What happens after you hit send?

JJS 8Find out what really happens once you send your electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider an order. JJS Electronics reveals all.

You’ve reviewed the quote and are now in a position to send across an order to your chosen electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider. Depending on the size of the order, or the complexity of the product, delivery time could range anywhere from a few weeks through to several months.

So what happens once you have pressed the send button on your e-mail? The moment a purchase order lands in the recipient’s inbox a hive of activity takes place across multiple departments. Work will begin to ensure everything is in place to deliver, on-time, in full, to the quality standards expected.

Contract review

The first thing an account manager will check is that the order sent across matches the quote they sent out. They will be checking that the part number, revision, quantity and price all match. It’s not uncommon for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to implement engineering change notes (ECNs) during the request for quotation (RFQ) process—hence the need to verify the original quote against what has now been ordered.

They will also make sure that any additional quote clauses have been covered by the purchase order. For example, there could be materials that carry minimum order quantities, or perhaps bespoke tooling that needs designing and ordering.

Finally, they will collate all of the material quotes obtained during the process and pass them across to the procurement team. Any long lead-time items will be flagged so that the purchasing team can place these on order ASAP.

Production planning

Once they are comfortable that the order matches the quote they sent, the account manager will liaise with their operations manager to agree a build slot and delivery date. An initial lead-time will have been given based on material availability and build time, but it’s unlikely your EMS provider will have secured a firm build slot. This is because there can be several weeks delay between sending across a quotation and an order being placed—assuming, of course, you move forward with their quote in the first place.

On receipt of a firm order, however, your EMS partner should be reviewing capacity against future demand and securing build slots for you. In addition, they will start to plan the resources required for the project. This may include creating dedicated ‘lean lines’ requiring new workbenches and floor space, or could involve installing additional services to an area—like network points, GPS antennas, high voltage power supply or compressed air lines.

Order acknowledgment

Once the materials have been reviewed and a build slot has been agreed, your account manager will enter your order details onto their system and acknowledge it back to you, usually within 48 hours. In addition to confirming the basics, such as part number, revision, quantity and price, they should state the delivery date they are working to achieve. In most cases this will match with your original order and their initial quote.

If after the contract review process there are any differences, these should be made clear. Some EMS companies will actually confirm two dates: the first being your original request date, and the second the acknowledged date following the contract review process.

Material procurement

With your order loaded and acknowledged, the procurement team takes over. Often split into commodity groups focussing on different material types, the procurement team will begin to secure all the materials required. This process may include a combination of firm scheduled orders along with the creation of long term supplier contracts. ‘Protected’ or ‘buffer’ stocks are often put in place on key items to help reduce lead-times and guarantee availability.

Due to the range of products EMS companies build on behalf of their clients there is often overlap when it comes to certain materials. Many will share common devices, particularly passive components such as resistors and capacitors and some of the more standard integrated circuits. Using replenishment systems, the procurement team can focus attention on any shortfalls. They may need to visit and audit new sources of supply, or negotiate different terms with existing suppliers, based on a change in demand patterns.

Any delivery acknowledgements received back from the supply chain should be entered onto the EMS supplier’s business system. If, for any reason, a supplier cannot honour the original price or delivery commitment, the procurement team will feed this back to your account manager so they can review appropriate solutions and discuss the issue with you.

Logistical support

Should your order require additional support, your account manager will liaise with their logistics team. For example, large cabinets may require specialist lifting equipment, both for the incoming raw materials and the outgoing finished units. Or perhaps the finished product needs to be placed into its final packaging, along with a range of accessories, so it can be shipped directly to the end user.

Although finished goods won’t be ready yet, having an appreciation early on of any additional space or special instructions is advantageous to the logistics team.

Document control

As soon as an order is loaded, your EMS partner’s engineering team will be notified. Firstly they will check whether the order is for something they have built before, or a new product that needs to go through the new product introduction (NPI) process. For new builds, the engineering team will review the build data they have to ensure the latest revisions are stored on the internal document control system. At this stage they may also request additional information from, for example, computer aided design (CAD) files, so they can create unique build packs for the production team.

If your product contains surface mount components, solder stencils will have to be specified and ordered and programmes for the pick and place machines will be written. Assembly routes will also need adding to the job so that a clearly defined build path and timings can be followed once build commences.

Where software needs loading onto units, the engineering team will need to validate they have the latest version in the format they require. Work can also begin on creating any in-circuit test (ICT) fixtures or flying probe programmes required. If you plan on sending your EMS provider any functional test equipment and instructions, the team will check with your account manager when delivery is expected, so they can familiarise themselves with the equipment and your processes.

Project management

It’s likely that you will place a number of orders with an EMS provider. Some will be for new products and others may be for more stable, repeat requirements. The role of your account manager is to orchestrate all of the resources they have available, while keeping you fully informed with build progress and any issues that need addressing. While material delays or technical queries may not be welcome, it’s important they aren’t swept under the carpet to bite you at a later date.

Clearly, a number of steps and processes start to take place the moment you send across your order. Of course, different EMS companies use different software packages and approach issues in a different way. To some extent it doesn’t really matter, provided you receive the service levels you signed up for in the first place when you initially decided to outsource to them.