Contract Manufacturing Partner Selection Criteria
What are the attributes to look for when looking for a contract manufacturing partner?
Your CM should feel like an extension of your business. Check out our full article here to discover the Key Considerations in selecting the right CM partner for your success.
How do you discover your contract manufacturers’ communication style early on?
Communication with your CM is critical to a successful partnership, with emphasis on proactivity, honesty, and transparency. You should be able to access information about any aspect of the manufacturing process of your product that you would like to know, including part sourcing, product build status, and delivery status.
When is the right time to engage a contract manufacturer?
Creating a product is an incredibly challenging venture, but there are several boxes to check before you’re ready to engage a CM. You’re ready to engage and scale once you have: a product and have made a number of successful prototypes using a reproducible build process; achieved any related regulation approvals (FDA, etc); cleared any financial or funding hurdles; a stable corporate structure (including operations, engineering and quality control), as well as a go-to-market strategy with support (sales and marketing) in place.
How can you know if your contract manufacturer can scale with your business?
Your CM should be able to provide a path to scale to meet increasing demand for your product, based on forecasted demands but with the flexibility to adapt to fluctuations in demand. They should be able to clearly communicate about current and future processes and have a sufficient number of employees, equipment, and materials to produce larger batches of products. A scalable CM should be able to manage and manufacture multiple models and have efficient shipping practices (drop-ship, direct delivery, etc), as well as have ongoing investment into technology and equipment upgrades.
What is the value of a visit to prospective contract manufacturer facility?
A visit to your CM’s facility is an essential step to selecting a manufacturing partner. Your CM should allow you to take a tour to check out the machinery and work areas and ensure everything in the facility is clean and well cared for, as well as get a feel for the culture of the team that will be handling your project. Not only will you be able to evaluate their capabilities and observe their processes firsthand, but you will also be able to begin building that relationship and develop trust with your potential CM.
Assembly & Logistics
What are the different kinds of assembly work?
CM’s are able to provide a range of electronic and mechanical assembly services. Electronic assembly includes sub-assembly with light wire and cabling, prep work by trimming leads and forming parts, conformal coating, potting and testing capabilities. Mechanical assembly includes hardware assembly, gears, bearings, cases, covers, hand tools and terminals. Assembly can also include metal or plastic fabrication and refurbishment.
Cirtronics specializes in building and integrating both full mechanical and electro-mechanical systems, with extensive experience in complex box builds, calibration, testing. Additionally, we build sub-assemblies for some of our customers, and are experts in building products for quality-sensitive applications, beginning at the board (PCB) level.
How are logistics handled?
Your CM should tailor their logistics services to your needs and should have a range of services from supply chain to direct fulfillment to your customers and aftermarket support. Material procurement, inventory management, DHR documentation, end-to-end tracking, custom packaging and labeling – your CM should have experience with all manner of logistics and fulfillment and be able to help you evaluate your options.
How is housing handled for raw and finished goods?
A good CM will have warehouse space for housing all raw and finished goods, an accessible loading dock, and a dedicated shipping department to work with various carriers. In addition, they should have a Purchasing department to source materials and a Receiving Department to inspect and ensure your received parts are exactly as needed.
Quality & Regulations
What are the key QMS attributes?
A Quality Management System (QMS) should monitor and measure a CM’s manufacturing activity and verify that product requirements are being consistently met. An SPC (Statistical Process Control) team should also be in place to monitor inspection and test results from each key process area and identify areas requiring improvement. Quality processes begin well before production, starting with suppliers and compliance with industry standards, and continuing with manufacturability, testing, and services, along with creation and strict management of all necessary documentation, including change control.
What are the types of Quality Control testing?
Quality control (QC) is an essential part of the manufacturing process and ensures that every production batch meets designated specifications. This includes customer standards, current and future regulatory compliance rules, and the CM’s own standards for quality. From component testing, in-circuit testing, and functional testing to final product systems tests, including test tracks and obstacle courses for mobile units, your CM’s test services should include full debug and fault isolation capabilities down to the component level. Click here to find out more about Cirtronics testing capabilities.
How is Intellectual Property handled?
By nature, contract manufacturing involves proprietary information and trade secrets, and your privacy is important. CMs usually require a mutual non-disclosure confidentiality agreement (NDA) to be signed by both parties, with such an agreement required to be in place before any specific information regarding a project is discussed.
What certifications are required in contract manufacturing?
Your CM should work continually to maintain their certifications annually to meet national and global standards for quality contract manufacturing and excellence of service. ISO certification ensures that contract manufacturers meet certain regulatory standards for production quality and employee support. Your CM should follow the IPC J-STD-001 standard for soldering, IPC-A-610 for electronic assembly, and IPC – 7711/7721 for rework/repair modifications. Additionally, your specific product industry will also have key certifications to look for – ISO 13485 and FDA for medical devices, ITAR for defense, etc. As a reference, Cirtronics list of certifications can be found here.
