When sourcing electronics engineering and design services, choosing a supplier that also does manufacturing can have significant benefits, whether you use its manufacturing services or not.
Many design firms specialize in electronic design and engineering services. They create a design, build a working prototype, and deliver a product data package that should have everything you need to begin manufacturing. Your relationship typically ends there. Some firms will help manage the transition to production, but the core expertise for these firms is design.
These design services firms have an incentive to finish your design quickly, get paid, and move on to the next project. There is no incentive for them to spend time optimizing your design for production, and you will live with the consequences for years.
Design + manufacturing firms
Many full-service contract manufacturing providers have in-house design teams. These teams will be motivated to design a highly manufacturable product with low component costs and high reliability. They hope to win your manufacturing business.
They will use their personal knowledge of manufacturing processes to guide design decisions. You benefit whether you eventually award the manufacturing contract to that firm, choose a different contract manufacturer, or manufacture the product yourself.
Save money on manufacturing
A design team that works hand in hand with manufacturing on a daily basis will understand how fairly simple design choices have a big impact on manufacturing costs.
For example, in any circuit design, there will be a point where the designer can choose between using an $8 sole-sourced IC and spending an hour to build and debug the same feature with a dollar's worth of op-amps and capacitors.
A design firm whose responsibility ends with the prototype is far more likely to choose the IC and move on. A company working to win the manufacturing contract will spend the extra design time, knowing firsthand the expense and headaches that sole-sourced parts cause in production.
Save money on design services
A contract manufacturer will often charge less for the design phase, because it is not relying on design projects as its sole or even primary source of revenue. It may also give you more honest feedback about your design ideas.
For example, the Z-Axis design team won't start a project if we think the request is not workable. We don't feel pressure to take any and all design projects to pay the bills. Rather, we want only those projects with a high probability of becoming a commercial success and potential manufacturing business for us.
A design services firm is likely to give you exactly what you asked for, even if what you asked for won't work, and it will charge you additional money for revisions.
Preparing for the future
A contract manufacturer's design team is motivated to build a strong relationship that continues long after the design is finished. You will appreciate this when you want to change or enhance your product after a few years in production.
Going back to a design services firm, you may find it's not eager to search its archives for your design, get back up to speed on it, and make your changes.
Your contract manufacturer will have your design files handy throughout production. It's likely to give you a couple hours of design time as a matter of good customer service, to keep you happy and keep its manufacturing lines moving.
Two final thoughts
When sourcing design services, whether from a design firm or a CM, there are two more things to consider:
- The team's size and skill mix: It's generally not in your best interest to use a design team with only one or two engineers. A larger team will have access to a broader set of skills and techniques.
- Location: You will have a much easier time communicating with a design team that has a culture, communication style and time zone similar to yours. This translates into fewer design iterations and a product that closely meets your goals.
Share your experience with design firms and contract manufacturers in the comments section below. What has worked best for your organization?