Choosing an EMS Supplier? Look for PLM
Are quality and on-time delivery of high importance to you? Maybe engineering design and quick-turn prototype services top your list. Or, perhaps you are more interested in capacity and VIP attention to your projects. If you are like most original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), you want all of these and more from your electronics manufacturing services (EMS) company. This article will examine the benefits of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), as well as several other vital traits that are often overlooked in an OEM/EMS long-term partnership.
So, you are and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) seeking an electronics manufacturing service (EMS) company to assemble your printed circuit boards, wire/cable harnessing, and/or box builds. Whether you are an engineer or a purchasing director, it is not always easy to find and select an EMS company that is right for your outsourcing projects.
Seek Product Lifecycle Management Skills
EMS suppliers operate within an OEM’s Product Lifecycle. Whether an OEM offers one product line or many to the marketplace, EMS suppliers need to understand where your product resides in the product lifecycle stage. If they do not, then engineering changes will potentially take longer and cost more. Additionally, product improvements may never be addressed or suggested, and safety stock programs may not receive the attention they deserve. Therefore, there are numerous benefits to a systematic and organized Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) focus.
First and foremost is Design For Manufacturability (DFM). This concept can occur at any point within the product lifecycle; however, it has more value in the design and concept stage. DFM is a forward-thinking methodology of designing or redesigning a printed circuit board or wire harness for the best practice manufacturing. The focus is on efficient throughput, cost management, and product reliability.
For example, an EMS electronics engineer, in the design stage, can select components for a wire harness using fully-automated equipment versus components where only semi-automated equipment is available. The former reduces costs; the latter increases them. Another example is a PCB design that needs to adhere to the products’ housing specifications or dimensions for a box enclosure. Some products have parameters or restrictions on overall size, weight, and shape. Here again, an EMS engineer can assist in DFM input to meet proper clearance and space, all while focusing on cost management.
Once a design is complete, the EMS supplier will build several prototypes for validation and research studies. The OEM engineer performs tests for functionality, reliability, and durability. If there are any design modifications, engineers discuss these changes using DFM, and once again, the prototypes are assembled to validate these changes. This process may be repeated numerous times before the project moves into the pilot or the production stage, depending on the OEM’s strategy.
The second benefit of a PLM focus resides in the pilot stage. This is an OEM’s program to test the product’s acceptance in a defined and selected marketplace. For example, 200 units of a diagnostic instrument for automotive repair technicians might be launched and delivered into the Midwest Region. After a specific time period, product managers will visit with the technicians to gather feedback on the product’s performance and overall functionality. This data is relayed to the OEM’s engineers and to the EMS company. Here again, if there are any changes, then final modifications are made. Since the EMS engineer has been involved throughout the entirety of the project, these adjustments are quick, accurate, and cost effective.
The growth stage is where full attention is turned to advertising strategy and marketing research to increase demand and volumes. The idea here is cost reduction for both the materials and the labor for product manufacturing. This is the third benefit of a PLM focus. When an OEM’s product has been launched, accepted, and operated with success in the marketplace, the sales team will then seek to forecast demand, usually on an annual basis. This EAU volume forecast is given to the procurement or purchasing manager who, in turn, works with the EMS company. The numbers and range are dependent upon many variables such as advertising, competition, and distribution. Once the EMS company has this data, however, they work with their material supply-base for cost reductions, as well as their own production model to reach economies of scale based on per unit volumes.
Lastly, an OEM’s product reaches market saturation and sales start to decline. This normally begins in the maturity stage, as evidence from financial metrics are now indicators to start formalizing options. The decision to extend the life of a product by adding or reducing features will most likely change the design and function of the printed circuit board (using the diagnostic instrument example). Again, an OEM can turn to the EMS supplier for input on cost analysis and assembly design. The fact that the EMS supplier has been in-tune and involved throughout the initial stages of the PLM makes the product decline stage much easier to manage. The OEM can turn to the EMS supplier for consultation to seek changes that best fit DFM methods, offer cost reductions, and/or provide product extension or the next generation.
More than ever, OEM’s require EMS suppliers to have the repeatability and sustainability factors when it comes to quality, delivery, and service. When evaluating a new EMS supplier, these performance metrics do not fully reveal themselves until after the sale, which can be too late. Reducing costs is a constant theme that rings throughout OEM’s, and poor EMS project management can hinder and slow this pursuit. That is why it is very important to have the ability, at a certain level, to predict the outcome with a new EMS supplier. Seek an EMS supplier that has the knowledge and experience to operate within your product lifecycle stages, from concept, through growth and maturity, and into revisions/extensions. If their focus is on PLM, performance metrics of quality, delivery, engineering, and customer service should have a high-value and be consistent.