Key Manufacturing Capabilities
What kinds of services are included in Turnkey operations?
In the turnkey model of contract manufacturing, an “outsourced” CM has complete control of all production processes, including material acquisition, engineering, component and product assembly, product testing, and after sales services. Turnkey services allow a customer to focus on the sales and marketing efforts, rather than the production processes.
How is Supply Chain management handled?
Your CM should be proactive about their approach to Supply Chain management. Reliable, cost-effective sourcing through advanced procurement methods and global monitoring initiatives are key to having a resilient yet flexible process. Your CM’s supply chain should be deliberately deep and wide, with a mixture of local, domestic and international partners, with extra attention on traceability and transparent communication. From supplier selection and material procurement to inventory management, quality control, and logistics, your CM must be able to identify and mitigate any potential risks.
Can prototypes be built for me?
Even the most advanced prototype requires efficient and cost-effective manufacturing process design. Your CM should work collaboratively with your engineering team to ensure successful transition to manufacturing and scaling, and include reviews for manufacturability, testing, and supply chain.
Industry Terminology & Definitions
What is Contract Manufacturing / a Contract Manufacturer (CM)?
Contract manufacturing is a business model in which a client contracts a manufacturer third-party to build and/or assemble a product or component, rather than directly manufacture the product themselves. Contract manufacturers (CMs) like Cirtronics help companies to more efficiently produce their products, scale their production, lower costs, add quality-control standards, and allow clients to focus on their core competencies. CM services can range from simple assembly to complex fabrication and testing of products. Cirtronics offers additional services such as T2M, tailored Kanban systems, and aftermarket support.
What is OEM versus ODM?
An OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is the manufacturer of a product according to the buyer’s designs and specifications. The buyer then brands, markets, and sells their own product after production. In some cases, OEM can also stand for Original Electronic Manufacturer.
An ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) is a company that both designs and manufactures certain types of products for the buyer to sell, while often maintaining intellectual property of the product’s designs.
What is DFX?
DFX stands for Design for Excellence and comprises the methods, guidelines, and standards for creating better quality products during the design phase in order to optimize performance, reliability, and efficiency.
While the ‘X’ stands for excellence, it also refers to different elements involved in creating quality products that can be addressed within the design process, including:
- DFM/A (Design for Manufacturability/ Design for Assembly) to assess manufacturing readiness and support process development and validation up to and including pilot production.
- DFSC (Design for Supply Chain) focuses on Supply Chain optimization in part sourcing for cost, traceability, and risk management.
- DFT (Design for Test) assesses what kinds of testing your product needs and whether those tests can be performed based on the current design, and can later include test strategy design, test plan development, and validation for the product.
- DFS (Design for Service) ensures products are serviceable by design, and have validated methods in place for repair, refurbishment, and/or upgrades if required.
What is T2M?
T2M stands for Transition to Manufacturing. Cirtronics will work with you to create documentation, identify sourcing, and validate build processes to successfully transfer your new or existing product to full-scale manufacturing in our facility. T2M also involves a co-building process, where an engineer from your company would work side by side with a Cirtronics engineer to review the product build process together. Click here to learn more about T2M.
What is BOM?
BOM (Bill of Materials) is comprehensive list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, components, parts, and quantities of each needed to manufacture or repair a product. The BOM will also include procurement instructions, manufacturing process, price breakdown, and tooling breakdown. This centralized source of information can also be referred to as a manufacturing bill of material (MBOM), and is used to plan purchases of inventory, estimate costs, minimize production delays, and accelerate necessary replacements.
What is PCBA?
PCBA stands for Printed Circuit Board Assembly. While a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) refers just to a non-conductive board designed for the purpose of connecting electronic components, PCBA refers to the complete electronic board after all of its components are assembled, mounted, and soldered. Cirtronics PCBA services consist of SMT, through-hole, selective soldering, automated optical inspection (AOI), flying probe, and a variety of board testing, including in-circuit testing (ICT) and environmental testing (ESS).
What is Box Build?
The term “Box Build” is often used to summarize the complex process of putting together many manufactured elements into a single, ready-to-go product. This can also be referred to as a systems integration and is essentially the complete construction of a customer’s finished product, from PCBA to final assembly.
What is ITAR?
International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) controls the export and import of defense-related articles and services on the United States Munitions List (USML). . The regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).
As an important U.S. export control law, the ITAR affects the manufacture, sale, and distribution of technology, and works to prevent the disclosure or transfer of sensitive information to a foreign national. Any CM that produces defense-related products must be ITAR compliant.
