Posted on 05 May, 2016 by Neil Sharp

EMS_providerWe all need a helping hand once in a while. And when it comes to the final installation of a control cabinet or completed machine your electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider might just be who you are looking for.

Typically, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) ask their EMS providers to support with final installations for a couple of reasons. They have either lost the skills and capabilities in-house to complete this type of work or they simply don’t have sufficient resources to finish the project. Either way, they will have a problem that needs solving, in order to honour an order or service commitment.

In this blog post, we will look at how EMS companies with the appropriate skills and resources can help OEMs overcome these issues. At the same time, we will highlight some of the questions you may need to ask and the challenges both parties face when it comes to offsite installation projects.

Scope of agreement

What exactly do you need help with and for how long? Where in the country will the control cabinet or completed machine be installed? Will it be at one of your sites or one owned by your customer, the ultimate end user? 

How complex your product is, and how many suppliers are responsible for "bringing it all together", will determine how specific you need to be with documented project plans and contractual agreements.

If multiple suppliers are involved, it’s vital that all parties understand their individual roles within the project, including how progress or issues are communicated and to whom. As an example, one supplier may not be able to start their part of the project until the other finishes. Unforeseen delays at the early stages could create a knock-on effect for the second supplier, possibly jeopardising their ability to complete their part of the project on time. 

Having agreement on how this kind of feedback is communicated, together with who is to receive it and when, needs to be clear from the outset, in order to avoid frustration and/or confusion. 

EMS skills and resources

If you already outsource your manufacturing to an EMS partner, the chances are you will approach them first when it comes to supporting you with an offsite installation. If, however, you are currently manufacturing in-house, or looking to open up this work to other vendors, then it’s critical you select the right partner.  

Whoever you decide to appoint, they must be able to demonstrate they are proficient in the type of work you require carrying out. While this may seem like a pretty basic check, not all electronics manufacturing services providers offer the same range of assembly services or manufacturing solutions. The majority will be able to offer printed circuit board assembly (PCBA), but when it comes to panel wiring, control cabinet build, or electro-mechanical assembly, your list of providers with proven capabilities will inevitably start to reduce.

You will also need to check that the assembly partner has sufficient resources to support an offsite installation project. An efficient EMS supplier won’t employ spare labour just in case they receive orders that will utilise it at a later date. Instead they constantly "flex" their internal resources to meet the ever-changing demands of their customer base. 

So, providing you can make them aware in advance, they should have enough time to accommodate your project. For example, those EMS suppliers with multiple factories may look to transfer elements of their internal resources from one of their sites to the other, in order to satisfy internal workloads as well as those associated with an offsite installation project.  

Assigning the right people

Once you have agreed on the scope and provided they have the resources available, your assembly partner will be able to determine which operators are the most suitable to assign to your project. If your requirement is to "build to print", then the EMS provider should have a number of operators to choose from. 

However, if a higher level of support is required - for instance someone with the ability and confidence to work on a prototype build with incomplete documentation - then they could be limited to a smaller pool of resources.

If they have previously supported you with similar projects it is likely that they will send the same person or team again if they are available. In some instances, the OEM will actually ask for particular operators by name as a result of the previous relationship and confidence they have built up in their abilities. Wherever possible, the EMS company will try and accommodate the OEM’s request, but much will depend on the individuals’ internal commitments and availability.  

Of course, you may need more than just a member of the wiring team. If the installation demands a level of design or engineering support, something that could be required on brand new machine installations, your chosen EMS partner will also need to allocate an engineer to the job. And if you expect the machine to be tested and inspected at the end this could result in another member of the team being required.

The role of the engineer

Quite often the engineer assigned by the EMS provider ends up fulfilling a project management role. Usually, they will hold previous product knowledge, which is critical in instances where the OEM does not have complete sets of build instructions or fully populated bills of materials (BOMs). Low cost "consumables", like hardware, crimps or cable indents, are often omitted from parts lists. Another common omission relates to cable lengths and conduit sizing.

