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The Fundamental Guide to Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) and Electronics Contract Manufacturing (ECM)

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Electronics manufacturing services (EMS) and electronic contract manufacturing (ECM) partnerships are one ofthe leading ways successful original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are delivering game-changing products at lightning-quick speeds. A successful partnership with the right EMS firm can accelerate your business and increaseyour profitability.

Manufacturing delays, knowledge gaps, and unexpected costs can mean missed opportunities. With thousands of EMS firms vying for your business, it’s important to establish a solid strategy for evaluating the pros and cons of each. An EMS partner serves as an expert steward of your vision, so selecting the right partner is critical to the success of your product. Here is the fundamental guide for researching, evaluating, and selecting the right EMS partnership for your electronic manufacturing needs.

WHAT ARE ELECTRONIC MANUFACTURING SERVICES (EMS) AND ELECTRONIC CONTRACT MANUFACTURING (ECM)?

Industry insiders use electronic manufacturing services (EMS) and electronic contract manufacturing (ECM)interchangeably. OEM companies contract these firms to perform all the steps involved in bringing your electronic product to market. From design to manufacturing, product qualification to supply chain management, EMS and ECM firms take on the responsibility for the complex steps between electronic componentry design and your product landing in the hands of your end users.

WHY DOES YOUR COMPANY NEED TO PARTNER WITH AN EMS?

Not every business has the financial ability to invest in their own proprietary product design and manufacturing infrastructure. Hiring and training an in-house team of engineers, procuring expensive equipment, building your own testing facilities, and expanding internal resources to manage production is no easy feat. The process could tack years onto your delivery date. At today’s speed of business, there’s no time to add these costly, time-consuming projects into your product timeline.

So, manufacturers outsource these responsibilities to an external group of experts that can handle the demands of modern high-tech products. An EMS partnership adds an unbeatable competitive advantage to your team: an armada of highly skilled end-to-end design, manufacturing, and supply chain specialists—each with a level of experience you may not otherwise have access to. Backed by the full strength of an EMS partner, you’re not limited by your own internal resources, but are positioned for maximum success.

WHAT IMPORTANT SERVICES DOES AN EMS PROVIDE?

Here are the key responsibilities an EMS can take off your hands to help you bring your product from notepad to noteworthy existence:

Product Design

The right EMS partner is there with you from the start. A talented team of experts will help transform your product concept into a realizable and scalable design. They will be your guide in incorporating leading technologies like radio frequency (RF), wireless connectivity, telematics, human machine interface, system on modules (SOM), single board computers (SBC), vehicle 2 everything (V2X), IoT, and smart devices. In this step, your partner will take on the responsibilities of engineering, prototyping, and development for electronics, firmware, mechanical needs, and test procedures.

Supply Chain Management

Where and how products are made can make or break your product’s success. An experienced EMS partner leverages their close partnerships with global suppliers to tailor the best manufacturing and distribution plan to your unique product and business model. This includes inventory control, materials sourcing, and product dispatch. An EMS partner will also equip you with useful insight into the inner workings of your processes withreal-time visibility into how your product moves through the entire supply chain.

Manufacturing

An experienced EMS partner will choose industry-leading electronic manufacturing and assembly techniques to build your product to specification. Using high-speed, intelligent, and high-precision equipment, they focus on utmost efficiency and understand the most innovative approaches. Leading the industry are firms that use equipment surface-mount technology (SMT) for components that are fully traceable throughout the process and manufacturing execution systems (MES) that allow tracking and optimization of the process in real time. Most have access to advanced facilities like clean rooms and other laboratory settings.

Quality, Testing & Certification

This is where your product will go through the most stringent of testing procedures. The right EMS partner will help you with regulatory certifications required for your industry. An expert electronics manufacturing service utilizes analytical tools like Process Control Plan (PCP), Measurement System Analysis (MSA), Gauge Repeatability and Reproducibility (GRR), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Design FMEA (DFMEA), traceability systems, Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), and Ongoing Reliability Tests (ORT) for the best in speed, quality, and industry compliance.

Plus, the most experienced EMS firms will not only test your products on pre-existing equipment but can design brand new testing protocols to meet your exact specifications.

