The first few months of any new outsourcing relationship can be both an invigorating and an unnerving time for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM)
But understanding what you can expect in the crucial early stages of your outsourcing venture (and knowing what's likely to be expected of you) can ensure that the handing over of your projects is managed seamlessly.
This blog post provides an overview of some of the key steps that will take place once you’ve made the decision to partner with an Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) partner.
A vital element of your new outsourcing partnership will be the allocation of an Account Manager.
Depending on the complexity of your outsourcing project, there could well be several team members involved in the management of your account - from engineering to procurement to compliance. But your Account Manager will remain your principal point of contact throughout.
They'll have a clear understanding of all your objectives, strategies and goals. They'll be there to address any questions or queries (via regular review meetings and through the creation of bespoke customer reports). They'll build and retain a deep knowledge of your products and processes. And they'll recognise the unique requirements of your people, your site and your environment.
There's no doubt that handing over total control of your supply chain to an EMS partner can offer many advantages - removing the overheads and administration associated with procurement and materials handling and allowing you more time to focus on design, marketing and sales.
But relinquishing the management of your supply chain also relies on a high degree of mutual trust - and something that will develop naturally over time, as your relationship with your contract manufacturer builds.
In the first few months, you might prefer to retain full control of your supply chain by buying materials from your existing suppliers and then “free issuing” them to your EMS provider.
Your outsourcing partner will still want to inspect, re-label (and in some cases may even repackage) your products to ensure they comply with their own internal standards and that they're able to meet agreed production deadlines.
If you like the idea of retaining an element of control of your supply chain, but are keen to avoid the costs and inconvenience associated with “free issuing”, then you could opt to nominate a few key suppliers that are critical to your design or that supply you with high value/single components.
Your outsourcing partner can then work directly with your suppliers but with the responsibility for top-level supplier management reviews remaining with you.
Once you’ve established how much of your supply chain is going to be outsourced, your EMS partner can then start to raise annual commitments and to schedule purchase orders for the materials. Their logistics team will also need to inspect each item against its own internal standards and procedures.
Inspection of electronic components (whether they're bought directly from manufacturers or via franchised distribution) will involve both a visual/cosmetic and dimensional inspection.
What's crucial is that each product does what it says on the tin - that it's the right part, that it's in the right quantity, that it's the correct revision and that the paperwork, labels, date codes and external packaging etc all match your EMS provider's expectations.
In addition to checking the basics (quantity delivered, paperwork, external packaging, etc.), all made-to-print items, such as printed circuit boards, metalwork and plastics will need to be inspected against their drawings.
Your EMS partner's logistics team, supported when required by the engineering department, will check that the finish, material and dimensions all match those listed on the drawings.
Once material passes inspection it can then be booked into the system, given a unique batch code label and stored securely until it's needed in the manufacturing process.
While you'll already have provided some form of build pack to your EMS provider at the point of obtaining an initial quote, this may not have contained all the information pertinent to your product.
The odd omission of data at the quotation stage won't necessarily hinder the ability to provide a price - but when it comes to the assembly process itself, any crucial gaps will need to be filled.
A lack of data, or not providing the correct data, can have a significant impact on production and delivery times, so it’s important to be thorough and to check that the build pack you send to your EMS partner is complete and verified.
There's also likely to be a degree of “local knowledge” that's built up across your shop floor staff but that may not be reflected in the build pack. It’s a wise move to make sure all this valuable knowledge and experience is captured in your current documentation before you hand your project over.
The first few months of any outsourcing arrangement is likely to involve a mixture of adjustment and compromise as you build new relationships and decide how much control you're happy to relinquish.
But with mutual expectations firmly in place, and the support of an experienced EMS partner, you can rest assured that your electronics manufacturing will be in safe hands.