The term “electronics manufacturing” encompasses a broad range of industries, from consumer electronics to aerospace. But not every contract electronics manufacturer has the broad range of capabilities necessary to serve more than one or two industries. In other words, the contract manufacturer that does such a great job building a toy robot may not be the best choice for building an optical transceiver. That’s okay, as long as the electronics manufacturing service (EMS) provider you choose has the capabilities you need for your particular device. To make sure that your product is in good hands, be sure to keep the following in mind.
If your product is a medical device, then at a minimum, your EMS provider must be ISO 13785 certified. But this certification is just the beginning. Medical devices must meet exceptionally high production standards, which means your product will likely require a customized manufacturing solution—one that incorporates rigorous testing. In addition, your EMS provider should have engineers on staff who can review your design to catch any potential issues that might compromise the product’s safety or reliability.
Aerospace and Defense Products
If your products are destined for aerospace or defense customers, then security and reliability are key. Your EMS provider should be ITAR registered, not just for manufacturing, but all along the supply chain. Your provider should also be familiar with the demands of building and shipping secure devices and should be able to deliver complex assemblies while meeting strict national security standards. At a minimum, it should adhere to NIST standards and employ up-to-date technology—like ESD flooring to protect sensitive microelectronics, and AOI systems to detect even minute flaws early in production. Ideally, your provider will also be able to securely pack, ship, and track your products.
If you sell electronic devices to the general public, then you need an EMS provider who can respond quickly to modifications and/or upgrades to your product. Consumer tastes are ever changing, and products need to evolve in response. If your EMS provider has engineers on staff who can help you tweak your product’s design and quickly modify the manufacturing process, you’ll be able to meet consumer demand before it morphs yet again. Ideally, your EMS provider should also offer shipping and logistics services with a strong predictive capability, so that you can respond rapidly to fluctuations in demand. An experienced provider can ensure that you don’t carry too much expensive inventory, or miss out on potential sales because of a product shortage.
Finding a Contract Electronics Manufacturer – The Fundamentals
While it’s true that many manufacturers specialize in delivering services to a particular industry, there are a few qualities that are shared by all top-notch EMS providers. Here are the capabilities your manufacturing partner should have, no matter your industry.
Industry Experience: Whatever your field of electronics, life will be easier if your EMS provider has experience working with products like yours. In the same way that surgeons gain expertise with every operation they perform, manufacturing engineers are in many ways the sum total of every product they’ve helped bring to market.
Technical Expertise: Speaking of engineers, be sure your EMS provider has the technical expertise your product demands. Simple products don’t need an engineer’s involvement, but if your electronics device has multiple functions, an engineer with deep PCBA experience can help you streamline your board design without losing functionality.
DFM Services: Your engineers may have come up with an elegant product design, but how easy is it to build? A strong EMS provider will have engineers who can analyze your prototype to make sure your product can be built at a reasonable cost and speed. For example, they may recommend off-the-shelf components to replace custom parts, thus lowering the production cost.
Testing Services: Your manufacturer should regularly test the products coming off the line, especially early batches, so they can catch any systemic errors early on. Keeping faulty products from making it to market will save you from making warranty repairs or sending replacements to customers. To make this easy and inexpensive, your device should be designed with testing in mind—something a capable manufacturing partner can help with.
Certifications and Registrations: An easy way to get a sense of an EMS provider’s capabilities is to look at the certifications they hold. At a minimum, the provider should be ISO 9001 certified. For sophisticated devices, make sure your provider has SMTA-certified engineers on staff. Depending on your industry, you’ll also want to check for specialty certifications and registrations, like ISO 13485 certification for medical devices, and ITAR registration for defense products.
Advanced Technologies: What technologies does the EMS provider offer? For example, is it capable of in-house 3D printing of jigs, fixtures, and ESD-safe tools? Does it have a laser available to easily etch and cut metals? An EMS provider that has these technologies on hand can greatly speed your time to market.
Awards: Though not as important as certifications and registrations, awards do tell you something about the quality of the contract manufacturer, especially if those awards come from customers.
Environmentally Responsible: Most companies today are working hard to green their manufacturing processes and ease the environmental footprint of their products. If this is a priority for your company, then look for an EMS provider that incorporates circular-economy principles into its manufacturing processes and can help you design a product with a sustainable lifecycle.
Supply Chain Services: A manufacturing partner that’s skilled in supply chain management can help you source less expensive components and make it easier to navigate global supply disruptions. It can also help you eliminate waste and redundancy and maximize the recovery of useful material at your product’s end of life.
Fulfillment Services: Packaging and shipping is the last mile of the production process, and a full-service EMS provider will offer this. Ideally, your provider should be able to track your products from the factory floor to the point of sale, facilitating returns and allowing you to gather valuable user data.