Operating as an extension of your company, you can guarantee that your electronic product will receivebest-in-class treatment across the full product life cycle. By outsourcing these responsibilities to an industry-leading EMS, you can reduce costs, accelerate time-to-market, realize faster returns, and stay well ahead of even your most aggressive competition.

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM USING AN EMS PARTNER?

The benefits and applications of an electronics contract service are not reserved for a single industry. Almost every business requiring electronic components can benefit from enlisting the software and hardware engineering competency of an EMS partner. Here’s how groundbreaking industries are reaping the benefits of powerhouse EMS partnerships:

DEVELOPING TECHNOLOGIES FORTECH-SAVVY HOMES

  • Appliances and Smart Connectivity: From irrigation systems to music speakers, beds to blenders, everything is signing online to join the smart home revolution. Consumers today demand smart home technology to integrate with the devices and appliances they already own. In short, they crave a seamless user experience. EMS partners specialize in wireless designs, IoT platforms, and single board computers that help give a virtual voice to connected appliances—and more importantly, interoperability.
  • Audio: Music is on the move more than ever. We listen to music on wireless headphones, carry millions of songs in our pocket, and use our voice to ask smart speakers to play our favorite tunes. EMS and ECM firms manufacture Bluetooth antennas, TFT displays, LWAN 802.11 a/b/c/g/n, 11ac antennas, Dual Hall effect sensors, and other technologies needed for high-quality audio devices.
  • Utility Management: More and more homeowners are using smart thermostats and meters to improve their energy usage. Electronics manufacturing services help the companies behind these green innovations with WiFi, Bluetooth, LTE antenna, in addition to temperature, voltage, and current sensors.

DESIGNING ELECTRONICS FOR WORK AND PLAY

  • Fitness & Wellness: Reshaped by the combination of exercise tech and digital fitness, wellness enthusiasts want more integrated connectivity with their devices, apps, and equipment. Whether they’re counting their steps or riding through the virtual Alps on an indoor fitness bike, electronic components are at the cornerstone of their personalized experience. Wellness companies partner with leading EMS providers to design display consoles with the user experience in mind: including the technology like gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, and HDMI components that are along for the ride.
  • Lottery & Gaming: Entertaining yet highly regulated, the gaming industry needs to meet strict requirements while offering an unbeatable fun experience for their players. Gamers judge their entire experience based on a well-designed display interface, and how easy and enjoyable it is to interact with these machines. Leading gaming companies partner with experienced EMS teams who have rich experience in Human Machine Interface (HMI)—the key technology behind a top-notch user experience.
  • Business Service & Automation: More and more organizations are using machine vision to provide automatic imaging-based inspection and analysis for evaluation, process control, and robot guidance to reach new levels of productivity. By partnering with an EMS, leaders in this space have access to the best in Bluetooth, Zigbee, LoRa, and Sigfox connectivity technologies.
  • Building System & Security: The Internet of Things has accelerated the demand for smart building sensors that detect occupants, provide security, measure energy usage, and monitor resources. To keep pace, innovators partner with an EMS for best-in-class Bluetooth low-energy (BLE), Zigbee mesh networks, LoRa, NFC, LTE, and more.

BUILDING SOLUTIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF INDUSTRY

  • Electric Motor & Control: Strict regulations and eco-friendly requirements have changed how manufacturers must handle modern motors. From assembly to defending printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA) against the elements, EMS can help manufacturers meet the demands of various international markets.
  • Air Compressors & Filtration Systems: OEMs contract EMS firms to design the electronics that clean the air around heavy equipment and cleanse it of contaminants. Leaders in these industries turn to EMS partners for automotive surge protection, Arm Cortex M4 processor, LTE Cat 4 with 3G Fallback, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), and specialized sensors.
  • Manufacturing Automation: New automation technologies and sensors streamline factory operations, automate production, and shorten lead times. Electronic manufacturing services design, assemble, and test the complex sensors and cameras that make these industrial innovations possible.
  • Photonics & Control: When it comes to highly specialized laser equipment for medical, manufacturing, and communications needs, EMS firms have access to the best microcontroller unit (MCU) and high-power radio frequency (RF) circuits.
  • Heavy Equipment & Construction: With complex construction projects on the rise, global providers of heavy-duty equipment are looking to integrate next-generation tracking and monitoring systems. They’re turning to EMS partners to help support them with telematics, gateway, and IoT components that can stand up againsteven the most rugged environments.