Clearly, these need supplying and fitting at the point of installation but if the EMS supplier fails to spot them before the team arrives on-site the project can grind to a halt. Ideally, all of this information should be included on the BOM or in the build documentation, but different OEMs have differing practices, and some are more thorough than others. The skill of the engineer, therefore, is to understand fully the information they have and, more importantly, the ability to spot critical elements that may have been left out.

In addition to interpreting drawings and providing guidance to their wireman while on-site, the engineer could also be responsible for liaising with your own engineering team or that of your customers and updating them with progress or responding to any queries.

Finally, it’s likely that the engineer will take control for updating any build documentation, adding additional notes to drawings and photographing the installation in "real time" so that any future requests can be carried out in the most efficient way.

Capturing the costs

In addition to providing their hourly rates, your assembly partner may also need to add their travel expenses and accommodation costs. If the installation demands specialist tools or equipment, then these too may need factoring in unless you have made it clear that they will be provided by your own company. In some cases, the EMS supplier might be expected to supply some of the materials like the consumables we mentioned before, such as fasteners, crimps, idents, etc.  

If you plan to put your offsite installation project out to tender with multiple vendors, then you may find the prices you receive back are vastly different. Clearly, if supplier A is already based closed to the installation site but supplier B needs to travel and stay in accommodation during the project, the expenses and additional costs could start to ramp up. Understanding exactly how each supplier has arrived at their pricing is a worthwhile exercise to ensure there are no nasty surprises further down the line and that you are comparing "apples with apples".

Health and safety

Connecting control cabinets to large pieces of machinery in unfamiliar surroundings immediately poses a certain degree of risk for those involved. The priority at all times should be the safety and wellbeing of any staff working on the project. In many instances, your EMS partner will want to carry out their own health and safety/risk assessment on the location you are asking them to work at. Some OEMs will take the time to provide a general induction and tour of the site for those new to it which is good practice.  

It’s generally accepted that your EMS partner would supply their own personal protective equipment (PPE), but if the location they are working or the machinery itself poses any significant or specific hazards, then extra precautions may be required. Again, it’s important to clarify who will be responsible for additional equipment, to avoid delays to the project and to prevent harm coming to the offsite workforce.

Summary checklist

Regardless of why you need the support of an EMS provider, the key to delivering a successful installation ultimately comes back to being clear from the outset on the scope of the agreement. So if you are looking for your existing EMS partner to support you, or are perhaps considering approaching someone new, here’s a summary of the key questions and points from this blog post for you to ask and consider:

  • How long will you need additional labour for?
  • Are there any penalty clauses or liquidated damages associated with your project?
  • How much advanced notice can you provide to the EMS partner?
  • Where will the installation take place? Is it on your own site or at your customers'?
  • What products are you expecting the assembly partner to install?
  • Have they previously built these or have they been supplied by a third party?
  • Will you need engineering or design support during the installation?
  • Will you require the EMS company to inspect and test the finished machine?
  • How many different suppliers will be involved in the project at any one time?
  • If multiple suppliers are involved how do you expect progress and issues to be communicated?
  • How complete are your BOMs and build instructions? Do they clearly specify all the material required to complete the installation, including "low cost" consumables, for instance?
  • Will the assembly partner need any specialist tools? Do you plan to provide these or will they have to be costed into the quotation?
  • Will the assembly partner have access to the site before installation so they can complete a risk assessment?
  • Will you or the site owner provide a full induction, H&S briefing and tour of the premises before the installation work commencing?

Hopefully, this blog post has been of use and given you a real insight into how EMS companies with the right skills and resources can add value to your offsite installation requirements.

Image by USACEHQ

Topics: EMS, Engineering

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About the Author

Neil Sharp
Neil Sharp
Previously holding sales, account management and customer service roles, Neil has over 18 years’ experience within the Electronics Manufacturing Services industry. Neil heads up the marketing departme...read more