Editor’s note: this is a contributed post written by the fabulous team at Altium. For more information on the company and their products, please visit their site at altium.com.
So you’ve done it. After months of thoughtful design, countless hours of troubleshooting, and after dozens of fried breadboards, you’ve emerged with a final design ready to hit shelves at a store near you. But even after all of the effort, the puzzle isn’t yet complete. Now comes the time to seek out, negotiate, and commit to a manufacturer who will take your work of art and turn it into a real-life manufactured product.
The task at hand, however, isn’t as simple as one might expect. With the rapid advancement in so many manufacturing shops, it seems like everybody and their mother boasts services that get you exactly what you need. Next day prototypes? No problem. Two thousand units by next week? Easy. 16 point quality checks? We’ll make it 17.
While this may sound like the road to choosing a manufacturer will be easy, pay heed to the imposters. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ could never be more appropriate here and should be your first lesson. More than just cost associated, there are a handful of other considerations you should be making while you embark on your (hopefully not too) long and (hopefully not too) perilous journey to signing and working with a manufacturer.
Range of Services and Expertise
As with many companies, both domestic and overseas, trying to come up in the industry, manufacturers will boast about their extremely broad range of services and capabilities to meet any project’s requirements. Although most factories around can meet your requirements, it’s certainly another argument to make on how experienced they are in meeting said requirements.
This is common to see amongst newer to the game manufacturers simply trying to talk their way into a contract here and there offering the world, but constantly coming up short. Be sure to do your research and possibly ask questions: Does the company have a long-standing reputation for great work? Do they have any past references they can point you to? Are they offering you exactly what you are seeking or are they offering you their capabilities?
In an interview with Rick Hartley, he outlines the complexities that modern designs hold which then attests to the larger complexities of manufacturing them. Manufacturing is an intensive process that requires careful and rigorous attention these days, almost as much as the design itself.
Communication and Transparency
Along the same lines as above, a great manufacturer will be very open and honest about their capabilities and previous work, but more than just their history, you should be looking for excellent communication both external (to you), and internal (to their internal teams).
How quickly can you pull information from deep inside their operations? Besides the speed of communication, what’s the quality like? Do they know what they’re talking about? Are they providing you with just the answers you are looking for or do they give you the answer and then some?
Complexity in designs are catalysts for complexity in communication. Ensuring your manufacturer can disseminate, compile, then formulate a proper response in the inevitable event of tricky issues arising would be a top priority for me.
Flexibility and Support
Make it a priority to find out not just if your manufacturer is flexible, but what steps they take when flexibility is needed. Let’s assume that one of the parts of your design is in short supply during the third production run (Third run?! Hot dog, look at you go!). What steps will they take to mitigate the issue?
Will they replenish the parts you need, delaying production by a week, or will they have the expertise to suggest various alternatives to keep delivery dates on track? What about their other clients? How will the manufacturer prioritize you amongst others?
In these times of mitigating issues, it’s additionally beneficial to dive in and take a look at the support teams that you’ll be dealing with. Asking similar questions as before: how knowledgeable are their support teams? What’s the communication and response time of issues? And their quality of knowledge? All great things to ask while vetting your short list of manufacturers.
A great interview with Dirk Stans here touches on some of the common flexibility and support pitfalls experienced when taking your design into the manufacturing realm.
Cost and Quality
Bringing it back full circle, the thoughts of ‘you get what you pay for’ should be on your mind throughout the processes of seeking a manufacturer, and similarly the number you see at the bottom of a quote shouldn’t be the only thing you take into consideration. This is a trivial tip for most designers out there but absolutely needs to be mentioned here.
The way we like to think of additional costs in the end quote of a design is not as an additional dollar amount, rather as insurance to the inevitable issues that will arise during the length of your contract.
You are not just paying for the design anymore, you are paying for the range of expertise and service they have under their belt. You are paying for their communication and transparency along each run. You are paying for their flexibility and support. You are paying for a quality manufacturer.
Bring it All Together
Although tricky and extremely intimidating to begin, choosing the right manufacturer simply takes a bit of patience, some forethought into what you are looking to gain, and a big picture overview of each factor at play. Simply put, if you treat finding your manufacturer like finding a significant other, you’ll be well on your way to finding the manufacturer of your dreams!
By not honing in on one aspect of the manufacturer, rather a broad aspect of each of their features, you’ll certainly come up with a short list of quality companies who can get you exactly what you need (and more!). Keeping the basic considerations in mind, be sure to start with their range of services and expertise, their communication, flexibility, cost, and quality. As you begin to dive deeper and deeper, you’ll begin finding your own questions to ask; questions that are near and dear to your design.
If you want to know more about specifications that can elevate your strong design start into a stronger production finish, the Altium community and experts are a great resource and always available to talk with you about how you can make the most from your manufacturing process.