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When it comes to growing your business, finding the right manufacturing partner can make all the difference. But with so many options, what is the best way to narrow the selection, and how do you know which one is the best fit for your company? In this article, we'll explore some of the key factors to consider when selecting a manufacturing partner, as well as the best practices for finding and evaluating potential partners. Whether you're a start-up looking to bring your first product to market or an established company looking to expand your product line, this guide will help to start the process of finding a new manufacturing partner and set you on the path to success.
When looking for a new manufacturing partner, it's important to take the time to evaluate and clearly define your company's needs and goals. Here’s a selection of questions you could ask yourself before beginning your search:
What type of products do you need your manufacturing partner to produce? The type and range of products you need can help you narrow your search, as certain manufacturers may have more experience or capabilities in certain areas. Do you need an injection moulding partner, or an electronics assembly partner? Maybe you need to find a single supplier that can offer both?
What are your production requirements? Consider production volume, lead-time, and the quality standards that you will need your manufacturing partner to meet. This will help you to narrow down your search and ensure that potential partners are capable of meeting your needs.
What certifications or standards does your manufacturing partner need to meet? If your products need to meet certain industry or government standards, you will want to make sure your potential partners have the necessary certifications.
What is your budget for manufacturing? This will help you to determine if a potential partner will supply within your commercial constraints.
What kind of relationship are you looking for? Service levels differ, from consignment manufacturing to turnkey manufacturing. Consider which model best fits your company's goals. Consignment manufacturing allows you a more hands-on approach, keeping in-house control over certain aspects of the process, such as component procurement and supply-chain management. Turnkey manufacturing will offer you an end-to-end full-service solution, saving you time and taking advantage of your manufacturing partner's buying power.
What location would you like to manufacture in? Would you prefer a manufacturing partner with local production facilities, allowing you to keep close tabs on the production process and simplify logistics, or would you prefer partners with manufacturing capabilities further afield, offering higher volume capacity and lower costs.
What kind of customer service and communication do you expect? How responsive and communicative do you expect your partner to be? Clear communication can prevent delays and misunderstandings that may impact your production schedule.
Answering these questions will help you to better understand your own needs, and will make it easier to evaluate potential manufacturing partners. This will also help you to create a list of ideal requirements and characteristics for a manufacturing partner that will match your company's needs and goals.
The easiest way to start the process of finding a manufacturing partner is to search the internet. If you have clearly defined your needs, this will help you to use clear search phrases that quickly give you relevant results. Examples might include: “Best electronics manufacturing partner in the UK” or “Low-cost high-volume PCB assembly service”. Be specific with your searches. Review the websites of potential partners and get in contact with a list of questions based on your defined needs.
An activity that can really help to streamline the process of finding a new manufacturing partner, is to visit a relevant trade show. In the UK, we highly recommend Southern Manufacturing & Electronics. Located at the Farnborough International Exhibition Centre and running from 7th - 9th February (this year), Southern Manufacturing and Electronics is the most comprehensive annual industrial exhibition in the UK and a major European showcase for new technology in machinery, production equipment, electronic production and assembly, tooling and components as well as subcontract services across a wide range of industries. The ability to get face-to-face with a wide selection of solution providers and potential partners, all in one day, can be invaluable! Plan you visit ahead, review any relevant exhibitors ahead of time, and arm yourself with a clear list of questions based on your needs. You can register to attend Southern Manufacturing & Electronics here.
Cost should not be the only consideration when selecting a manufacturing partner, but it is a significant factor for the majority of business cases. It is important, before investing too much time in any potential manufacturing partner, to get an understanding of whether their cost model fits your business goals. The only way to do this is to request a quote. In order to get an accurate and timely response, spend some time preparing the following information:
Build documentation. This should include everything required to build the product or sub-assembly in question. Include design drawings, PCB artworks, bills of material, specific critical component suppliers or processes, assembly instructions, programming and test procedures, and quality requirements.
Quantities. If your initial requirement is for a small quantity but you reliably forecast higher quantities in the future, be open with the supplier and ask them to quote for multiple quantities levels. Quantity can significantly affect quote outcome.
Order and supply arrangements. Do you intend to place spot orders for specific quantities, or larger orders to be called off over an agreed period of time. What are your expectations in terms of lead time?
Other opportunities. It is likely that you will only ask for quote on a single product line when assessing a new supplier. Let the supplier know what your overall spend on their particular manufacturing service is and what future opportunities might be available to them.
Once you have developed a refined list of potential manufacturing partners that meet your unique requirements, it’s important to physically visit their facility. This will give you the opportunity to get a feel for the team, what working with them might be like, and whether they will fit well with your business. An important aspect of this visit should be an audit in order to assess their equipment, processes, and overall quality control. Here are just a few of the questions you may wish to ask: How are quotes and orders handled? What purchasing procedures are in place? How are suppliers qualified? What is their purchasing power? What processes and documentation systems are used to control the production of parts? How are inspection and test results recorded? Is equipment calibration controlled adequately? Are staff trained to appropriate standards? Is there traceability throughout the manufacturing process, down to batch, product and component level? A visit and audit should give you clarity on whether a company is a good fit for your requirements.
Once you have decided to proceed with a manufacturing partner, it is good practice to establish a robust supply contract, this will prove beneficial to both parties. Consider contracted pricing, buffer stock agreements, supply schedules and processes, returns procedures, and service levels that are important to the smooth running of your business.
We always recommend starting small with new manufacturing partners and building up production quantities over time. A new build with a new partner is rarely problem free. Issues in process or quality that are discovered and resolved when manufacturing at low volumes can significantly increase confidence and decrease the risk before going to large-scale manufacture.
To ensure that a relationship with a manufacturing partner meets your business needs, ongoing management and open communication are vital to success. Discuss and agree KPIs with your manufacturing partner. Monitor progress and deal with any issues that arise quickly and openly. Expect your manufacturing partner to be equally open and responsive.
There are some clear benefits to be gained by outsourcing manufacture, these including cost saving, access to specialised expertise, increased efficiency, rapid scaling of production, faster time-to-market, meeting compliance requirements and many more. We hope that the advice given in this guide is useful as a starting point to the processes of selecting a manufacturing partner and can help to set you off on the path to successfully attain your business goals.