Early Manufacturing Partner Involvement

As globalization expands and businesses focus more on the optimization of cost and time, manufacturing is increasingly outsourced. This is especially true of electronics manufacturing, which was the first industry to embrace outsourcing. Primary drivers were suboptimal utilization of companies’ manufacturing facilities and the need to address the global market. As large companies such as Cisco, IBM, and Juniper embraced outsourcing, the trend slowly spread to small and medium-sized companies. With the emergence of Asia-centric manufacturing locations in China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and India, almost 90% of electronics manufacturing is now outsourced.

Today, a product company manufactures only the products that include Intellectual Property (IP) that is critical to the company and needs to be protected. Even in these products, parts with no IP value are outsourced while the product companies do the integration and product support. This transformation is largely due to maturity in outsourcing.

This article explains why a manufacturing partner needs to be involved early in the design phase to enable the product to be successful with regard to optimizing cost and time. While a complete outsourcing program for both design and manufacturing can lead to an efficient design, the outsourcing program must be fairly mature for the product company to use it successfully. In addition, when the product involves critical Intellectual Property, it is prudent to hold the design in-house but to outsource the manufacturing. It is in this situation that early involvement of the manufacturing partner can be very advantageous for product development. This article shows where and how the manufacturing partner can help in product development to save time and cost.

Outsourcing Issues

Outsourcing any activity requires healthy interaction and constant communication. To a large extent outsourcing also require sensitivity. Complete outsourcing of a product is successful only if the product development team really understands the outsourcing process. 


Besides the technical aspects, there are cultural aspects that impact the success of outsourcing. For example, when product companies design and manufacture in-house, they operate in a completely informal environment. The classic example is the design engineer who can walk over to the production line to request changes. Outsourced manufacturing partners have strict timelines and processes that drive their operations and typically don’t take on-the-fly requests for changes. When a product is designed in-house, it is possible to deal with changing product specifications during the design phase, but this causes heartburn with outsourcing partners. Failure to understand this invariably leads to a strained relationship early in the project, and in most cases the project fails. To some extent this problem happens even with pure-play manufacturing outsourcing, in which the design is assumed to be frozen.

This article describes the life cycle of a typical product and identifies the phases and activities in which a manufacturing partner can collaborate earlier, during the design phase, to speed up product development.

Impact of environmental laws  

With an ever-increasing awareness of the need for environmental protection, it is now extremely important that every new product meet the plethora of environmental-friendly standards. Engineers face the challenges of not only making their new product designs meet environmental standards, but also making existing products meet these standards.

There are multiple phases of activity before a product takes shape, but there are four important items in a product’s life cycle that impact the environment:

1. Raw materials used in the product

2. Manufacturing processes
3. Use of the product
4. End-of-life disposal or how the product is disposed after it is discarded from use.

Making a product environmentally friendly, or meeting global environmental standards, has to happen by design and during the design phase. The design process should address the above four items that typically impact the product’s environmental friendliness or its compliance to environmental standards. It is extremely important for designers to be aware of the need to meet environmental standards. Addressing these challenges requires tight coupling with the manufacturing process as well as the involvement of the manufacturing partner, and that is one reason why Early Manufacturing Partner Involvement (EMPI) is crucial.

Product life cycle

It is important to understand the product life cycle (PLC) before considering how a manufacturing partner can help a product company. PLC covers everything from the concept phase to product retirement and disposal. As the awareness of the need for environmental protection grows, the requirements for disposal are gaining importance. Today, disposal of a product after its use is a joint responsibility of the user as well as the product manufacturer.

Most PLCs are based on the product companies’ requirements as well as the development process. Product owners customize their activities according to their needs.

Companies that do their product development and manufacturing in-house tend to have less than six stages, but these six encompass both in-house and outsourced design and manufacturing, and therefore covers the complete life cycle. In a typical flow, each stage is followed by the next (from top to bottom in Figure 2), but some of the processes can overlap. For example, design, engineering and new product introduction (NPI) are typically overlapping processes, and implementation and NPI are also executed concurrently.

On the right side of Figure 2 are the activities that correspond approximately to the different phases. PLC support is typically an activity that starts after the product reaches the market.

Product development flow

It is important to understand the flow of the different processes throughout the product life cycle that involve both development and manufacturing. In the development of an electronic product, the process starts with the concept phase as shown on the left side of Figure 3, and progresses to the right side of Figure 3, ending with the disposal of the product at the end of its life.

