PCB Assembly Services UK

How to choose the best contract electronics manufacturing company

This is a big decision. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a PCB specialist to design and build a new PCB prototype, a large-volume PCB assembly service, or a totally turnkey PCB manufacturing company.

Choosing the best contract electronics manufacturing company (CEM) you can won’t just increase your chances of success with this one project; there’s a knock-on effect for everything that follows. Make the wrong decision and if the quality suffers, the results can be a massive loss of confidence from your clients. A negative impact that could take years to recover.

With that in mind, let’s look at the factors you need to take into account when you’re choosing an electronics manufacturing partner. And ‘partner’ really is an appropriate word here. Not legally, but in terms of the CEM’s attitude. You want them to take real ownership, to understand your aversion to risk, your priorities, and to treat the success of each project as if it were their company name printed on the outside of the box your customers see.

What to consider when you research contract electronics manufacturers

We think there are a number of indicators to look for, when youre doing your initial search for CEM companies.

1. Longevity. It’s the obvious first factor. A company that’s been around for decades has, in all probability, been doing at least most things right. It’s not just about the accumulated experience of the key players in the company, either – you’re looking for continuity of performance as a team. Any company name changes should be few and far between, too, and probably have accompanied a shift in focus or adding of services.

2. Areas of specialism. If the companies you’re looking at offer multiple contract electronic manufacturing services (EMS), what are their strengths? PCB assembly services are common enough, but are there the add-on, complementary skills which could simplify the process for you? It’s tempting to outsource different parts of a build to different manufacturing specialists, but the more links in the chain, the greater the juggling act you have in managing production, and the greater the risk of a link breaking. There can also be hidden logistics costs and a slower overall delivery time when you split production between multiple locations and organisations.

3. Think about the long term. Unless you’re scrambling to cover for being let down by another manufacturer, look beyond the job you need to get done. Take PCB prototyping as an example. Your first instinct might be to look for a contract electronics manufacturer who specialises solely in that first design and proof of concept. How easily can that company then produce at scale when you’re ready to move to production? Sometimes, a specialist turnkey EMS company is more appropriate.

4. PCB supply and component sourcing. Established, well-regarded electronics manufacturers source components and boards from more than one supplier, via more than one route, and usually with preferential status. At a time when certain parts, like microchips during the pandemic, are in short supply, choosing a company with the contacts and the expertise to source components as rapidly as possible – without compromising on quality – will make the difference between success and, at best, a major delay.

5. The EMS company’s credentials. Forget how pretty the website is. Forget the glossy presentation in the sales pitch. Look beyond. Are they certified in the areas they should be? How up to date are their processes? And can they back up the buzzwords with intuitive understanding, when you hit them with the hard questions?

6. Client testimonials. Contract electronics manufacturing companies sometimes have a harder time than other industries in gathering case studies and client testimonials, because the companies they design and build for are often secretive about their product parts and purposes. Nonetheless, any contract manufacturer should be able to provide you with some evidence of their clients’ joy at their work!

7. Do they offer the right balance? You want as little compromise as possible. Weigh up expertise, ability to scale production and maximum capacities, accreditation and approved processes, physical location and, of course, cost.

8. Don’t overlook the way they work and the way they communicate. How responsive are they to your initial enquiry? Would they sacrifice an existing, lower-value order just to get your project into production fast enough to hit your deadlines? That’s a bad sign… You want good, clear communication and availability, good customer service and, equally importantly, loyalty. Even if that loyalty is to a prior promise. The week you’d be forced to delay for might just pay big dividends through a long-term relationship with a contract manufacturer you can have faith in.

9. Costs. The cost of electronics assembly can vary enormously, depending on the company’s location and a host of other factors. There may be a budget beyond which you cannot go, but price should never be your first deciding factor. What looks like a great saving now could be a disastrously false economy. Equally, you want to be sure that the figures you’re quoted stand up to scrutiny and reflect the skills involved and the amount it costs to retain those skills in-house. And are there any hidden costs to uncover? Track the entire process through to make sure your entire project’s costs are accounted for.

So how do you pick the best contract electronics manufacturer to work with?

There’s no single ‘best contract electronics manufacturing company’, anywhere. There are lots of excellent companies all around the world. There may even be more than reputable electronics manufacturer on your doorstep. The question is, are they the ‘best’ for you, your current needs, and the needs you might foreseeably have in the months and years to come?

To go back to point 3, taking a long-term view and thinking strategically, is almost always the right approach to choosing a partner.

To find out about how we work on PCB assembly projects, prototype production or complete end-to-end contract manufacturing, contact our team today.

See how we can help with your next PCB project

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