Electronic Manufacturing Services for the Internet of Things

Production grade IoT designs are more than just simple plug-in modules that wire up to GPIOs or a bus interface; they are complete products that need a comprehensive manufacturing approach.

28 December 2021

IoT platforms unify design practices from multiple disciplines, ranging from software development to mechanical design. Production grade IoT designs are more than just simple plug-in modules that wire up to GPIOs or a bus interface; they are complete products that need a comprehensive manufacturing approach. Many companies handle each portion of a manufactured IoT product in piecemeal, often sourcing portions of the product from multiple vendors and assemblers.

Instead of taking the traditional approach to electronics manufacturing and coordinating outputs from multiple vendors, an experienced EMS provider can streamline production for complex products like IoT devices. Your EMS company should be able to do more than just produce PCBAs, they should act as an experienced design and engineering partner that can deliver on all aspects of a finished product. This includes managing the supply chain for an IoT product, which carries significant risk during times of component shortages and inventory volatility.

Managing IoT Manufacturing

IoT products incorporate multiple design requirements that fall within different disciplines, and streamlined IoT manufacturing must consider all the design elements to ensure successful production. Your EMS provide can play a critical role that will help streamline your production process and ensure high yield for your new product.

Managing the Supply Chain

IoT products are one class of device that carries significant supply chain risk. The main at-risk components in these products include:

  • MCUs used as a device host controller
  • Highly integrated ASICs providing specialty functions and interfaces
  • Highly integrated power management modules with small footprint
  • Specialty PCB laminate materials for advanced devices, such as low-loss RF materials

Many other components carry their own risk and can periodically go out of stock, but these categories of components may not always have drop-in replacements. Supply chain volatility surrounding these components creates risk of redesigns that might require creation of variants prior to production. Companies need to plan for lifecycle and inventory challenges early in the design cycle to ensure the product can be produced at the required volume and on the desired timelines.

Your EMS provider should be a partner in your design, and managing the supply chain for your IoT product is one area where their participation is invaluable. An EMS provider can help in this area by anticipating lifecycle and inventory disruptions to your design, especially if a preliminary BOM is submitted during the design phase. An experienced EMS provider can then help procure alternative components, manage production of design variants, and coordinate procurement from multiple distributors.

PCB Assembly

The heartbeat of every IoT product exists on a PCBA. With more IoT products having high feature density and greater complexity, design for manufacturing (DFM) practices should be followed while creating the physical design for an IoT product. Your EMS partner should provide important guidance on capabilities limits that will help ensure yield at high volume with zero defects and zero rework. Gathering this information early is as simple as sending an email to your EMS company, but it can prevent a scrapped production run when manufacturer guidelines are followed.

Enclosure Assembly

After the PCBA has passed inspections and testing, it needs to be installed in its enclosure. EMS providers that can procure or manufacture custom enclosure assemblies can provide this service in-house, often in an automated process that is cost-effective. These more advanced EMS providers are also able to catch poorly designed packaging with mechanical interferences before procuring a large batch of enclosures. This reduces risk and helps keep customers competitive as they execute a go-to-market strategy.

On-the-Line Flashing and Testing

Every IoT product will have some embedded software that needs to be installed on the device during production. If a company wants to ensure reliability and catch any errors before a device gets into the field, they will implement an automated testing plan during assembly, rather than waiting to receive devices after production. The best way to accomplish both tasks is with automated on-the-line flashing and functional testing systems.

Not all IoT manufacturing services can provide this level of service. Instead, they rely on the end customer to perform extensive debugging on the front-end, followed by randomized functional testing and inspection on the back-end, to catch errors that may arise during flashing and assembly. EMS providers that can provide design and engineering services under one roof are best prepared to understand and formulate test requirements for your system, as well as provide value-added engineering services to aid application development and debugging.

Your EMS Partner Can Streamline IoT Manufacturing

Successful IoT manufacturing at high volume and with advanced capabilities is slowly moving beyond the ability of most EMS companies to manage. Instead of spending time and expense coordinating vendors for each portion of a design, an EMS partner can streamline the entire process, often delivering products on more aggressive go-to-market schedules without sacrificing quality. In addition, an EMS provider can also aid supply chain management and suggest design approaches that reduce supply chain risk, ultimately ensuring a new IoT product will have the longest possible lifecycle and producibility.

An experienced EMS provider can provide extensive engineering, development, logistics, and testing that is needed to streamline IoT manufacturing at scale. PCI has more than 30 years of EMS experience focused in IoT products, consumer goods, industrial systems, automotive products, and medical devices, as well as in Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) and box builds. Our Lean Six Sigma manufacturing expertise enables us to customize our manufacturing line to meet our partners’ requirements.

If needed, we provide our customers the flexibility needed to quickly scale production as needs arise. We provide our partners with high-quality products at lower manufacturing costs thanks to our shorter change-over time and leaner material control. Contact PCI today to learn more about our capabilities.

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