Manufacturing Is Not Just Soldering Or Assembly

By S.A. Srinivasa Moorthy

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Most MSMEs and startups consider designing and manufacturing as two separate processes, which is not correct as these are interdependent. There are many aspects to be considered in manufacturing and it cannot be left to assembly houses who neither have the proper equipment nor the capacity. Good EMS partners can ensure fulfilment, where the EMS partner does everything from components procurement to delivery of the finished product to customers.

Most startups and MSME electronics companies focus on designing a product and do not have a proper plan for manufacturing the product. This is partly because most electronics manufacturing service (EMS) partners want a deal size of a million dollars and above, which the startups and MSMEs usually do not have at the beginning. This forces them to get the PCBs assembled through assembly houses and do rest of the product manufacturing themselves.

However, electronic product manufacturing is an intense process that needs careful planning and interaction with the manufacturing team from the design stage itself. The PCBA-only assembly process blinds the startups and MSMEs who do not spend enough time and effort on the manufacturing aspects. But, as the production volumes increase, they start realising that they can no longer manage the production and they start looking for EMS partners to outsource it.

Activities at an EMS
Fig. 1: Activities at an EMS

Unfortunately, this simple throw-it-over-the-wall approach neither helps the product owner nor the EMS partner. To understand the issues involved in electronic product manufacturing, let us try to see what happens inside an EMS partner’s premises. Please see Fig. 1, which shows the following three discrete blocks of activities:

  1. Supply chain
  2. Manufacturing
  3. Support and sustenance

Supply chain is the first element that impacts the product’s success. It deals with the electronic components, custom parts (mechanical, plastic, electronics, etc), their quality, and their storage in the plant (we will see why storage is key a little later), all of which play a vital role.

Next is the actual manufacturing phase, which covers new product introduction (NPI), board and system assembly, testing of the PCBAs, and the final product (including calibration). Shipping is also important, as a product delivered in a damaged condition can result in customer dissatisfaction and expensive replacements or repair.

The final element is the product support. It covers both warranty and post-warranty repairs, obsolescence management, customisation of products for the global market, and global manufacturing.

These aspects show how important and intense the manufacturing is. It is not just the assembly of PCBs.

Why manufacturing is critical

Good manufacturing ensures a reliable long-lasting product. But for a successful product, it has to be designed such that the manufacturing line can easily adapt to the design. This is easier said than done. While startups and MSMEs focus on design and cost, they miss out on crucial manufacturing.

With increased use of surface mount technology (SMT) parts, automated assembly and manufacturing is inevitable. This essentially means the PCBs and the systems have to be assembled by contract manufacturers (EMS partners) who invest in automated lines and do manufacturing as a service. This outsourcing imposes some ground rules for successful product manufacturing.

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