the issues discussed above.