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In the complex world of sourcing through Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) providers, a savvy purchasing pro has to know what the OEM needs and exactly what the EMS can provide to find the perfect fit for its manufacturing needs. It’s not just about ticking the ISO 9001 box; it’s about diving into the provider’s DNA to ensure they breathe quality and accountability. 

This post sets the scene for an exploration into why a provider’s culture matters so much. We’ll also be digging into more practical aspects like throughput requirements and how well the provider handles new product releases – crucial stuff in the ever-changing landscape of electronics contract manufacturers. So, buckle up as we unravel four essentials for a successful partnership in the manufacturing realm!

1. If your EMS provider doesn’t have a deeply-ingrained culture of quality and accountability, find another EMS provider.

Why this is important: Your CM’s quality management system and overall approach to quality affects your quality; they’re problems will eventually become your problems. 

They will all be ISO 9001 or similar, so this detail is less important, but how they execute it is. What’s their response rate?  What is their “escape rate” (number of defects for a batch) ? How many Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) requests have they had in the past year? This is often a cultural thing that may be difficult to ascertain until you’ve worked with them for a while or by conducting a thorough audit yourself. 

CMs will make mistakes. But when the CM doesn’t learn from these mistakes, that’s a red flag. When they make a lot of mistakes across the organization, that’s a red flag. When they don’t own their mistakes (accountability), that’s a red flag. 

2. Understand your throughput requirements and your EMS provider’s capacity.

Why this is important: US-based EMS providers generally have a lower-volume capacity than providers in Asia. 

The US-based companies typically offer what’s called the “low-volume, high-mix” approach where companies build a lot of different products for several customers at a lower per-batch volume (often less than 1,000 units). Asian providers typically prefer much higher volumes and service less frequent line changes due to that throughput. 

While a low-volume, high-mix EMS might be the best fit now, if your product volume is expected to increase, you may need to maintain relationships with multiple CMs or transition some production overseas. Production lead times may be affected if you don’t.

3. Learn the new product release process with your EMS provider.

Why this is important: Clear, audited communication is vital to assuring that you and your manufacturer are on the same page and share the same information for manufacturing your product. 

A good low-volume, high-mix provider will have a highly streamlined, efficient process for handling new product introductions. If they don’t, you could end up with long lead times, poor first article quality, or higher fees for minor changes or variations to a product. For small-batch production, the NPI process is often where the problems and costs creep in. An excellent EMS provider will focus on nailing this part of their service.

4. Different CMs have expertise that is shaped by their existing and past customers

Why this is important: While they may share the same or similar equipment, a CM that has been assembling products based on older technology will be less adept at identifying and correcting issues with high-density electronics such as fine-pitch components and tiny surface-mount devices. 

If your CM’s customer portfolio isn’t using similar technology as you, you might end up subsidizing their learning curve. Cutting edge products rely on cutting edge manufacturing technology and different materials. Experienced shop personnel will be quick to resolve any issues before they affect the quality of your product.

These four subjects are certainly not everything an OEM needs to consider when selecting and working with an EMS provider. There are many more aspects that need to be considered to make sure the process yields the results the OEM needs. For example, buyers must have their projects ready for hand off to production and they need to understand and be able to convey the company’s metrics for quality and performance. There is even more that goes into successful sourcing and it all requires good data management and collaboration between departments and vendors. 

Having the right tools for the job

Managing the complexities of outsourcing all but requires a purpose-built, highly integrated software system to capture and oversee all the details. For most small and medium sized companies, the best choices are using a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system or better, a fully featured Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) system. Companies who only develop products and use contract manufacturers to entirely produce their products typically use a system like Aligni PLM. OEMs who only rely on EMS providers to produce portions of their products to augment their own operations use more robust systems like Aligni MRP.

If you’re looking to get into outsourcing your electronics products or just a few subassemblies, then it’s time to step up to purpose-built software to more effectively manage the process, as well. It’s time to sign up for Aligni PLM or Aligni MRP!

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Aligni Incorporated

13500 SW 72nd Ave, STE 100
Portland, OR 97223