Electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies help manufacturers design, produce, and distribute their products. Some manufacturers may not have the in-house expertise or production resources to meet customer demand and production schedules. In such cases, an EMS provider is the ideal solution. EMS companies can specialize production and management of high-volume orders, as well as sourcing and procurement.
Electronics manufacturing services have become more accessible for smaller firms as high capital equipment costs have created a barrier to entry for smaller manufacturers, particularly in North America and Europe. Going the route of an EMS company, which will have higher capacity than a prototyping house, is for companies looking to scale to their initial production runs and eventually to high volume manufacturing.
Tips for Working With an EMS
Research Your EMS Company
Electronics manufacturing services companies come in different shapes and sizes. Before you sign a contract with one, it’s important to have a clear understanding of their capabilities, limitations, and how they manage supply and procurement. Here are a few areas that you should investigate:
- Company’s location: Is the company producing locally or overseas? In terms of IP protection, the best EMS company will be close to their customers, but lower priced options tend to require going overseas where IP protection is questionable.
- Company’s capabilities: EMS companies might produce in-house or overseas, bringing different capabilities in each case. Make sure capabilities align with your product requirements.
- Additional services: Some EMS companies offer additional circuit board assembly and testing services, such as X-ray/AOI, functional testing, box builds, packaging, harnesses, material sourcing, and inventory management.
- Minimum volume and capacity: A smaller manufacturing run of a new product could reach into the 1000’s of units; this would be too small for some advanced manufacturers doing everything overseas, but a smaller EMS company could produce this and eventually help you scale.
- Compliance and certifications: Find out if your EMS provider can help you get your electronic products certified. The two most common certifications are UL and FCC/CISPR.
Be Clear About What Need to be Produced
When working with an EMS company, it is essential to be clear about your needs and product requirements. Otherwise, you risk facing project delays and extra costs by picking a company that doesn’t understand or meet your requirements. Here are some tips to help you write a comprehensive specification:
- Write a requirements document: This should outline and summarize all product and production needs for the manufacturer in a single document. If needed, this should include packaging and testing.
- Provide fabrication and assembly drawings: If you don’t provide a drawing outlining fabrication and assembly requirements, the manufacturer will be forced to assume your requirements, or production is delayed as they will send a round of questions.
- Define acceptability standards: An acceptability standard is one part of a specification that can be implemented by referring to an industry standard. This will normally be IPC-A-610 or IPC-6012 for rigid PCBs.
Fabrication drawings will clearly outline board requirements so that your product can be produced anywhere.
Supply Chain Management and Sourcing
Your product's costs are determined in large part by the cost of its individual parts, but a design is meaningless if it's impossible to procure components and materials. An EMS company that can provide supply chain management provides significant value to their clients. They can implement a strategy for procurement and verification of potential vendors, as well as coordinating production schedules and inventory management.
Check for Quality Assurance and Product Testing
Some electronics manufacturing services companies provide quality assurance and product testing services. It’s important to find out the type of testing and acceptance criteria your products will be subjected to before they’re shipped to customers. Here are a few tips to help you make sure your products are tested thoroughly:
- Include function testing specifications: If your design needs on-the-line testing (e.g., in-circuit testing), then these requirements should be specified in your design files and in your product specification.
- Request a prototype before scaling: An EMS company should provide a prototype of the design before scaling.
- Ask about the acceptance criteria: When you select a contract manufacturer, make sure to ask about their acceptance criteria. This can help you understand what your products will be tested for and if they comply with your target industry standard.
Where to Find the Best EMS Companies
Electronics manufacturing services companies are a dime a dozen in today’s marketplace. To find the best ones, you need to do some research and choose a company that best meets your needs. Here are a few ways to find the best companies:
- Ask your peers: It’s always good to talk to people you trust and have them refer you to electronics manufacturing services companies.
- Find a manufacturer’s rep: These people will make it their job to find the best company that can manufacture your product and source components.
- Trade shows: Find trade shows for your industry or for the PCB industry generally; manufacturers reps and contract manufacturers often attend these events.
- Work with a product design and engineering firm: Product design and engineering firms can often recommend a suitable EMS company to produce your design.
Electronics manufacturing is a highly competitive industry and it’s important to choose the right company to produce your products. To find the best companies, do your research and make sure you understand their process and capabilities.
No matter what electronics manufacturing company you want to use, the design tools in OrCAD from Cadence can help you prepare a complete data package for manufacturing your circuit board. OrCAD includes the industry’s best PCB design and analysis software, complete with a set of schematic capture features, mixed-signal simulations in PSpice, and powerful CAD features, and much more.