Buyers sourcing electronic design services can benefit from choosing one supplier with both electrical and mechanical design skills.
In a previous post about buying electronics design services, we discussed the advantages of working with a contract manufacturer's in-house electrical design team. Here are four reasons that it is also important to also look into the team's mechanical design skills.
Design of housings
Your printed circuit board assembly often needs to go into a custom housing designed for your product. If your design team already knows the shape and form of the final product, you will probably source the housing separately from the electronic design and assembly services. Otherwise, using the same partner to design the housing as well as the electronics can give you significant advantages, especially in speed of delivery, quality of the final assembly, and ease of managing the project.
While the electrical engineers design the electronics and create circuit board prototypes, the mechanical engineers design the housing and make mechanical prototypes (e.g. by 3D printing) or procure them from a third party.
When the electrical and mechanical engineers work at the same company, they can better coordinate delivery schedules and confirm that the boards and the housing work together as intended. They can give you a complete system prototype for evaluation of electrical performance as well as form, fit and function of the physical package.
Upon prototype approval, the contract manufacturer can produce or source the housing as well as all electronics, and deliver one completed assembly to you. Take a quick look at the video below to see the basics of the process.
Design of the cable assembly or wire harness
Cables seem simple, but your product's cable assembly affects its performance, reliability, and cost. An experienced mechanical designer is equipped to navigate the myriad choices for wire size, connector types, strain relief techniques and protective features such as jackets or conformal coatings of wire-to-board connections.
A skilled designer can also suggest cost-saving and performance-enhancing features your team might not have considered. For example, one customer asked us to produce several different cable assemblies for a single product that we manufacture for them. They planned to ship the product with a different cable option for every one of the markets they serve.
Instead, our mechanical design team proposed a single cable assembly that met the needs of all the markets and was actually less expensive than each of the options the customer had envisioned. Our cable design also let them eliminate the inefficiencies of procuring, stocking and managing inventory for multiple cable assemblies - an even greater cost savings.
Designing test fixtures and production tooling
Mechanical designers also support testing of the electrical assemblies. The electrical engineer develops a test plan and test circuit, and then works with a mechanical engineer to create a suitable test fixture. A well-designed test fixture makes production testing faster and more effective, saving you money in production every day.
Mechanical designers also support production with burn-in fixtures, calibration fixtures, and other tools for printed circuit board assembly.
Quality control and trouble-shooting
A partner with in-house electrical and mechanical engineering capabilities gives you an advantage even if you design your own products and use a contract manufacturer for assembly only.
For example, suppose your units begin failing test. Whether the problem is electrical or mechanical in nature, a partner with a strong engineering team is better positioned to investigate, talk to your engineers, and suggest solutions to try, rather than just sending you a notice that something is wrong in production.
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