How to Choose the Best EMS Provider to Meet Your Needs
BY DAVID RABY, PRESIDENT, STI ELECTRONICS, HUNTSVILLE, AL, USA
When choosing an EMS Provider, many factors need to be looked at and compared. Capability is one of the first factors that need to be considered. Capability should include equipment, supply chain options and control, staff, facility/process quality certifications, ITAR and/or security clearances (if applicable) and facility location. Does the EMS have the right mix of equipment needed to manufacture your design or product? Is the equipment well maintained and the staff adequately trained to produce quality product? Are manufacturing and quality controls in place to meet or exceed product design and end-use environment? Does the EMS Provider’s output potential match up with your quantity forecast (include possible surge requirements)? Every EMS has a certain volume where they function best.
Make sure your quantity forecasts hit somewhere near the middle of their capability. If needed quantity is near the maximum of their capability, growth will be difficult. If your quantity forecasts are near the bottom of their capability, you have the potential of being neglected and not receive optimum customer service. Don’t depend on a sales pitch. A salesperson is doing their job and overselling capabilities runs rampant in our industry. Site visits are crucial to decision making as well as customer references for similar sized projects.
Supply chain options and control are extremely important. As counterfeit components continue to be a problem, working with qualified suppliers who can get the product you need, when you need it, at the quantity you need, at a competitive price is a challenge many face but few survive. Supply chain management is a must in today’s global markets.
Staff considerations should be matched to product mix and requirements. What is the percentage of managers, engineers,skilled labor? What staff support do you need for your project? Does the EMS staffing structure and your project staffing needs match? Do you have a need for your product to be built or inspected to a particular standard/specification? Does the EMS staff training and certification meet this requirement? Hand in hand with staffing requirements are your facility requirements? Do you need a facility that is ITAR certified, or has a Secured Facility rating? Do you require an EMS
Provider that is AS9100 registered, or is on the QML for J-STD-001/IPC-A-610?
Facility location is important. If source inspection is a required part of your process, location can be a major factor. Being able to drop in and watch your product being produced can give you some peace of mind and not being nearby can add to the costs when the inevitable surprises come up and you or your team have to make one or more visits. Take a look at the total cost of a couple of trips across town (or even across country) vs. crossing oceans and see how much, if any, that makes in your overall cost of the product.
Obviously, price is always important so make sure you are considering the entire cost (travel, shipping, returns, etc.). Suppliers used to producing high quality/reliability products may cost a little more up front but will save you many headaches and dollars in the long run. Manufacturing quotes do not always represent the complete picture of investment.
Look at their financial stability. They can provide you with three years of financial data and/or there are several commercial sources for looking at a company’s credit worthiness. Their financial information needs to give you confidence that they are going to still be around when your product is to be delivered which if that’s something you are worried about, you don’t need to bother with the rest of this list. EMS businesses constantly are watching cash flow and many times it is at its worst when they are buying your inventory.
Traceability might be important depending on your product. Some relatively low end products don’t require any traceability but as complexity and costs increase, it can become a major issue. If a fix is needed after a product has shipped, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable being able to recall all of the product built with a particular reel of parts as opposed to all of the product built in 2016? Any potential EMS provider should be able to explain the level (if any) that they collect and store this information and how it can be accessed and the security surrounding it.
Like traceability, testing may or may not be a requirement for your product. If it is, this can be as simple as a flying probe tester or you providing a test box or as complex as having their engineers develop and implementing the testing. Don’t be the first one they do this for.
Assuming the job is turn-key; make sure they have experience and processes for identifying, purchasing, and monitoring your inventory. Understand how they do this and how your inventory is identified and separated from others (if it needs to be).
Consider all of this when choosing your EMS provider, you are selecting a partner in your product and don’t let one factor, like a few cents cheaper up front, make you choose one that will cost you time, money, and frustration going forward.
David Raby, President, at STI Electronics, Inc., 261 Palmer Rd., Madison, AL 35758; 256-461-9191; stielectronicsinc.com.