As consumer habits evolve, more and more electronic and connected devices are appearing on store shelves – sometimes from brands we never expected to see “smart” products from. Sneakers that send your speed and cadence to your smartphone, mattresses that adjust to your body temperature, even egg holders that tell you when you need more eggs…innovation is introducing some amazing (and occasionally silly) products! But all of these products require electronics, which means that brands – some of which are new to the world of electronics – need partners to help them engineer and manufacture these complex products.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), especially those with well-known brands, need to feel confident in the partners they select to design and build the key electronic components for their new products. Different OEMs will have different priorities to consider – cost, quality, location – but in the end, everyone wants a safe and reliable product. So how can brands be sure they’re choosing the right electronics partner for their needs?
Unfortunately, there seems to be very little unbiased information to help find the right path. And while you may not know Avnan yet, we’re hoping to help guide you to the right choice by impartially presenting the most important questions OEMs need to ask.
1. How important is it for your partner to have specific vertical experience?
As an OEM, you’ll want to know how much experience your potential partner has in your specific market. This may seem really important – but it’s not as important as you think it is.
For many products, your best bet is to look at partners who have a broad, diverse range of experience. It does not follow that if you are developing (for example) a smarter, more energy efficient air conditioning unit, you want to work with a supplier who only manufactures air conditioners, because then their experience would be narrowly limited to that specific area of technology. There’s no inspiration to think outside the box!
Instead, consider a partner with proven expertise in producing both very simple AND very complex electronic products. Ask about their experience with through-hole and surface-mount technologies, or other specific needs you may have (if you’re aware of such needs). That way, you’ll have a partner who can deliver the services you need – along with experience and expertise from completely different projects that may spark ideas for your product. Electronics partners who work across a spectrum of products can bring ideas and innovations used in other markets to your design.
Of course, if your product is intended for a highly regulated industry, such as medical or automotive, your partner should have the appropriate certifications to manufacture products for that market. For these products that are used in life-and-death situations, it’s best to stick with partners with deep experience in your field.
2. Do you require engineering support, and can your new partner provide it?
The first question here is really, where are you in your design process? If your product is still in the concept stage, can your chosen partner supply the kind of support you need? Can they deliver a prototype?
Maybe you only need design for manufacturability (DFM). Or maybe you need a partner with the engineering capabilities that can take your from concept all the way through to a final product. If it is a turnkey, “cradle-to-grave” solution you need, the partner you choose must have qualified engineers on staff.
Even if your product’s design and engineering will be done predominantly in-house, you’ll need to address DFM early in the process. There are two very different skill sets involved in engineering a product and engineering a product for repeatable production.
If your internal engineering group is delivering the design work, but you plan to outsource manufacturing, it’s best to select your partner as early on in the process as possible and involve them in your plans at every stage. This helps ensure that DFM is included from the outset and prevents costly redesigns as you get closer to production.
3. Which standards does your market require or demand, and can your new partner meet those standards?
Standards matter. For example, an ISO certification indicates that your potential partner follows a defined process for manufacturing. That quality management process (or processes) should be uniformly implemented throughout all their facilities. If you’re able to confirm that this process is adhered to for all products, you can feel confident that you’ll end up with a reliable, quality component.
But even if industry certifications aren’t required, you may still need to secure market certifications. Certifications like Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Underwriters Labs (UL) might be needed for your electronic product to be sold in Canada. You should be aware that if your partner achieves these certifications, representatives from the agencies that issue them may appear – unannounced – at your partner’s manufacturing facility for an audit. Your partner should be comfortable with these audits.
It’s important to realize that if you’re leaning toward a partner who doesn’t have experience with certifications – or has failed to achieve them in the past – an audit can result in delays and additional expense. In the worst-case scenario, the auditors could halt production altogether until your partner earns a clean bill of health. It’s wise to go with a partner who knows what they’re doing with respect to certifications and respective audits. In the long run, you’ll avoid a lot of headaches, even if it means you’re paying a bit more.
Even if your product isn’t subject to any certifications, make sure your manufacturing partner has some processes in place. Going with an ISO-certified partner is the safest bet, but if you choose not to go that route, make sure you ask about ongoing training, product testing, and safety procedures.
4. How important is location?
Different regions offer different benefits and rewards. For example, US companies may want to avoid production in China because they’ll face tariffs, so India might be a better option. Others may think that domestic production is best aligned with their brand image, but what are the challenges associated with that – and what other factors should they be taking into consideration?
If you’re manufacturing abroad, you may want to consider a location where you can be on site at least every two to three months, and ensure that someone you trust is available to check-in on a more frequent basis.
The advantage of working offshore is, of course, the potential cost-savings. Highly labour-intensive manufacturing projects represent the greatest benefit. To mitigate any potential issues of working offshore, you might consider finding a supplier-partner who has both onshore and offshore facilities. Working with engineers, designers and strategists in North America gives you a trusted point of contact here, but the flexibility to manufacture your products in the region that best suits your need.
Choosing a region will depend on many factors – the right facility, access to components and other resources, enough workers with the skills you need, and of course, price. Duties and tariffs also need to be considered. A number of suppliers, including Avnan, can assist you locally with engineering and manufacturing but also have the capability of support manufacturing in the offshore environment. You’ll also want to be sure your partner has “boots on the ground” in the region where your goods are being produced so you can have someone present if any issues arise.
You may also want to choose a partner with multiple locations both at home and abroad. As recent world events have shown us, sometimes a quick change of locale may be necessary. If your partner has locations in various regions, you may be able to move production quickly enough to avoid losses should disaster strike.
It’s all a lot to think about. We get it. But asking questions is a critically important first step to finding the right engineering and manufacturing partner for your electronic product. By working through these questions, and by recognizing potential pitfalls and opportunities, you should be well equipped to locate the right partner for your particular product and business.