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10 tips for dealing with contract manufacturers

Posted: 01 Apr 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:contract manufacturing? DFM? bill of materials? OEM?

Follow these 10 guidelines to avoid encountering serious problems when using contract manufacturing.

An OEM's relationship with its contract electronics manufacturer (CEM) can be a lynchpin in ensuring that viable products reach the marketplace successfully. And by "viable" I mean much more than "designs that work"!I mean economically viable, too. With more than 25 years of experience manufacturing niche electronics for a broad range of clients and industries, I've boiled the OEM-CEM relationship down to these five don'ts and five do's.


1. Let the CM be the last to know!If we're the last people to view the product design, bill of materials and so on, then we're not able to add value. Manufacturing is where the rubber meets the road, so talking to us early in your design cycles can actually give you foresight into your product's marketability.

2. Lock-down designs prior to a DFM review!The design-for-manufacturing (DFM) review is where we add some of the greatest value. Given the opportunity, we can actually help make products more successful (i.e. more profitable). But if we're handed a design with no wiggle room, or a deadline with no time buffer for change, that opportunity is lost.

3. Single-source materials!Designing in components that have only one source can be the demise of even the best electronics products. Products with single-source components are vulnerable and more costly. We like to help by recommending comparable components that give our customers more options in terms of supply.

4. Over-design!An over-designed electronics product is often an economic failure. The most successful electronics products balance adequate, reliable performance with a low cost to manufacture.

5. Under-automate!There is a very simple equation in manufacturing: manual = expensive. Designs that minimise the need for manual labour will fetch higher margins. Two areas where automation is often overlooked are interconnects and mechanical (package) design.

Contract manufacturing


1. Start talking early!It is literally never too early to start talking to your contract manufacturer. In fact, if clients come to us with their earliest designs we can collaborate to build the most economically viable products.

2. Be open-minded!A manufacturer sees things very differently from a designer, and both viewpoints have great value. Approach your CEM with curiosity about how a design can be optimised for manufacturability, everything else!including costs and deliverables!will likely fall neatly into place.

3. Prepare detailed documentation!I don't think it's possible to under-communicate when it comes to providing instructions to a CEM. The more CAD files, schematics and specs you deliver with your design the better, from our perspective. And don't forget to provide a comprehensive bill of materials with alternate part numbers!or have your CEM do this for you.

4. Design for manufacture!DFM essentially means considering how easy and cost-effective it is to manufacture an assembly, and designing to reduce those costs. You need a manufacturing mindset to do this well, so leave room for a DFM review and adjustments in your plans.

5. Design for test!Testing an electronics assembly may require extra space or components on the board. It's worthwhile to design a product with testing in mind because it helps ensure the right product the first time. Again, consult with your CEM early in the design stage to ensure that your product can be easily and cost-effectively tested.

- George Henning
??EE Times/President
??OCM Manufacturing

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