Activities under each of the phases in Figure 3 are shown in different colors. The deep blue boxes represent typical manufacturing-centric activities, and executing them simultaneously with the design phase reduces time. This is where Early Manufacturing Partner Involvement(EMPI) helps. One of the biggest advantages of identifying the manufacturing partner early in the product design phase is the ability to leverage the manufacturing partner’s experience and resources.

At this stage the owners of the phases of the activities are not identified, as ownership depends entirely on the nature and depth of outsourcing. For a successful product, the entire team has to work together as the product progresses from concept phase to manufacturing. 

However, as the development progresses, the responsibility of the design team lessens gradually while the manufacturer’s ownership grows. This transition is smooth only if the manufacturing partner is involved early in the design. This clearly shows the advantage of EMPI.

Six Elements of early manufacturing Partner Involvement

1. PCB Layout and Fabrication

PCB layout is a key element of Early Manufacturing 

Partner Involvement (EMPI). Many designers don’t factor in the details of the PCB layout
into product design. When they design, the physical sizes of the PCBs are factored in
with the assumption that the rest will be addressed by PCB manufacturing. However, this approach
is not sufficient for creating
a successful product. It is necessary to understand PCB
fabrication and the customized processes that each PCB fabricator uses to optimize PCB
real estate usage, which requires additional work. One of the key aspects of large volume
production that most designers don’t address is that PCBs are panelized, with multiple
PCBs in one large standard PCB size. Unless this paneling issue is factored into PCB
design, the cost may not be optimal. A manufacturing partner involved early in the design phase
can anticipate this problem and help optimize cost.

Another important aspect of PCB design is the Design For
x (where x stands for Assembly, Manufacturing, Testing, Compliance, and so on):

Design for Assembly (DFA)

DFA is predominantly applicable to the PCB assemblies, but needs to be addressed in the PCB design (layout) phase. Based on manufacturing line equipment capability, each manufacturing partner has certain guidelines and checklists for the PCB design, and using them can yield nearly 100% on the assembly line. 

These PCB design guidelines are applicable in the PCB layout stage and usually proprietary to the manufacturing partner.

Design for Testing (DFT)
This process is a manufacturing-driven aspect and depends on the test equipment that the manufacturing partner uses. The DFT process typically has two steps. The first is provisioning for testing by providing test points as a part of the PCB design. The second is the actual test jig and test program creation, which is part of the manufacturing phase.

In the design phase, the manufacturing partner can help analyze the test coverage of a PCB and recommend how to achieve close to 100% test coverage. This is vital because the test equipment used on the manufacturing line may be different for different partners, and also differ in capability. Factoring this into the PCB design helps reduce re-working. Missing this step invariably results in a
re-spin of all the PCBs.

Design for Compliance (DFC)

This process ensures that products meet the global compliance standards (such as FCC, VCCI, CE, and so on). Since compliance is affected by design and manufacturing, designing for compliance is extremely important for the success of the product. Working with the manufacturing partner is the key to ensure that the product meets compliance requirements. Meeting these requirements is crucial, especially for manufacturing medical devices with strict hygiene standards.

 2. PCB Assembly

Involving the manufacturing partner early in the PCB assembly process helps to ensure that the assembled PCBs meet 100% yield. Inputs that ensure 100% assembly yield are addressed in the PCB layout phase. During the assembly phase, companies can involve the manufacturing partner to reduce complexity, cost, and time. Fully automated processes can be challenging, especially when the PCBs use mixed technology (such as Surface Mount echnology or leaded parts). A manufacturing partner can look at the design and make modifications in the assembly process. For example, when there are few leaded parts as part of a Surface Mount Technology (SMT) board, a manufacturing line may resort to selective wave soldering, which requires custom adjustments. These adjustments will be more effective if the manufacturing partner is involved early in the design cycle.

Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

While DFA addresses the PCB, DFM is for the overall product, covering electronics as well as mechanical items. Guidelines for DFM are provided by the manufacturing partner and fall into several different categories – everything from the way the product is assembled to the design of packaging as well as the actual product packaging.

3. Supply Chain & Component Engineering

The most important element of EMPI is the integration of the supply chain. To most designers, supply chain and component engineering is just about buying parts. But selecting a part doesn’t end the designer’s responsibility. In fact, with globalization, rapid obsolescence, and electronic components traded like commodities, the continuous availability of parts is of paramount importance. Another challenge is developing custom parts and ensuring that the vendors produce them at low cost without a break in supply.