TELEMATICS

  • Fleet Management: Telematics is a widely adopted solution used by fleet managers to have real-time visibility into a global fleet of vehicles, machines, and other heavy equipment for improved assets management. To bridge these assets together, tracking experts partner up with EMS providers for the best-in-class fleet management solutions using LTE Cat 1, Quad-constellation, GNSS capability, Bluetooth/WiFi connectivity, and more.

Electronics manufacturing services and electronics contract manufacturing firms can serve as a one-stop shop forend-to-end services in a wide range of industries. The right partner understands the specific design, manufacturing, testing, and distribution needs of your industry so you can stay ahead of the competition.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PARTNERING WITH AN ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURING SERVICE?

How can the extensive experience of an EMS or ECM firm serve as the foundation for your product’s success?

  • Provides you with the necessary tools and know-how to successfully launch a product: EMS partners who have been around for a substantial amount of time have the necessary tools, technologies, and experience to guarantee the success of your product. By partnering with the right EMS partner, you reduce the time which is otherwise required for R&D, and have access to a team of experts who readily advise and support you throughout the entire product development phase. Having a wealth of experience means they know what’s best for your product and have the necessary technologies and platforms to make your product a success.
  • Expands your competitive advantage: Consumer expectations are at an all-time high. They want the most innovative, convenient products available—and they want them fast. That’s why time-to-market is one of the leading competitive advantages in today’s business environment. By contracting a highly experienced firm that’s alwaysat-the-ready, you can leapfrog your competitors with the quickest time-to-market.
  • Reduces risk: Mitigating risk is a top expertise of a top-notch electronics manufacturing service. They understand the ins-and-outs of the entire end-to-end process and develop “what-if” scenarios for every potential roadblock. An experienced EMS partner is able to defend your supply chain against disruptions to minimize production delays. Additionally, an experienced EMS partner who has robust experience in testing and certifications will test your product throughout its entire development—not just immediately before it goes to market. No surprises, no additional costs; just successful product launches.
  • Improves cost control: By working with an end-to-end partner, you minimize the risk of running into surprise costs. As an all-inclusive service, they understand the costs of every step along the way, and will work hand-in-hand with you to develop a precise budget.
  • Multiplies your expertise: An EMS partnership taps into a new knowledge pool. When you have an external group of experts by your side, your internal team is free from the intricate and complex steps of product development and delivery. Instead, they can focus on their core competencies like sales, marketing, and conceptualizing future generations of your product. Working alone, your business is locked into the day-to-day procedures of getting your product to market. An EMS handles the intermediary steps of today so your team can focus on tomorrow.
  • Broadens your supply chain options: An EMS comes to the table with long-standing manufacturing relationships across many countries and has continuous access to a wide network of suppliers and materials. You’re never pigeonholed into a single production process or a specific facility. Whether it’s a lockdown brought about by a pandemic or trade wars, your manufacturing partner can make quick, agile changes to make sure your production stays on schedule.

By adding a global team of engineering, supply chain, and manufacturing experts to your product vision, you’ll have everything you need to bring your boldest ideas to life.

THE STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS OF WORKING WITH AN EMS PARTNER

Not all contract manufacturers measure up when it comes to realizing the significant benefits of outsourcing. Sifting through a long list of potential EMS firms can feel overwhelming, but there are plenty of ways you can narrow down your search. Here are the key ways you can pare down your list of potential partners.

Five Traits Of A Successful Ems Manufacturing Partnership: How Does Yours Compare?

Download FREE whitepaper here and use the scorecard provided to find out how EMS partner scores.

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STEP ONE: EVALUATION OF SUITABLE PARTNERS: HOW TO NARROW DOWN YOUR SEARCH

Through preliminary research, you can create a shortlist of potential powerhouse partners to help bring your next big idea to life.

HOW DO EMS AND ECM FIRMS COMPARE TO AN OEM OR ODM?

If you’re just starting to look into partnering with an electronics manufacturing or contract service, there are a few other commonly used acronyms you might encounter in your research.

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) license out manufacturing of an established portfolio of finished products. They typically partner with an EMS or ECM to manufacture the electronic components used in their final marketed product. For example, a brand of fleet management equipment might turn to an EMS to manage the design and manufacture of their 5G antennas.