What is RoHS?
The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) is a set of regulations that controls the use of hazardous substances, and reduce potential environmental and health risks caused by the use of these substances during the utilization, collection, treatment and disposal of increasing amounts of electrical and electronic components and waste. The RoHS Directive currently restricts the use of ten substances: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP).
What is SMT?
SMT stands for Surface-Mount Technology, formally known as planar mounting. It is a method for assembling and attaching electrical components directly to the surface of a printed circuit board (PCB) and was designed to replace through-hole methods. SMT allows for automated production to complete more of the required assembly on a board. An electrical component mounted this way is known as a surface-mount device (SMD), and can be quickly sorted and attached to the board with little to no leads.
Specific to Cirtronics
How long have you been in business?
Cirtronics was founded in 1979 by Gerardine Ferlins, with a goal to build a company that was as focused on people as it was on profits – including its customers, community and suppliers. Over forty years later, we are still operating under Gerardine’s philosophy.
How big is your facility? How many SMT lines do you have?
Cirtronics’ Milford, NH location has 175,000 square feet with an additional 30,000 square feet of flexible-use space for long- and short-term capacity expansion and warehousing. We have 5 SMT lines, including a dedicated system for our T2M projects. All of our equipment is on wheels to allow us to reconfigure our layout based on our manufacturing mix to maximize efficiency and accommodate a variety of projects, including larger builds, or mobile units requiring large test tracks.
What size projects do you fulfill?
Cirtronics excels in manufacturing small to medium quantity, high-complexity, quality-sensitive products. Our expertise is in highly rigorous and regulated markets including robotics, military, security and medical technology.
Do you work with startups?
Cirtronics is excited to work with funded startups and early stage ventures with proven track records of entrepreneurial success. We understand that building a startup is challenging and requires a good product idea, a well thought out go-to-market strategy, and the time and resources to bring that vision to life. We are always open to exploring your product idea, strategy, and how we might help you scale your manufacturing.
Do you do design work?
While our team has extensive capabilities from engineering through production and aftermarket services, we do not offer specific design creation services. However, conversations between your product developers and our manufacturing engineers can be extremely productive, even if your product design is incomplete or in the concept stage. Our T2M services will also ensure a successful transition of your design into full scale manufacturing.
Do you accept consigned kits?
Cirtronics holds inventory via our supplier on-site storage program called CORE (Cirtronics On-site Replenishment Emporium), allowing us to offer flexibility based on customer demand and limit financial exposure or instances of unexpected shorts. Additionally, our Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) strategy allows us to hold pre-purchased inventory based on specific quantity forecasts to ensure we have the right parts at the right times.
Can you help with end of life and obsolete components?
Cirtronics’ Design for Supply Chain (DFSC) expertise takes a proactive approach to evaluate part availability and cost. We help ease the logistical burden on our customers by analyzing documentation for BOM cost reduction opportunities and inventory risk mitigation, exposing potential part procurement challenges, product lifecycle support, obsolescence, and end-of-life to address part substitution and sourcing.
If my program starts in transition to manufacturing (T2M), how long does it stay there before moving to a production cell?
Timelines depend entirely on the scope of the project (volume, complexity, etc.) as each product is different, and our customers’ needs vary greatly. In your initial consultation with Cirtronics, we’ll discuss a timeline built specifically for the scope of your project to help you plan accordingly. We work to refine the manufacturing process and address any potential issues during the T2M phase to ensure the process is stable and ready for production. Rest assured, our T2M services will increase your manufacturing quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.
What is Precision Engagement® Manufacturing?
Precision Engagement® Manufacturing is a phrase used to describe what Cirtronics does every day and how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Our fully integrated and responsive services are tailored to the needs of each customer during every stage of the process. The Cirtronics team is committed to the success of our customers and will work as an extension of their business.
What is the “Six We Serve”?
The “Six We Serve” is part of our Quality Policy and the understanding that we are part of a bigger picture and that we can – and should – make our contributions count towards our extended version of our “team”.
These Six pillars are defined as our Customers, Community, Suppliers, Environment, Employee Owners, and the Corporation.
What are CCORP and ESP?
CCORP stands for Cirtronics Community OutReach Program, while ESP stands for Environmental Stewardship Program.
CCORP and ESP are two committees within Cirtronics that work to provide volunteer opportunities for our employee owners to serve our Community and Environment (two pillars in the Six We Serve) through non-profit partners throughout the year.
What is ESOP?
ESOP (pronounced “ee-sop”) stands for Employee Stock Ownership Program. In 2002, Cirtronics instituted our ESOP, with 40% of the corporation owned by employees. Our culture of ownership means we are truly invested in the success of our customers and of our company and gives our Employee Owners a real sense of pride and ownership over their actions every day.