Using the traditional electronics manufacturing model for prototyping and small run orders is a bit like taking a 747 to the grocery store. It’s inefficient, ridiculously expensive, and far more hassle than it is worth. Sure the 747 has much more capacity than your Nissan Leaf, and it can get you from San Francisco to New York in five and a half hours, but using one for a quick trip in the neighborhood would just be dumb.
Until recently, however, that was really the only option for electronics designers. Manufacturing service providers built their business around large quantity orders for big businesses with long lead times and little need for iterative prototyping. If you were a small business, Kickstarter creator or hobbyist and you could even find a vendor to take your order, you could expect a long wait for a quote, no guarantee of when you would get your order, shipping delays, and a budget busting price. That’s because your small order was forced through the same process as huge runs. Just like the 747 isn’t the right vehicle for every errand, the traditional electronics approach is not the right choice for every project.
Fortunately, there’s been a breakthrough in electronics manufacturing. Modern PCB assembly and electronic device manufacturers have figured out how to apply sophisticated technology, based in the cloud, to the problem of electronics manufacturing and prototyping. You can now select a partner that can take you painlessly from your concept to the delivery of your product right to the customer. This new way of thinking about cloud manufacturing makes it possible, and affordable, for anyone with the skills and a great idea to bring their design to market. (This article from Deloitte Free Press does a good job of spelling out the shift.
Unlike the old process, today’s cloud electronics manufactures can give you a quote in minutes. Simply upload your designs and select your parts, and you’ll know right away what your project will cost. What’s more, you can get quotes on “what if” scenarios so that you can determine what your pricing will be as your product orders scale. This is extremely useful for setting pricing or determining investment goals.
The best electronics manufacturing partners put control of the project in your hands, giving you real time visibility into the status of your order, the ability to make changes, reporting capabilities and online management of all of your related documents.
Modern electronics manufacturing services take it upon themselves to find the best sources for parts and negotiate significant discounts using the buying power of their entire customer base as leverage. This type of turnkey service saves you time and headaches, while keeping your costs down at the same time.
It is no longer the case that the only way to get electronic device and PCB assembly accomplished at a reasonable price is to do it offshore. Now, there are many manufacturing services right here in the United States that are affordable, reliable, and fast. By choosing an on-shore provider, you not only help keep jobs here at home, you also save yourself the added complexity and risk associated with shipping your parts and products around the world.
Not all cloud electronics manufacturing service providers offer a discount program known as “House parts,” but it is smart to look for one that does. House parts programs offer discounts on the most popular parts across all of the provider’s clients. This means that you can get volume discount pricing even if you only need a few items.
The modern approach to manufacturing PCBs and electronic devices fosters innovation by making prototyping and iterative improvement quick and cost effective. You can expect to be able to test and advance your designs as many times as necessary to get the exact outcome you need. Rapid PCB prototyping make it so that you can get your ideas to market right away
You can now find a manufacturing partner that will be delighted to accept your small runs and will be able to support your business as it grows. If your product takes off, don’t worry, your cloud manufacturing service provider can handle your order into the tens of thousands
Look for an electronics manufacturing service provider that lets you ship in components and materials, manage your inventory, and have complex products built without you ever doing more than interacting with the online portal. It is a good idea to give extra consideration to providers with adjacent warehouses and manufacturing lines to avoid shipping fees or delays.
Your expertise is in designing innovative solutions that fill a market need, not packaging and shipping. So why not let your electronics manufacturer handle that part of the cycle as well? The best ones have agreements with shipping carriers to keep costs low and some even offer APIs that will integrate with your e-commerce or ERP solution, making the process even more seamless.
One thing that sets the top-teir providers in custom turnkey PCB manufacturing and assembly apart is that they offer an application programing interface (API) that makes it easy to connect their electronics manufacturing software with the applications customers use to place orders, such as your eCommerce or ERP system. Clients of such providers don’t even need to click a button or send an email to trigger the manufacturer to process a shipment.
The old school manufacturing process is fine for giant organizations that need to produce hundreds of thousands of products for the cheapest possible price. But the traditional model is not at all a good fit for small businesses, entrepreneurs, engineers or hobbyists. This new approach to electronics manufacturing opens up avenues previously out of the reach of these types of customers.
Small and growing businesses rarely have the quantity requirements to get affordable pricing from large scale manufacturers. They are also often under tight budget restraints that make producing and storing large inventories of products not possible. Just-in-time delivery is an important element of the business model for many small businesses. The new approach to electronics manufacturing is ideal for today’s small businesses. It makes small quantity runs affordable and quick. The best-in-class providers also offer inventory management and fulfilment services. Some even have software that integrates their manufacturing platform with the customer’s eCommerce or ERP system. This means that when a customer orders an item, it is shipped without any extra effort on the part of the business. Not only does this create a great customer experience, it also keeps costs down, and frees staff to spend time on the more strategic needs of the business. For small businesses, cloud-based electronics manufacturing can be the engine that accelerates growth.
Kickstarter and other crowd funding services have changed the game for raising capital and early stage product sales. You no longer need access to venture capital or business lenders to bring your idea to market. Of course, an idea is only the first step. A completed, high-quality product delivered on time is another challenge entirely. In the past, manufacturing was a hurdle too high for people with creative ideas and many great innovations were never brought to fruition. That no longer needs to be the case. Because modern electronics manufacturing supports prototyping, PCB fabrication, and device assembly, today’s entrepreneurs have an inexpensive and timely way to bring their ideas to market.
We’re surprised by the number of engineers at large corporations who seek our services. Even for large institutions tinkering with a new product idea, manufacturing, prototyping in particular, can be a challenge. Traditional manufacturing companies aren’t interested in your order of one unit, even if you are Ford or Apple. Cloud-based electronics manufacturing solves that problem. Today you can find a provider who will be happy to have your order of one and will be delighted to help you iterate until you have the result you want.
The Makers movement has energized amateur inventors, PCB designers and all kinds of creators across every generation. The advent of 3D printing has sparked countless new and innovative ideas. Manufacturing in the cloud is one way that hobbyists can take their ideas to the next level. It is now inexpensive and easy to add electronic components, made to your specifications, to your inventions.
By choosing one electronics manufacturing partner that will work with you during the entire product lifecycle, from the development of your initial prototype PCB all the way through to the delivery of your end product to your customers, you will reduce the possibility of garbled communications; eliminate shipping costs, delays and risk; and ensure high quality results. Of course, by choosing to work with one partner, you are putting all of your eggs in that basket, so it pays to do some due diligence and make sure you get the right provider.
By simplifying the process with online tools, instant quotes, and rapid prototyping, you get your products into the hands of customers more quickly. Sourcing is off your shoulders because your electronics manufacturing partner takes care of that for you. Because delivery times are so fast, you can iterate your prototype as often as you need without delaying product delivery. All of this means that your product gets to market as quickly as possible.
Businesses often outsource non-core functions because they want to be able to focus exclusively on the things they do that add value for customers. Someone else can get really good at the extracurricular stuff. It is doubtful that you want your team to become expert at inventory management and order fulfillment, so it makes all the sense in the world to choose an electronics manufacturing partner that already has those skills.
The best news about this electronics manufacturing breakthrough is that it removes the barriers that have, no doubt, prevented great ideas from being realized. In the same way that the internet has changed almost everything about how we shop, work, and communicate, it is finally helping to replace the antiquated approach to manufacturing that has created friction for so many talented inventors.
The technology not only helps you place and manage your order, but it also helps the manufacturer combine multiple small orders into larger ones to keep costs down and production times quick. You can now find a partner with exactly the right methodology for your unique needs.