Original Design Manufacturers (ODM) produce a line of completed products. Known as “private labeling,” companies can shop from a catalog of finished products to brand with their own logos, colors, and packaging. Both OEMs and ODMs are typically the customer of an EMS or ECM.

ASSESS EMS OPPORTUNITIES BY THEIR ANNUAL REVENUE

The EMS industry consists of thousands of providers, typically categorized by revenue. Larger firms are more likely to take on sizable contracts, while smaller manufacturers are better suited for more bespoke opportunities. This guide can be helpful for selecting an EMS that suits the size and scale of your organization:

Tier 1 USD 5 billion
Tier 2 USD 500 million - 5 billion
Tier 3 USD 100 million - 500 million
Tier 4 < USD 100 million

Another way to differentiate EMS partners is through their volume capabilities.

  • High Mix, Low Volume (HMLV): Do you have a variety of sophisticated products that are manufactured in relatively small quantities? HMLV electronics manufacturers are more flexible when it comes to a frequent changeover of assembly equipment within a short period of time.
  • Low Mix, High Volume (LMHV): Does your business require a larger batch size, but a more limited array of product variations? LMHV manufacturers specialize in ramping up production for a single component for a longer period of time, typically weeks or even months.

Each type has their own set of pros and cons depending on the scale of your production run. Some EMS partners can handle the demands of both. Next, we’ll discuss some of the most important questions to help select which category of electronic service manufacturers is best suited for your line of business.

STEP TWO: IMPORTANT QUESTIONS YOU MUST ASK WHEN CONSIDERING AN EMS OR ECM PARTNER

With dozens of EMS and ECM firms competing for your business, it’s important to narrow down your options to a more manageable list between five and eight contenders. Your criteria should focus on the key benefits of quality, lead time, technology, and costs. Here are the questions you must ask.

  1. How long have they been in business? The strongest EMS partners have fostered long-term relationships with a variety of global suppliers and distribution experts. Research how long the firm has been in business and look into their previous and current client list. Do they have a solid track record of delivering products on-time andon-schedule? Do they have an extensive list of excellent supplier relationships? A long history in business also indicates strong financial stability able to weather fluctuating markets. Minimize potential issues by doing your homework in advance.
  2. What is the total cost of the partnership? Hidden or surprise costs can sink even the most innovative product. While the unit price might look inexpensive at first glance, it’s important to dive into all of the costs included in your new partnership (known as a “Total Cost of Ownership”). Consider the following costs that can impact your project’s success:
    1. Staffing costs: You may need to hire more internal staff to coordinate and manage the EMS partnership.
    2. Track record of agility: Issues can arise at any moment. Does your EMS partner have the systems in place to make on-the-fly changes to mitigate supply chain disruptions?
    3. On-schedule history: A competitor beating you to market can sink even the most detailed marketing plans.A lower unit cost may look appealing upfront, but a poor track record of reliability can cost your company in the long run.
  3. Do they have access to the most advanced equipment and technology for your industry of focus? A crucial ingredient to a successful EMS-OEM partnership is talent augmentation. They should be able to add to the knowledge base of your internal team. Find a partner whose level of expertise is well beyond your current capabilities. The right EMS partner will also have access to best-in-class IoT, RF, embedded systems, HMI, and telematics design and manufacturing equipment. You want your partnership to infuse your company a competitive advantage, so always shop for the partner with the most advanced capabilities.
  4. Have industry leaders recognized them through certifications or awards? Poor or faulty product design can sink the reputation of your company. Certifications like ISO 9001:2015 for top quality management and ISO 14001:2015 for leading environmental management systems are powerful indicators of a top-notch EMS partner.
  5. Are they restricted to one region or do they have opportunities in multiple countries? Expanding your manufacturing footprint is critical in today’s landscape. A natural disaster, pandemic, or civil unrest can cause irreparable harm to your production schedule. Ensure your EMS partner of choice has performed extensive scenario planning and what-if analysis. It’s important that they are able to make changes as quickly as possible to keep your project on-budget and on-schedule.
    1. Do they offer a dedicated account manager for the full life cycle of your product?
    2. Are they agile, flexible and proactive in reacting to your needs?
    3. Are you able to pick up the phone and receive near-instant support?
  6. Are they focused on offering a high level of customer service? Pick a team that is as passionate about your product as you are. An EMS partnership is not a short experience, but a relationship that can last decades. You want a team that understands your needs, predicts your concerns, and understands everything there is to know about your industry. Most importantly, you need them to be reachable. When it comes to meeting important time-to-market deadlines, days and weeks matter. Here are a few questions you can ask to assess their commitment to customer service.
  7. How do they treat their employees? A high turnover rate can lead to costly disruptions to your supply chain.
  8. What credentials do they have to boot and who are the partners they have worked with? Customer testimonials are the most powerful word-of-mouth marketing. Find out what other OEMs your EMS partner works with and the average duration of their partnerships to shed light on how credible your EMS partner is. There is truth to long-term partnerships and OEMs must have chosen to continue to work with their EMS partner for reasons that could be important to you too.