Involving the manufacturing partner early in the game ensures that when the product is in high-volume production, availability of components won’t become an issue. An added advantage is the low price that manufacturing partners get due to scaling up the volume.

Component Engineering (CE)

Many designers think their jobs are done after they’ve selected parts for the design. However, unless the component engineering process is subjected to rigorous scrutiny to ensure component availability, cost, lead time, and other aspects, the design will face problems. Ideally, component engineering should be done at the same time as the design stage. This process eliminates non availability,” a chronic problem due to obsolescence and long lead- times.

Vendor Development 

Similar to component engineering, vendor development is also a key activity for custom-made parts as well as ODM parts (such as PSUs, display systems, and so on). Vendor development is key for custom parts, especially in mechanical items and for ensuring that vendors supply consistent quality during the product’s life. Most OEMs and manufacturing partners have established vendor development processes to qualify their vendors before approving them as suppliers.

4. Test Engineering

Test engineering is a key activity in the manufacturing of product. Apart from addressing the aspect of testing the product, it is important that a product’s test strategy is also well addressed to ensure that the product leaves the assembly line fully tested – so that the product doesn’t fail in the field. Involving the manufacturing partner enables the designers to obtain insight into product testing and can provide Test Hooks” in the design that can optimize testing to help lower cost and time. A key aspect of this process is that it improves test time, and therefore improves product volume in manufacturing.

Some of the important activities in which EMPI adds value in test engineering are as follows:

Test Strategy Planning

Key to a product success is test strategy planning. Test strategy depends on the volume of the product. However it is important to understand that when the product is launched, the volumes are always lower. If the test engineering costs are not high, then the right test strategy should be one that will be used for the final volume. However, if the test engineering costs are high, a hybrid strategy combining low-cost functional testers and in-circuit testers can be used.

In-circuit Testers (ICT)

In-circuit testers are special testers that test the components soldered in the PCB. These testers typically need dedicated jigs for each of the PCB versions, and when the PCB is changed, the test jig has to be changed. In-circuit testers test only the components and their interconnectivity, in advance of additional testing of the product’s functionality. However, in-circuit testers guarantee near 100% test coverage, so it is the preferred test strategy. 

 Functional Testers (FCT)

Functional testers are custom-built and are typically for testing the functionality of the system. While they are lower in cost, their coverage of the product is limited to external access. Most product companies tend to start with functional testers when the volumes are low, and then transition to in-circuit testers as the volumes increase and stabilize.

This strategy allows them to conserve cost by differing the investment in the in-circuit testers and allowing the product to stabilize first. Once the product stabilizes and volumes increase, investing in in-circuit testers becomes a better option. Above all, final products invariably need a full product functional tester.

Calibration Stations

Calibration stations allow the proper calibration of the
product so that when they do measurements, they work accurately. Traditionally
calibration in a product was through discrete passive parts like resisters,
capacitors, and inductors, and the process of calibration was always manual. However, as the
technology improved with programmable analog parts, the calibration can now be
done automatically. Dedicated calibration stations are set up and developed by the
designers to calibrate the product against standards so that they measure consistently, and
determine that if there is any variation (error), it will be well within the limits.
Calibration is typically applicable for T&M products.

5. System Engineering and Electronic Packaging

Due to the complex design of integrated circuits (ICs) and the emergence of device vendors providing the basic reference circuit, product design has now become more of an engineering exercise – the design is mostly engineering the product to meet the manufacturing and standards compliance requirements. In areas such as consumer electronics and networking equipment, most of the product owners now focus on the software rather than spending time developing the hardware. Under these circumstances, most of them have fairly large software teams with a minimal hardware team. Involving the manufacturing partner early in the design phase enables these product companies to quickly roll out the product. Some of the areas where the manufacturing partner can help are as follows:

Rapid Prototype Design

Before investing in tools for a product that needs
expensive tooling, rapid prototyping can help reveal the intricacies of the design and ensure
that the product is manufacture- worthy and easy to produce. This is applicable mostly to
mechanical items, but when new user interfaces are designed, this technique is used
to validate usability.

Electronics Packaging

Electronic Packaging involves the complete packaging of the product and includes activities such as sheet metal design, plastics design, and even the product shipment packaging. The activities include complete tooling development as well as vendor development for the supply of custom parts. Since parts are typically custom designed and need a fair amount of vendor development, it helps to involve the manufacturing partner early.

