How to Find the Right EMS Match for Specialty Equipment Design (And Why You Should)

In the world of specialty equipment manufacturing, developers are working with complex, often one-of-a-kind product designs with innovative and unique features.

12 October 2021

The Specialty Equipment Challenge

In the world of specialty equipment manufacturing, developers are working with complex, often one-of-a-kind product designs with innovative and unique features.On top of that, specialty equipment can encompass any number of markets, including fitness and wellness, business operation automation, smart buildings and security, gaming, healthcare and emergency care, fuel sensors and more. With highly specialized products and any number of requirements and standards to keep track of, specialty equipment designers face a considerable challenge in seamlessly taking products from design to production to market.

Partnering with an electronic manufacturing services (EMS) provider can make all the difference in preventing delays and keeping costs down. However, finding a partner that has the right knowledge and skill set for your unique products is paramount.

What to Look for in Your EMS Search

The needs of specialty equipment products may be beyond the capabilities of many traditional EMS providers. To ensure the highest level of production efficiency, quality and risk reduction, you will need to evaluate potential partners for the proper expertise and technological capabilities. At a glance, your EMS provider should have:

  • Extensive design experience
  • Customizable manufacturing process/Design for Manufacturability & Assembly (DFMA)
  • Supply chain management experience
  • Dependable teamwork and partnership

Let’s break these areas down a little more.

Design Experience and Technologies

Today’s specialty products, like most new electronics, commonly draw upon wireless and RF, the IoT, single board computer design or any other number of innovative technologies. Many of these require compliance with standards issued by organizations like the FCC and CTIA.

In addition, specialty electronics will need to pass testing for electromagnetic interference (EMI) standards. That in mind, your EMS partner should be well-versed in the many technologies your product may involve, as well as the relevant standards and requirements.

For example, PCI’s portfolio includes these capabilities:

Human Machine Interface (HMI)

  • Display technologies (TFT, custom LCD, OLED, 4K)
  • Design and manufacturing of custom LCD modules with ACF and heatseal assembly
  • Single Board Computer (SBC) – high performance and scalable processors such as NXP, MediaTek
  • Clean-room (class 10K) assembly of Capsense, resistive touch screens, rubber keypads and polydome tact switches
  • IP69K rated enclosures
  • Sensors: light, temperature, pressure, proximity, magnetic, accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, heart rate, infrared, gas (specific to volatile organic compounds) and moisture
  • Voice recognition
  • Artificial Intelligence (machine learning)

IoT and Telematics:

  • Low-power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies including LoRA, Sigfox, NB-IoT
  • Multi-radio LPWAN IoT modules with sensors for edge applications
  • CatM1, and Cat1
  • Internal antenna design
  • Bluetooth low energy, Bluetooth mesh and Encapsulated IP69K rated Bluetooth beacons
  • Cellular technology – 5G, LTE, 3G, 2G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • Accelerometers
  • Gyroscope
  • Magnetometers
  • Hall effect
  • VOC
  • GNSS – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou
  • Vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications and vehicle to everything (V2X)
  • RF simulation
  • Vehicle communication – J1708, J1939 CAN
  • Multi-region regulatory compliance

Single board computer (SBC):

  • SoC: NXP i.MX8 series and MediaTek
  • Memory: DDR4L, DDR3L Flash eMMC (pseudo SLC mode)
  • Wired: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.1, USB 2.0
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE 4G, LTE M1, GPS


Knowledge of different regulatory standards and certifications is essential, but equally essential is your EMS partner’s ability to test for them during design and simulation. Make sure they have the tools and skills necessary to meet the needs of your product, such as manufacturing risk assessment tools like Valor NPI.

Define upfront the key test parameters like vibration, drop, temperature, humidity, shock, frequency, and EMI. Then make sure your chosen provider can build a custom tester based on these requirements, including RF testing, temperature cycle chambers, in-circuit testing, flying probe testing for proto build board, and 3D/Computed Tomography (CT) scans for the detection of faults in hidden soldering joints.

DFMA and a Customizable Manufacturing Process

DFMA is a set of guidelines and best practices for the design and manufacturing process which address many potential manufacturing issues in the early design stages. It requires thorough knowledge of the design and manufacturing process and the ability to adapt plans in response to red flags. Seeking out an EMS partner that follows DFMA tenets is the best way to ensure shorter development time, accelerated time-to-market, lowered production costs and early error detection.

Taking DFMA a step further, many EMS providers are taking advantage of digitization to increase productivity. PCI has integrated design software with our factory manufacturing execution system (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to enable design checks throughout the entire production process. This takes DFMA to what is known as “Design for X” (DfX).

The MES provides status updates from raw materials to finished goods, as well as systematic evaluation and analysis to ensure maximum yields and quality. This is particularly useful for specialty products, which often require high-mix/low-volume.

Supply Chain Management and Digital Supplier Network (DSN)

After 2020 and 2021, we can all attest to the need for strong, well-prepared supply chain management. Your EMS partner should have a viable supply chain infrastructure and the foresight to address potential risks. That consists of, to start with:

  • An in-house system/platform for record keeping and IP protection
  • A thorough understanding of Bill of Materials (BOM) management
  • Knowledge of product specification, component management and health checks

For maximum efficiency and the ability to minimize risks with contingency planning, the supply chain infrastructure should also utilize a DSN. A DSN will provide real-time monitoring of component availability and possible better alternatives, such as newer versions from different suppliers. EMS providers who use a DSN are able to make more knowledgeable component recommendations, quickly see potential supply issues and find readily available replacements if needed.

The “Partnership” Factor

The best technologies and range of experience in the world won’t serve you well if your EMS partner is unreliable, uncommunicative or poor at teamwork. Your EMS partner should feel like an extension of your own design team. They should be able to provide a well-defined roadmap and checkpoints for the full development process, and your team should feel comfortable reaching out at any point for updates, concerns and ideas and have a response in a timely manner.

Final Checklist

Putting it all together, when searching for your perfect EMS partner, you can refer to this checklist for the most important qualifications:

  1. Customizable, flexible manufacturing process
  2. Manufacturing team who understands your design process and is experienced in state-of-the-art electronics
  3. Dedicated Business Unit team that focuses on your project operation with effective open communications
  4. Demonstratable DFMA knowledge
  5. Technical expertise and resources in wireless, RF, IoT and similar new technologies
  6. In-house laboratory to perform tests for product-specific requirements
  7. Systematic design workflow to support your products
  8. Strong supply chain management experience with an in-house system for record keeping and IP protection
  9. Contingency planning assistance for component shortages and/or supply chain disruptions
  10. Customizable test planning and strategies for product testing

While designing specialty products and bringing them to market has many unique challenges, an EMS partner with these traits and capabilities can help usher you to timely and profitable success. PCI has over 30 years of EMS experience and offers a full suite of capabilities to take your specialty product from design to volume production and delivery. Contact PCI today to learn more.