Managing the NPI process with your EMS company

Your R&D team have just come up with a fantastic new product design, laden with additional benefits and your sales and marketing team can see a real opportunity for growth. Now comes the hard bit.

It falls to you to get your hands on this new product from your Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) partner. You need product available to the market, before your competitors come up with a similar idea. And, more often than not, the original delivery dates and budget estimates need reducing in order to maximise market share. Feeling under pressure yet?

Well if you are, the good news is there are 4 steps you can take to reduce that pressure - to significantly reduce the end-to-end process time, and help keep control of the budget.

1. Manage internal expectations

It can be easy to lose sight of who is driving the New Product Introduction (NPI) process within your business. Each department can have differing views over who is responsible for driving through the NPI and where they each sit. Some, likely the senior management team, will have clear expectations as to when the product should be ready and how much it’s going to cost. But have they passed these details onto you? Are they written down anywhere and, more importantly, do you or the rest of business feel these are realistic?

You may find it tough to challenge your colleagues or management on such issues, but it is one of the most important steps you need to take. Ideally, you should set up a cross functional team meeting (involving senior management, Sales & Marketing, Engineering, Production, Quality, etc.) so that each department can clarify their expectations on key measurables, such as budget and project timings. In addition, make sure you involve your EMS company right from the start. This is so often overlooked yet crucial to a successful industrialisation process. Whilst some of the finer details of your product may still need discussing internally, your contract electronic manufacturing provider is ideally placed to input on the project timings.

2. Create a plan

Any NPI will undoubtedly present you unexpected challenges along the way; if the team around you aren’t clear about this, you may have some expectations to manage!
Take time to document how each stage could impact each department and how they should plan for this. For example, your Engineering team are likely to be needed throughout the entire process: you will likely need them to provide you with data packs so you can send these over to your chosen EMS company, for instance; then, during the build, they will inevitably have to answer technical queries that arise; and finally, at the later stages of production, they could be required to work alongside your EMS partner to support on the testing, for example. That’s quite a resource commitment for one department, especially if they hadn’t planned to be involved in the process.

Compare this to say your Sales team. Are they going to be required during the NPI process itself, or are they simply chasing the output – at the end of the process - so they can hit their targets?

Again, don’t forget to include your contract manufacturer at this stage. They will need to understand your project expectations so they can co-ordinate their own labour resources. If you end up needing additional resources which were not originally identified, your budget will be impacted in a bad way.

3. Buy yourself more time

We often hear this phrase but can we really buy additional time? Well, when it comes to bringing a new product to market the answer is: “yes, we can, in some areas”. It’s thought by some that the material element of your product can make up 80% of the overall lead time so making swift decisions on core components is vital.

Here’s how you can get ahead of the game:

  •  Give your EMS partner sight of the component parts list or Bill of Material (BOM) as soon as you can.

  • Make sure that you clearly state this BOM is provisional, and not for use in product volumes.

  •  Ask your EMS partner to start looking at the materials for you so they can identify any problem parts that they feel need closer attention. Here you are looking at material on a long lead time or that may have other supply-related issues like component allocation.

  • Agree with your assembly house how you want to proceed with these items; you may want them to buy certain lead time items now so they can be held in advance of the design being finalised. From a financial perspective you could find that you only have to commit to a small number of items and value in order to remove weeks from the overall lead time.

It wouldn’t be advisable to send the bare printed circuit board (PCB) data or Gerber files to your EMS partner, until you are absolutely certain nothing will change with the design/layout. There’s often little benefit in doing so and if things do need to change, the boards could end up being scrapped. Unlike for other electronic components, you can  pay a premium on PCB’s to get them delivered in a much shorter time period (handful of days), and most circuit board suppliers already work on a ‘standard’ 10-15 day turnaround.

4. Staying on track

Finally, you are going to need to keep everyone updated during the process. As part of your original plan it’s recommended you include SMART actions which can then be used to track progress along the way. There are a number of project planning ‘tools’ available such as Microsoft Project which provide a good visual aid. However, it should be noted that this quickly becomes out of date if actions are not completed within the required timescales, so needs some close management.

Following these four steps will help  you remain clear internally about what you have to achieve, involve your EMS partner from the outset, and take action when it comes to securing core components early on. And, as a result, it is entirely possible to deliver your new product to market earlier than you first thought.

Image by Cristian V

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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.