Late last month, the Electronic Components, Assemblies & Materials Association (ECA) invited several dozen EMS providers to participate in an industry forum aimed at fostering better communication among contract manufacturers. The forum had two goals: to identify inefficiencies within the EMS sector that have compounded supply chain problems for the global electronics market; and to form an industry body that would meet period-ically to draft remedies for these problems.
Of the nearly 50 companies that were invited, however, only four turned out.
There are surely several reasons for the poor attendance, skimpy travel budgets chief among them. But this does not entirely excuse the lack of open debate or the lack of community that typifies the EMS sector, which is often described as a gangly adolescent striving to grow into an outsized body.
Now, the ECA does not have sole rights to open this much needed dialogue. But given that the ECA's constituents--electronic component suppliers--suffered disproportionately because of slack EMS supply chain management practices, they certainly have a vested interest in its outcome.
Nor should it be suggested that the EMS sector bear the full brunt of criticism for the failings of the electronics industry to recognize and respond to weakening global demand. Plenty of OEMs ignored signs that demand for their products was tailing off.
However, where other segments of the supply chain have gathered to conduct a post mortem on the events that led to the temporary collapse of the electronics industry, EMS providers have been noticeably absent from any public conversation.
This is troubling given that to a large extent, it was runaway growth in the EMS sector that led to an unprecedented spate of overordering and an equally disruptive inability to keep track of in-house inventory. For sure, EMS companies are talking internally, and many have worked to connect disjointed IT systems, keep better track of stock, and rationalize their supplier ranks. But this is all happening at a time when demand for electronics is at its softest point in history. What happens when growth resumes--even if at a less furious pace than in the 1990s?
The EMS sector needs to find a collective voice, whether through the ECA or the Association Connecting Electronics Industries (IPC), which historically has represented contract manufacturers.
As one participant in last month's forum said of the EMS sector: "The electronics supply chain is a dysfunctional family that has just adopted a teenager."
It seems a little group therapy is in order.
E-mail comments to Andrew MacLellan at firstname.lastname@example.org.