When it comes to manufacturing custom electronics, there are tons of companies out there that can do anything once. The true value of a manufacturing partner is a company that not only has the capability to manufacture your product fast to help you get to market quicker and cost effectively, but also consistently. Effectively accounting for Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) and product changes are factors that often get overlooked in manufacturers. Failing to find a supplier with stable speeds, costs, and a consistent process can cause major headaches down the line.
Speed – How Can I Get to Market Sooner?
There are a few factors to consider when assessing how fast your supplier can get your product to market. Ask about design and NPI (new product introduction) procedures. If the supplier doesn’t have them in place, how will they know how long all the steps will take and what resources are required to complete each step?
It is very common today in the new “gig economy” to outsource some of the design elements, which is perfectly acceptable if the processes are in place to ensure that the outsourced parts are actively managed.
Another key indicator for experience in the ability to move quickly is if the supplier has developed a requirements document or a scope of work. Without a clear outline of the deliverables, there isn’t a way to know the timing around a project. Using the back of a napkin sketch to get started could be the basis of the requirements document, but it should not be the only specified document.
Consistency – How Do They Manage Change?
How a supplier manages development changes is crucial to your product getting to market. When developing new products, you can always be sure that there will be changes made to your design along the way. Whether the changes are minor or major alterations, they all require having a strong system in place to assure that all changes are well documented and performed correctly and consistently.
How Stable is Your Custom Electronics Manufacturer?
This system, commonly referred to as a Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM System, is the basis for making sure that all the agreed upon changes are incorporated in future builds regardless of any personnel changes on either side of the transaction. How many times has an engineer changed roles mid project and took a key piece of engineering with them which caused the next deliveries to be non–conforming?
Another key process that needs to be defined is knowledge of how Engineering Change Orders (ECO) are managed. This is critical for hardware and software for many different reasons, most importantly because there are usually several different people who need to be made aware of any changes.
ECOs for hardware usually require some type of customer approval and revision of drawings, which is typically the easier part to complete. The harder part is the supplier having a robust ECO system that allows for all documents to be regularly updated and any outdated revisions to be expunged.
On the software/firmware side, even small changes can occur that would require contact update of the system files in the ECO system to ensure that the latest release is being used for the most current build. Without a robust system, no one would know which software release is on which device.
Cost – How do you Control Cost Effectiveness of a Design?
Knowing how well your supplier controls costs can be the most crucial part of your planning. At the design stage, it is quite common to hear “cost isn’t an issue, we just need to get this done in five weeks so that we can get the product to the tradeshow, so marketing can show it off.” While this may be the case to start, cost will become an issue once the product moves into production and you need to meet profitability targets. Working with a supplier who understands this can give you more accurate production cost estimates before starting the process, which is critical for the long-term success of the program.
Understanding that the design can be built within a certain cost window allows the marketing group to do a much more thorough job of getting proper feedback from customers to properly determine the value of a program.
Always take the time to make certain your manufacturer has the steps in place to consistently control for each process of development and production. Some custom electronic manufacturing companies can build everything if they get a full and proven document package. Most design companies can create a document package if given a complete requirements document. However, there are few companies who can do both.