If you're working with a contract manufacturer (CM) here are two big mistakes to avoid.
Over more than 25 years of manufacturing niche electronics products for a wide range of target industries, I think I’ve seen it all. Unfortunately, that means that I continue to witness some of the same heart-stopping (and product killing) mistakes again and again. If you want to be successful in working with a contract manufacturer (CM), here are two of the worst mistakes you can make:
1. Letting Design Trump Manufacturability
There is a term out there called “design thinking”, which, loosely defined, is the approach of starting with a goal or a vision of a better future state, rather than designing to solve a specific problem. Manufacturing thinking is kind of like that, too: we in manufacturing think about the desired outcome which, in our business, is a product that can be assembled, tested, shipped, and serviced at the lowest possible cost. Low cost translates directly into high automation, low manual labour, and readily available parts.
On paper it seems obvious that a successful electronics product must do both things. It must be excellent at solving a real problem that customers will pay to fix. It must also do so at a cost that is much lower than the price it can command. Obvious, yes – and yet our greatest challenge as a contract electronics manufacturer is receiving products late in the design cycle and discovering that they are difficult, costly, or sometimes impossible to manufacture.
These are some common examples of how a manufacturer might think differently from a design engineer:
- We think about test: Can the product be tested? Can it be tested economically? That may require additional components on board, additional space for clamping, and more.
- We think about automation: How much manual labour will be required to assemble and/or test the board? Does package assembly require multiple wires to be manually crimped or hand-soldered to connect modules or boards before integration into their enclosures? What is the cost-benefit trade-off of sending the product offshore for manual assembly?
- We think about component sources: How many different sources can we turn to for a single component? If there are only one or two suppliers, how reliable are they? Can a component be substituted with a similar alternate component that is more readily available from multiple sources?
- We think about logistics: How costly will it be to ship the product? To return it? Could a different packaging model save a significant amount of drayage cost? Storage cost?
There’s only one fix for this mistake: develop a collaborative relationship with manufacturing early on. Consider design thinking and manufacturing thinking as equally important to the ultimate success of the product.
2. DIY Supply Chain & Purchasing
The Internet is the new Las Vegas: anything you can think of wanting you can find online. I really can’t think of a single thing that isn’t accessible via the internet today, and that goes for electronics components, too.
What isn’t so readily accessible, however, is the experience, relationships, and processes of an experienced supply chain manager. It matters not a whit that you found a supplier online offering a part at 25% less cost online than anyone else is offering if you don’t know that supplier’s reputation for quality, ability to deliver, and lead times.
It’s not just about product quality, either – although I’ve seen my fair share of failed parts that customers have obtained from dubious sources. Experienced supply chain managers know a lot of things that the rest of us don’t – like which parts should be bonded, which inventoried, and which can be managed on-demand for optimal results.
Even in early prototyping stages DIY supply chain management can cause problems. For example, an OEM may expect its prototypes to be machine assembled but then may not purchase the correct boards to make that possible, which increases prototyping costs and lengthens turnaround time.
Simply put, if you don’t have an experienced supply chain manager, take advantage of your CM’s.
George Henning is the President of OCM Manufacturing and can be reached at 1 (800) 268-3961. www.ocmmanufacturing.com.