One of the key elements of working with a contract manufacturer is to match their skill set to your particular needs. Often, the particular set of skills that a contract manufacturer (or contractor, for short) brings to their craft is shaped by the types of customers they support.  This, in turn, is a function of their certifications, training and experience.  In that regard, each contractor will have a unique imprint on the work that they deliver.  That is where the differences lie.  This article will give you some guidelines to help you assess if you are getting the skillset that best fits the jobs you need to get done.

Work Experience

When you have decided that you would like a certain subassembly to be manufactured outside of your plant, one of the first things to find out is whether or not your candidate contractor has done this type of work before. This is not quite as straightforward as it sounds.  It is rare that a supplier has made exactly the same deliverable (whether software or hardware) before.  But, they likely may have done something similar.  It’s up to you to assess if their experience is similar enough to translate to your project.  One example might be that you need some machined bolts made of stainless steel with left-hand threads on one portion and right-hand threads on another portion.  The steel must be traceable to a US source of supply, since that was stipulated in the contract. This is a common requirement for US government contracting and requires extra documentation and segregation of materials.  The prospective contractor may be fine with the special machining requirement, but are not experienced with traceability requirements for the material. Then, it’s up to you if you want to hire them knowing that you will have a learning curve on the traceability issue.

Skill With Specialized Equipment

A lot of the capability of a contract manufacturer is dependent on which pieces of capital equipment they have invested in.  The more invested a company is in certain industries, the more vertically integrated they are likely to be.  For example, RiverSide Integrated Solutions has targeted PCBA manufacturing as one of their areas of expertise.  One would expect that they will have pick-and-place equipment, the ability to produce RoHS-compliant electronic assemblies and a way to encapsulate the board assemblies.  All are standard in-house equipment.  If some other company has  a specialty in overmolded cable assemblies, they will have mold-making capability, EDM machining equipment, injection molding capability and probably a 3D additive manufacturing cell.  If your project requires some specialized equipment that is critical to producing a reliable part, you will want to ask to see where and how they would intend to make that part for you.  This should be part of your due diligence when bringing a new supplier on board.

Problem Resolution Experience

An experienced contractor can bring a lot of value through their experience. This is not something that is likely to be evident right away. Often you will have a complete design that has been toleranced and which has assembly details well defined.  Generally speaking, you will just want to be certain that they can reproduce the part as drawn.  Of course it’s important that they can meet the quantity, timing and cost objectives as well.  However, not everyone thinks to ask if they can see some room for improvement of the existing design.  It may be that you’re subcontracting out a part that you have used many times before and it works just fine, but you’ll gain a different perspective if you ask the question.  If your prospective new supplier starts asking questions about the mating part, environmental concerns, assembly time and so on, this is a good sign. It’s an indication that they may have worked on solving fundamental design issues before and that’s a really good skill to bring to the table. These are the types of challenges that RiverSide Integrated Solutions really likes to sink their teeth into. In fact, they relish the opportunity to be included in the design process and may just find a way to adjust the design to improve performance or costs if given the chance.

Skill In Ramping Production

If you are contracting out for a subassembly, chances are one of the reasons is that you just don’t have the capability or resources in house to produce the assembly economically in the volumes needed.  You will be putting this project in the hands of a contract manufacture and expect them to go from initial prototype (a first article as proof) to an appropriately scaled manufacturing assembly process.  Typically there will need to be some fixturing and/or assembly tooling to reduce the amount of touch labor needed to produce the part.  There may also be some semi- or fully automated steps depending on the part.  The prospective new supplier for this part won’t likely invest in all this specialized tooling until they produce a first article (or more if the contract calls for it) and it gets approved.  Once all parties are happy with the supplied part(s), the contractor will build the necessary tooling, usually in stages as they ramp up the product to the desired rate. You will want to make sure you understand their experience in doing this, how they plan to make this transition and the rate at which they can ramp up your product.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line, ultimately is how well the prospective subcontractors skills, experience and equipment match your needs.  The old saying goes that you hope the finished product will be well-made (good), delivered on time (fast) and not too expensive (cheap), but you only get to choose two out of the three.  Though there may be some truth to that, in today’s world of contract manufacturing, there are generally enough skills and experience available, that you should be able to balance all three.  If you’re smart about your search and you are diligent in vetting the prospective subcontractors you are likely to find that you can find your way to a happy conclusion.

About RIS

RIS is an advanced contract manufacturer providing robust solutions in circuit board assembly, product assembly, kitting, supply chain management, fulfillment, distribution, and reverse logistics. We employ more than 300 people and provide services to OEM’s across the world. We operate 3 state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities within the U.S, and as your one-stop-shop we have the capabilities, capacity, quality assurance standards, and resources to provide you with support for all of your manufacturing needs.

With all of the choices in contract manufacturers out there, we know it can be difficult to find someone that not only understands your business model but also has your best intentions in mind. RIS has proven to always be a win-win focused relationship. As your one-stop-shop, we have the capabilities, capacity, quality assurance standards, and resources to provide you with support for all of your manufacturing needs. We understand that supply chain management is difficult and very time consuming, so we urge our customers to utilize us in the fullest capacity. Our total-package solutions include:

· Extensive supply-chain network

· Purchasing and inventory management

· Dedicated Program Manager

· Warehousing and drop-shipping capabilities

· Flexible order fulfillment

· Product assembly: sub-assembly and full product

· Scalability to meet your needs

Contact us today at (507) 523-3220 to see how we can help with your manufacturing project, or click here for a quote.

Why the Skills of Your Contract Manufacturer Matter
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Why the Skills of Your Contract Manufacturer Matter
Contract manufacturers are available that have a wide range of skills. It takes some diligence, but it is possible to find the right set of skills that will result in the successful and economical transfer of responsibility to the right contractor.
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Riverside Integrated Solutions
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