How EMS providers can stop material threats entering your supply chain

Sourcing the right components is fundamental to producing high-quality products that meet your customers’ expectations.

Failing to implement rigorous processes that root out faulty or suspect parts, while providing a defence against obsolescence, can be potentially disastrous for your business and reputation.

In a previous post, we discussed the benefits of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) allowing their electronics manufacturers to take full responsibility for the supply chain. We considered the best practice procedures you should look for before transferring this responsibility, and one of the factors we explored was how your assembly partner might go about purchasing material on your behalf.

So if you’re working with an electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider, how can you achieve peace of mind that they will safeguard your products against defective or suspicious material? What threats do they need to be aware of in order for you to rest assured your products are in safe hands?

Inspection and verification

New parts sourced from existing suppliers or existing parts sourced from new suppliers should be subject to two processes: inspection and verification.

Every reputable EMS supplier will carry out some form of first article inspection against drawn items when they initially receive them in from a supplier. This process usually involves checking the material type, surface finish, dimensions and tolerances of an item against the original drawing to ensure they meet the end customer’s requirements. After the first delivery, it is good practice to carry out additional checks on these parts using some form of sampling table or matrix. Once the supplier has demonstrated they can consistently deliver quality product the EMS provider may decide to reduce the number of individual parts they check against each delivery. However should any part of a batch fail to meet the criteria they should increase the inspection levels back up to 100 per cent - i.e. every single part against every single order is checked.

The dangers of the grey market

Unfortunately, when it comes to electronic components, spurious parts can enter the supply chain via the grey market. These parts may appear to be the genuine article; they may even pass a series of basic tests. But smart electronics manufacturers will not be satisfied with this.

A good EMS provider will have specialist equipment on site, such as high magnification microscopes, electrical testing and state of the art X-ray machines, to verify the authenticity of these components and push them to their highest tolerances. This kind of service can prove invaluable, helping you to avoid introducing products onto the market that contain faulty, suspect or even dangerous parts. By working with a partner that has advanced counterfeit avoidance techniques, you can neutralise this threat before it becomes an issue.

Dealing with obsolete parts

It is vital that your EMS partner actively monitors the component market so that they are not taken by surprise if parts become obsolete. Device manufacturers regularly update their customers on parts they plan to withdraw from circulation. So, a reputable EMS partner should inform you immediately if a part you have designed into one of your assemblies is about to go obsolete and will usually recommend alternatives. In addition, they will provide supporting literature, like datasheets, to help you verify any alternatives being suggested will work correctly in your application. At the same time, they may obtain samples of the alternative device for you so trials can be conducted on small batches to check the parts function as expected out in the field. 

If your EMS provider is doing their job correctly, they will take precautions to ensure that production continues unimpeded. Whatever action your partner decides to take, they will have one objective in mind – to cause minimum disruption to you, the OEM, and your end users.

Supplier stability 

Lastly, reputable electronics manufacturers will keep a close eye on the financial health of their suppliers. Your partner should be watching out for any change in ownership, or a general change in the business conditions of their suppliers. Regular performance reviews will be carried out to ensure that the service and quality levels the EMS providers receive continue to meet the needs of their wide and varied customer base. Many will also have contingency plans in place at both supplier and commodity level to reduce any future risk to the supply chain. 

Successful outsourcing to an EMS provider is dependent on trust. It's imperative, therefore, that your partner has the systems, processes and procedures in place to safeguard the material you specify from entering their supply chain and ultimately the finished product. 

For further support and guidance on this topic, you may find the eBook below of use. 

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Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.