There are few things in life as important as chemistry. Oh, not that class you took in high school. I’m talking about the connection you have with other people. It’s difficult to describe but you know it when you feel it.
Chemistry — connection — is also an important ingredient when you’re looking for the right electronics manufacturing services (EMS) partner. Of course, you do all the normal business due diligence, but you also want to have the features found in a good personal relationship: likeability, shared interests and especially trust. And in the case of finding an EMS partner, trust has several layers.
- You need to trust them in terms of honesty and transparency - in finances, in communication.
- You need to trust their business practices, that they will honor their commitments and respect your intellectual property.
- You need to trust that they can do what they advertise: Will they make your product to your specs?
There are a couple routes you can take to finding the right EMS supplier.
For example, you can go to Alibaba and type in “electronics contract manufacturer.” You’ll soon find yourself sorting through more than 4,500 companies providing PCB, PCBA, multi-layer boards, box builds, lead-free, electronics manufacturing and assembly services. To which we say, “Good luck.” (Seriously, that’s gonna take a while.)
Think about it. How will you know which EMS supplier is best for you? In fact, how will you know if you’re buying from the company actually making the product? Do you know if the manufacturer is sub-contracting the work? If that’s the case, how do you ensure third-party validation — like UL, for example — is certified? Do you really want to put your product in the hands of a company when you have zero visibility into their business?
Look: We’re not trying to rain on your parade but no matter what your product is, you'll find that anyone can put parts on a board. In our experience, you need a real connection to have the type of trust it takes to engage a true EMS partner capable of helping you scale your business.
Here's a valuable exercise. Treat finding a new supplier the same way you go about finding a new team member, by listing the attributes and skills you want them to have. What features do you expect in an EMS partner. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Does my project require a clean room and zero tolerance faults?
- Does my project need highly refined controls and processes, but only buy in small volumes?
- How much precision and reliability is necessary in my project?
- How much am I willing to pay, understanding that you will pay a premium for premium services?
Got all those answers on paper? Great! Now that you know what you're looking for, where do you find them?
Ways to Find a Supplier
Get online - Make exhaustive searches on Google (or your search engine of choice) to find out who other people are using. Your search needs to be very specific. For example, if your electronics product deals with 'power conversion' or 'power management,' make sure you include those words in your search terms, looking for companies with those capabilities. Google is smart and intuitive, but the more precise your search terms, the better your chances of finding good answers to your query(ies).
Professional Associations - There are organizations representing just about every type of manufacturer you can imagine. The IPC maintains a list of global electronics industry associations with links to organizations in the U.S., Europe/Asia and worldwide.
Referrals - Do you have contacts in the industry? Ask them for names of reputable EMS suppliers or contract manufacturers.
Once you have a list of companies to check out, visit their websites, click on their downloadable material, get in touch with their sales representatives. Start the conversation.
We are big believers in checking out prospective suppliers in person. If that means spending a few weeks in Asia (or Mexico or the U.S), then so be it. Talk to the people who will be making your product. Find out if you have a connection.
You want to know that they have:
- Proven skill at quality manufacturing - Make sure they have a proven track record in manufacturing the thing you make or something similar.
- Quality engineering support- Do they have engineers on their staff that can troubleshoot, tweak, assist you in making your product better?
- Diverse manufacturing capabilities - Sure they can make your PCBA, but can they do more? Can they help you develop new applications for your product? Are they investing in better equipment and infrastructure that will help your business grow?
- Testing and certification - Do they have the certifications you need? Are they UL-certified?
- Distribution/Logistics - Can they get product to you on time and all in one piece?
If you can create a list of suppliers with positive answers to the questions you ask, then it really comes down to what we talked about in the beginning. Do you have chemistry? Remember, you’re going to be interacting with these folks. There will be ups and downs (we guarantee that). You want to work with a company that has a culture that meshes with yours.