Thermal Design

Thermal design typically involves a simulation that uses
Computational Fluid Dynamics
(CFD) tools for predicting the temperature of a product
at different sections of the
product, and includes designing the thermal aspects such
as heat sinks and fans to
control the temperature of the system. Typical tools are
Icepak and Flowtherm.


EMC/EMI Design

Similar to thermal design, EMC/EMI design involves the simulation of radiation using tools, and includes designing the product in accordance with the results. Most of the PCB CAD tools support EMC/EMI simulation at the PCB level for correcting the design.

Cable Harness Design
For large products or products with multiple sub assemblies, cable harness design is an important process. Traditionally cable harness design was done by trial and error, which is very ineffective in controlling the cost and the thermal and EMC/EMI characteristics of the product. Currently, most of the mechanical tools for design allow cable design and routing inside the system in three dimensions. This enables designers to predict the exact length of the harness as well as determine the right places for cable-holding mechanisms.

Reliability Analysis

Product reliability is a key aspect with products for mission-critical applications, such as medical devices and avionics. Reliability analysis is a two-step process: first, reliability is predicted; and then, based on the predictions, the components and designs are redesigned to meet the requirements.

6. Product Support, Test and Repair, and Logistics

The support phase is critical for scaling up to higher volumes. In the initial phases when volumes are low, low yields can still be managed with re-works. However, increasing volumes can choke the production line unless issues are sorted out first by the design team (especially when some of the issues are purely related to design, not manufacturing). The following are some of the manufacture support issues that need to be addressed:

Manufacture Yield Management

Yield issues are typically caused by unstable product testing or product drifting after calibrations. These issues emanate from design issues that don’t show up when the initial samples are manufactured, but start impacting the manufacturing yield as volumes grow. Yield issues need to be addressed immediately.

 Alternate Component Identification

When components become hard to get due to business conditions, component leads times start to impact production. This is especially true of electronics components, which are traded like commodities. As a good practice, designers should have at least two alternate parts for every part. However, this practice is not followed by many designers and a component shortage can lead to a costly and time-consuming search for new parts. Another aspect of this problem is the quick obsolescence of parts, even if they are new. One reason is that when a newly introduced part is not selling well, the device manufacturer may pull the plug on supplying the part, leaving products that use the part in the lurch. Sometimes the upgraded part may need some changes in the PCB, and the product owner’s development team isn’t available. Typically the manufacturing partner can help in getting the changes implemented.

Test Efficiency Improvement

When the product is first introduced, the testing is detailed and covers even redundant paths. However, as the product stabilizes, with the test yield date product testing time can be optimized to allow an increase in production volume per tester. The decision to optimize the test can be made only with the help of the developers.


This is a process in which a product is modified to meet country-specific standards.
Homologation is typically applicable for telecom products, automotive products, and medical devices. Usually products will not undergo any major changes but may still need changes to meet country-specific standards.

Field Failure Analysis

This process is typically done on the manufacturing line, at first to isolate whether the field failure is due to a manufacturing problem. Once the problem is traced to design, developers have to fix it by analyzing the failure data.

Test and Repair, and Logistics

This is a new service requested by most of the product companies, primarily driven by the global market as well as the optimal use of resources including both skilled people and spares. The primary driver is inventory that needs to be maintained by the product companies if they do their own repair of faulty parts – which leads to duplicated inventory. A manufacturing partner always maintains the parts as part of manufacturing the product, and when they execute the test and repair, the cost is optimal. Today, most of the manufacturing partners offer a bundled service that encompasses everything from complete-to-design to test-and-repair services. As an extended service, manufacturing partners are now offering both forward logistics (shipping finished products to directly to customers, which is also called fulfillment) and reverse logistics (the manufacturing partner picks up the faulty part from the customer, repairs it, and sends that back to customer).


Gone are the days when outsourcing manufacturing was a fire and forget plan. With the increase in globalization and the push toward effective utilization of invested capital and reduced time-to-market, effective product development remains elusive until manufacturing is considered a design activity (what a transformation that would be). Adding to this challenge is an increasing concern for environmental compliance, which is driving the outsourcing of manufacturing. We use the term partner rather than the traditional vendor because designers and product companies need to look at manufacturing outsourcing in a holistic way rather than as a standalone assembly job. Simply looking to save cost with a low-cost vendor may not serve the purpose in the long run.

SA Srinivasa Moorthy, vice president, Design Engineering and Head, India Design Center

Sanmina-SCI Technology India
[email protected]