Finding a good fit: Selecting the right electronics manufacturing partner

ES Nov14 Pg32 & 33 Speedboard 2Selecting the right electronics manufacturing partner depends on finding a supplier that fits your needs. Speedboard reveals how to refine your search

With a track record of over 30 years in the electronics industry, contract electronics manufacturer (CEM), Speedboard, is well versed with regards to the challenges faced by those making the transition from in-house manufacturing to outsourcing, or from an existing supplier to a new partner.

Having completed this transition for many customers over the years, Speedboard appreciates that it is a high risk decision and it is vitally important it is executed properly to maintain supply chain stability.

Having decided to outsource production, selecting the right manufacturing partner for your electronic assembly needs is fundamental to the success of any project. To help address the key factors in this decision making process, Speedboard has compiled a 10 point list of the most important criteria.

1) Size. It is critical to select a suitably sized partner, that is compatible with your type of projects and total spend. The company needs to be able to accommodate your work now and in the future, and it is important to establish that you will be a valued member of its customer base.

2) Technical capability. Establish a list of technical ‘must haves.’ Can the CEM manufacture your product using its current skill sets and is it able to demonstrate abilities in making other products with similar complexities? Ask how the new product introduction (NPI) process is managed. Also how are test requirements managed and how does the company address fault finding?

3) Quality approvals. It is a given that proficient electronic manufacturing needs to be supported by robust standards, systems and procedures and it is equally important to know which approvals are essential to your business. Undertake your own tailored audit and understand what the minimum requirements are, such as ISO approval, IPC build standard and a solid quality analysis (QA) foundation.

4) Ethos and culture. Knowing how to operate ethically and fairly is an indispensable part of any business relationship. Contract manufacturing is essentially a service industry and often the differentiator between suppliers is the people. Sharing goals and objectives, working together to tackle challenges and ultimately having a ‘can do’ attitude is all part of the right work ethic.

5) Materials management. It is important to select an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider that has developed good buying power, built on strong relationships throughout the supply chain network. Buffer and consignment stocking arrangements, accurate lead-time management and precise forecasting capabilities should all be in place.

6) Flexible scheduling. Manufacturing assemblies is only part of the full CEM service. The ability to hold stock of finished product, supplying to Kanban call off and offering a flexible approach to fluctuating demand are all services that set good EMS providers apart.

7) Price. The unit price of an assembly is important, but it is only one of many measurable factors when evaluating a shortlist of EMS providers. Engaging in dialogue prior to the request for quote (RFQ) stage will result in the EMS really understanding requirements and will ultimately produce a more tailored quotation.

8) Product lifecycle support. Ask whether the CEM can offer complete support through the evolution and lifespan of a product. Does it have the capacity and resources to match growing needs but also to service products which become end of life, while still remaining focused?

9) Financials. Checking the financial stability of supply chain partners should be obligatory, but is often overlooked. Your chosen EMS provider must have a respectable financial history and credit rating for effective material procurement, as well as having reserves to invest in new plant and recruit staff. It should be able to survive downturns and have the financial strength to support customer business.

10) Location. There is a recognisable benefit in being able to conveniently visit your manufacturing partner for meetings, to deliver test equipment or collect urgent prototypes. If the shortlisted CEMs are equal in all other respects, then working with the one closest to you will add value to the relationship.

In summary, knowing what is important to your business is essential; understanding how and why the right manufacturing partner can bring benefits is vital. Using this 10 point guide as part of a supplier evaluation process should help create a shortlist of compatible manufacturing companies, from which it will be possible to identify a good fit manufacturing partner.