Whether you’re looking to form your first partnership, or reevaluate a current relationship, this list will help you create a shortlist of electronic manufacturing firms right for your business needs.

STEP THREE: CONDUCT PLANT VISITS AND AUDIT YOUR TOP CHOICES

Once you’ve established your shortlist of two or three candidates, it’s time to schedule an in-person visit of each plant. Trust is a key ingredient when it comes to turning over control of your electronics manufacturing, and nothing helps establish confidence more than a face-to-face evaluation of the premises.

A tour of the manufacturing and assembly floor will provide unbeatable intel into the future of the potential partnership. General observations like cleanliness, organization, layout—even morale of floor personnel—can provide eye-opening insight into how the facility is run. Here are high-priority questions to ask during your tour:

  • Are workstations and equipment clean, orderly, and in top-notch condition?
  • How often do they inspect equipment? Can they provide maintenance records?
  • Are work instructions clear and visible at all workstations?
  • Is there a concrete documentation plan in place at each and every station?
  • Is there live production and quality performance data available on the production floor?
  • Are work areas set up with safety measures in place? Are plant safety metrics visible?
  • How often do they conduct an audit of their suppliers?
  • Are they committed to minimizing their carbon footprint? If environmental sustainability is important to yourorganization, make sure your EMS of choice matches your corporate values.
  • How are employees recognized for outstanding work? A well-oiled factory inspires teamwork and positivelyencourages every member within the organization.

Leading EMS candidates offer more than promises; they’re able to deliver solid evidence demonstrating their success rate. In addition to your own observations, be sure to ask for key statistics like on-time delivery and scrap and rejection percentages. It is an instant red flag if a potential partner is hesitant to schedule a visit and unable to provide tangible metrics. A trustworthy partner will work hard to gain your confidence, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

STEP FOUR: FINAL SELECTION

The search for the right partner is more than an evaluation of quantitative metrics. An in-person tour can also reveal intangible factors that are just as crucial to your overall decision. Finding a team that is a cultural fit with your organization is perhaps the most essential requisite. Communication style, company values, and shared expectations are of paramount importance. The right EMS partnership should feel like an extension of your firm, so you ultimately want to select a group that best mirrors how your organization operates.

The search for the right electronics contract manufacturer requires due diligence on your part—but the significant benefits pay for themselves over the long run. The value a true partnership can add to your organization is more than a one-off project: it’s a relationship that can last decades.

CONCLUSION

The right electronics contract manufacturing partner can leave an unbeatable, lasting impact on your organization. Settling in with the wrong EMS partner can be an organizational hassle that’s time-consuming to remedy. Missing out on trending technologies, delayed assembly times, and inferior manufacturing standards can be devastating for your organization. That’s why it’s important to perform due diligence from the outset.

Trusting an electronics manufacturing service with your product line is one of the most profit-boosting decisions you can make as an organization. The right partner is a specialist in your precise needs, and has the resources, experience, and equipment to enhance product quality and lower overall manufacturing costs.

This decision also frees your internal team from the day-to-day toils of manufacturing and supply chain activities, so you can focus on your core competencies. Your engineering team can stay focused on research and development of the best products for your industry, while your EMS team continually stays abreast of the latest production technologies to transform your ideas into realizable and scalable designs. Combining into one powerhouse team, you’ll have a brand new team at your disposal to help bring your most groundbreaking ideas to life.

Five Traits Of A Successful Ems Manufacturing Partnership: How Does Yours Compare?

Download FREE whitepaper here and use the scorecard provided to find out how EMS partner scores.

Download Now

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