Do you work for an original equipment manufacturer, or OEM? Chance are you’ve crossed paths with a project requiring electronic manufacturing services -- and needed outside help, ASAP.
Electronics manufacturing services are those offered by companies that design, test, build, deliver, or give aftermarket help for electronic parts and assemblies. A steady, expert hand guiding you through the manufacturing process can give your product a leg up on your competitors.
Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS)
Some of what you see here is industry-standard, while other offerings are more niche or specialty. Either way, here are a few thoughts on EMS:
- Working with a company who has a dedicated engineering staff is super valuable.
- Make sure your vendor has the industry-specific certifications you need. A medical company, for example, might need a specific certification that a gas meter company does not.
Here’s what to expect with EMS:
Printed circuit board, or PCB, assembly is the process of using surface mount technology or through hole to solder components like transistors, resistors, and integrated circuits onto a bare board. A completed PCB lets you route power and signals between physical devices. Through hole takes a little longer because it involves more human interaction with the board.
Circuit board parts are so small, you don’t necessarily know you’re building it wrong until you test it. Luckily, the complete electronics manufacturer will offer full functional in-house testing services. Testing methods include:
- Visual inspection -- the old-fashioned eye test
- System simulation -- virtual test run of your board
- X-ray inspection -- checking for a part doesn’t have a good connection
- Flying prober equipment -- checking for values on the part
- Automatic optical inspection equipment -- a camera scans the PCB for defects and missing components
- BGA (ball grid array) inspection equipment -- BGAs allow integrated circuit connections to be made by using the board’s underside
- Functional testing -- trying to mirror what the board is going to do for the end customer
Manufacturers’ offerings range from a visual inspection (basic) all the way up to a functional test (allows for a turnkey operation).
If you opt for extensive testing before you receive your product, you’ll know it was built to your specifications. Most importantly, you’ll know whether your product needs additional testing or it’s ready to send off to your own customers.
There’s more than just cable assembly to these services. Other products associated with these services include:
- Harsh-environment cable assemblies
- Control panels/boxes
- Mechanical subassemblies
- Panel wiring and assembly
The well-rounded provider will engineer, test, and manufacture the products.
For cable assemblies, manufacturing is done with hand soldering -- your vendor should be certified in this. Many can also have injection overmolding capabilities. This refers to a process in which a single part is created using multiple materials. Typically the first material (sometimes called the substrate) is at least partially covered by subsequent materials (overmolds) during manufacturing.
Does your vendor offer custom overmolding capabilities? It’s something worth checking out before you buy.
Time to test? Cables can receive a functional test and a pull test. The testing process doesn’t need to be as rigorous as with PCB assemblies.
Forms of these tests include automated cable testing, and continuity and “hipot” testing. “Hipot” is short for high potential, which in turn means high voltage. A hipot test is the opposite of a continuity test in that it makes sure no current will flow from one point to another.
These services refer to products such as box builds. Depending on the manufacturer, these enclosures come:
A robust electronics manufacturers may have a dedicated final assembly team for these services.
A vendor can also offer:
- Custom shipment packaging
- Functional testing
- Configuration management
- 3-D modeling
- Potting and heat shrink use
Configuration management is a means of establishing consistency in your product’s performance and look. Potting is the process of filling a finished assembly with goo-like stuff to improve moisture, vibration, shock, and corrosion resistance. Heat shrink is a shrinkable plastic tubing that goes over the cable. So you’re literally getting another layer -- ranging from paper-thin to industrial-sized -- of abrasion protection for your product, whether it goes in a mine or another dangerous place.
All electromechanical assembly work should be done with intrinsic safety in mind -- both in the design stage and the manufacturing process.
Sometimes you need an expert, and that expert does not exist inside your building. That’s OK.
Contracting out design lets you take advantage of industry-specific, expert engineers and production teams. They will generate:
- Software and firmware
- Validation tests
- DFX analysis (design for manufacturability, testability, cost-effectiveness)
- Environmental tests for compliance
The vendor should be doing this while providing documentation to you every step of the way and meeting regulatory approval.
But EMS can really shine when a vendor jumps all-in on the product development process. That means getting involved before the product design actually takes place.
Electronics manufacturing services should include the engineers, material manager, and others helping refine a contracted design through:
- Circuit simulation and prototyping
- Costing exercises
- 3-D CAD and physical modeling
- Technical feasibility studies
- Quality review
Did “costing exercises” catch your eye? You can come to a vendor with your price problems -- it may be able to find substitute components that are less expensive. All without lowering final product quality!
EMS will give you bang for your buck if, as part of the deal, your vendor offers capabilities in:
This can include work on products manufactured by another company and on legacy products that require sustaining engineering.
Some service providers can even help you get ahead of the issues with failure analysis. If the same repair is being done repeatedly, a provider may jump in and quote a redesign that will save you money in the long run.
Obsolescence is a similar issue in electronics manufacturing. When a part is nearing the end of its life, your supplier can quote you for new supplies so you’re not caught unprepared.
There are three possible recommendations the provider will offer:
- End-of-life -- the part is no longer useful and no longer supported
- Last time buy -- a final bulk purchase before the maker discontinues the part
- Not recommended for new design -- The future of the part is uncertain, outdated, or carries risk of becoming obsolete.
To help manage component obsolescence, a vendor should offer life-cycle analysis. This assessment looks at the total environmental impacts of a component through its entire life. Before you even finish production, your vendor can proactively look for parts that will need replaced and help you them obtain alternatives.
So, despite the term “aftermarket,” some of these services can benefit you before customers see your end result. You should always be aware of the risks before you send a product to market!
Other aftermarket services available include:
- A whole lot more
Vendor Choice Matters
This is just the beginning to electronic manufacturing services. As you can see, what you get varies greatly by vendor. Some are simply looking to print bare boards in huge volumes. Others offer complex, creative solutions in smaller volumes.
If you have further questions about what an electronics manufacturer could or should provide, we can help.
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