Spoilt for choice

ESUK August14 p10 Active PCB 1Aerospace OEMs have the pick of the country’s best contract electronics manufacturers. So how should they choose the ideal partner to safeguard their business?

The UK aerospace industry is the second largest in the world and is worth over £22 billion, according to the most recent survey by industry body ADS Group. Conditions are tough in both civil and military markets worldwide, however, as airlines face rising operating costs and as governments become increasingly careful with defence spending. To thrive today, companies in the aerospace sector must deliver innovative new equipment on time and at ultra-competitive prices.

Which is why OEMs producing aerospace or defence electronics need to choose their manufacturing partners wisely. An accurate and comprehensive supplier evaluation is essential, and the quality management system (QMS) is an ideal place to begin. In some cases the OEM’s customer may insist that all companies in the supply chain operate an AS9100 qualified QMS. Others allow more freedom for OEMs to select a manufacturer based on their own criteria, which could be as simple as already having a long history of successful joint projects.

Working to standards

Ultimately, the OEM needs to be sure that the chosen CEM can deliver to the agreed specification, on time and in the required quantities, with no deviation in build quality, and with all necessary documentation such as certificates of conformity and traceability data readily available. To provide evidence of this, the CEM should be able to describe the procedures that are in place to support new product introduction (NPI) and minimise any threats that may delay or prevent delivery. Business performance data such as on-time delivery statistics, the time taken to respond to quotes, kitting times and records of supplier on-time deliveries, and information about repeat orders from customers can also provide a reliable indicator of performance.

These are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that an OEM must assess when auditing a candidate manufacturing partner. AS9100 obliges organisations to record this data in order to maintain their QMS certification and they should share this information readily and clearly. Active-PCB Solutions, for example, includes a comprehensive set of KPIs as part of its corporate presentation. This ensures basic issues are covered and can help to streamline supplier evaluation. AS9100 also formalises requirements for continuous improvement of aspects such as product quality, staff performance and training.

Looking for differentiators

One of the major differentiators of an AS9100 QMS lies in the stipulations surrounding product realisation and particularly assessment of any hazards that may prevent delivery. This assures OEMs that any risks such as non-delivery or component obsolescence are understood in advance and procedures put in place to minimise their consequences.

It is also worth pointing out that companies may differ in the way they implement their QMS. Active-PCB, for example, has strengthened its AS9100-certified QMS in relation to issues such as traceability and has implemented procedures so that the top-level quality manual flows down through work procedures and specific build instructions to support NPI. This has streamlined processes, enabling fast turnaround times.

As a final note, cooperation and communication throughout the project is important to achieve the best possible results. Active-PCB encourages dialogue with its customers through services such as the feedback report provided with every build, which provides an aid to continuous improvement. Cooperation that gets results is a true measure of whether the two companies are really a good fit.