As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), one of your key focusses is likely to be designing and delivering innovative new products.
Whether you are fulfilling existing customer demand or attempting to break into new markets, it’s crucial these products are available and fully functional when your customers expect them.
So, if you are working with an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider, they need to demonstrate to you that they have robust processes and procedures in place to deliver your new products on time, in full (OTIF) without any drama.
To help you validate the New Product Introduction (NPI) capabilities of your existing EMS provider here is our six-point guide to help navigate your way through their processes.
1. Getting things started
On receipt of your order, the assigned project engineer within the EMS company should check the build data for completeness. They will verify they have the latest Bill of Materials (BOM), along with associated drawings, Gerber files, CAD data and test specifications. If the build information you have provided is incomplete or found to be different to that used for quoting, your account manager should contact you immediately to avoid unnecessary delays.
The EMS provider will need to understand if you require "first-off" product sending in for approval. Depending on how long this takes, and the batch quantity you have ordered, the assembly partner will then determine the most logical quantity of product to build for first-off approval.
2. Acknowledging your order
Your EMS provider will then acknowledge your order. As a minimum, this should confirm the product name and revision level, the quantity you have ordered, price and delivery. Some assembly partners may acknowledge two delivery dates – your original request date and their confirmed delivery date. In most cases, these dates will be the same - however, if new or updated build information is required after the order has been sent over, and before a build can start, they will want to communicate a revised/realistic date with you.
In tandem, the project engineer should be checking internally that they have everything in place to build your product once material arrives. They will verify that a works order route is loaded onto their computer system, solder stencils (or any other tooling required for the build or test) have been ordered, and that all of the programmes for the pick and place and automated optical inspection (AOI) equipment are in place.
3. Creating the build packs
Unique build packs for each product should be created. These documents should include all of the data each production and test operator needs at the varying stages of manufacturing. Special "care points", additional build notes and photographs of the product should all feature.
The EMS provider must have a clear and concise way of communicating to the rest of the business that a particular product or works order is "new". One method is to use a simple colour coding system, which is recognised and understood by all. With a number of different products being manufactured each day, often to varying revision levels, it’s important the EMS provider has a method to identify and track NPI builds separately to standard production requirements.
4. Overseeing the build
The project engineer will support your NPI build at every stage of the production process – from reviewing how the material has been supplied right through to signing off the build for shipment. They will be responsible for updating the original build documentation with notes or care points they feel are necessary, while providing build progress or technical issues to your account manager, who will then discuss these with you.
Should there be the need for multiple engineering or production staff to support your build - for example, a complex electro-mechanical product crossing multiple disciplines - a "traveller" document should be in place to clearly record all details and make sure a level of consistency is applied across the build.
5. Completing the build
Once the build has been completed, and providing no design related or technical issues are found, the project engineer will authorise your product for shipment. Photographs of the finished product should be taken and the engineer should only authorise shipment once all route stages have been completed, and the traveller document has been signed in full.
Following delivery and customer approval, the EMS provider should then update their computer system and change the product status to "repeat" build. This change, once again reflected by a different colour coding system, signifies everything is in place for production volumes to commence and that future builds no longer require "hands-on" engineering support. At this stage, a formal hand over is made between the engineering and production teams.
6. Finalising the process
If any issues are found during the NPI build, which could affect the next batch, the EMS provider should change the status of the product to "pre-production" - using a third colour code. The next batch will be led by the production team, but the project engineer will still be responsible for overseeing the build and signing off key milestones. This ensures that any concerns found on the first run no longer present a risk and that any suggestions to improve the build have been implemented.
To complete the process, a formal NPI report should be created by the EMS provider’s engineering team. This report provides a visual "journey" of the build, but also acts as a formal way of keeping track of any observations that could help improve the build or test process going forward.
You will find that each EMS provider approaches their NPI process differently. They won’t necessarily follow all of these steps or complete them in the same order. Regardless, they should be able to demonstrate to you that they have a robust procedure in place to safely deliver new products into the market without fuss or delay.
If you are unsure how your current EMS partner manages this process or have experienced problems in the past in getting product out into the market, feel free to use this six-point guide as a basis for your discussions.