What do you do, when your boss is all over you to get that new project released and when most likely you are already behind schedule…?

Synopsis; Most NPI Engineers need speed and the ability to work with a contract manufacturer, who understands how to make changes on the fly. This article provides some insights and examples of how to pull this off; all while, meeting the design needs, giving time to market, and hitting the required quality!

Development of any new electronics project can at times seem insurmountable, as there is a lot that must come together all at the same time.

Let’s start with the significance of getting those first few PCBA’s in hand when the engineering is not always complete. After physically having those first units, comes the anticipation of being able to plug it in and turn on. This is where you see if all those late nights, emails, and phone calls were worth it. It is truly a remarkable choreography of events when it works and even more so, when those first units meet your expectations.

So, how do you go out and get a quote? Well, as someone who has been in the electronics industry for nearly four decades, you cannot go to the production houses; those big guys who run volume – they are just not equipped to handle the POC (Proof of Concept) builds. Typically, in the EMS world, most contract manufacturers want the volume jobs so they can set this up for big runs once and push through the volume with little to no changes. The key is finding a smaller contract manufacturer who is more agile and specializes in small batch builds – this is the first and most important task when in the development phase.

When at the beginning of a product’s life cycle, you need small and agile – not big and cumbersome. You need someone who can handle working with complete and incomplete data and provides you with a quick price. You need to have an EMS partner that focuses on your needs. There are only a handful of companies such as Intelligent Manufacturing Solutions that are purposefully built to work in such a manor.

So here is what we do at IMS:

● Our team analyzes the data quickly within hours, not days.

● We provide feedback which will address any shortcomings. Think of this as added engineering support, that can provide you with critical input to problems or flaws in the design and/or component choice.

● We are able to chase down a PCB (printed Circuit Board) raw fab quote with maybe only a mechanical drawing or PDF (outline, layer configuration, via configuration, special materials). Consider this while keeping in mind, that a full set of Gerber files are not required in order to get a quote.

So, by now you have certainly found the perfect contract manufacturer. I hope it is IMS and that you have received your quote.

What’s next?

Can you move forward with a Purchase Order with a data package that is in flux or not complete? The answer is: yes you can!

The best recommendation I can give, is to keep in mind the critical time sensitive pieces of this puzzle which needs to be managed. Typically, but not always, the raw PCB fab is the longest lead time item – this is assuming that there are no special components that have extraordinary lead times associated with them. If you have identified these specialties during the design phase, it is best to get them on the order or have at least obtained a few free samples from your supplier. This will whichelp to cut lead time last, while also saving you money.

Don’t hesitate! Get the order placed for the PCB immediately. At IMS we have several options to cover this process from something we call, “quote to buy” or by placing the order and adjusting as you move along through the process.

So, let’s review the take-aways:

● Does the design need to be complete to get a quote? The answer is no, but you will need basic information such as: the PCB Fab drawing, Preliminary BOM, and assembly drawings. They can be pre-release, drafts, etc.…

● Find a reliable small size EMS company such as IMS who has the process, experience and equipment to build small batch rapid builds. Rely on someone who is willing to work with you as you develop the PCBA on the fly.

● Expect to have an ongoing communication with your team and the supplier – many questions will fly back and forth. You can expect multiple calls and emails because your contract manufacturers become an extension of your company.

● Do not over engineer or specify in the early stages. Don’t pay for an expensive E-test at the PCB level, if the build is not leaving your engineering. These don’t require a conformal coat – remember these are POC and test units.

The final point to remember, is that if your contract manufacturer is not set up for small batch builds, then don’t try and force this upon them.

Intelligent Manufacturing Solutions is a factory that is purposefully and specifically built to provide prototypes, rapid builds, and small batch needs. It is all we do and we do it well. Consider IMS, as we are looking forward to helping you with your next design project.

– Jim Barry is the Director of Business Development for IMS. He has a background in the design, development and manufacture of PCB & PCBA. Jim can be reached at 603-553-5546 or via email.