The value of outsourcing product design to an EMS provider


Many Original Electronics Manufacturers (OEMs) choose to outsource manufacturing to an Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) provider. This may include outsourcing the procurement, build, test, and distribution processes. The next logical step for OEMs could be to decide whether to outsource product design.

While it can be daunting to hand over part or all of your manufacturing to a third party, doing so offers many benefits. It frees you up to focus on what you do best—whether that’s product development, marketing, or sales. Outsourcing the end-to-end manufacturing process reduces your operating costs, and you benefit from the range and depth of expertise an EMS can provide.

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Should you keep design in-house?

The pros

Managing your own team of designers enables you to build, fine-tune, and retain specialist knowledge in-house. No one knows your products better than you, and your design department will have built up an invaluable bank of expertise specifically applicable to your projects. This in-house knowledge can also be beneficial for providing your field service engineers with the ability to handle the maintenance, upgrading or, repair of products.

Keeping everything in-house also means you’ll have greater transparency over the design process. You’ll know where, when, and how your money is being spent. And you can be sure that your product is being given the dedicated care and attention it deserves.

The cons

However, there are also substantial disadvantages to keeping design in-house—most notably cost. Maintaining a permanent, in-house design team is a continual overhead cost for wages, so you’ll want to ensure you can keep your designers productively occupied. Investment in resources, equipment, infrastructure, and technology is also considered.

But cost is not the only issue; we tend to stick to what we know, so relying solely on an in-house design team may mean limiting your opportunities for a new perspective or a fresh pair of eyes. Also, how innovative are your existing designers? Are they better at evolving existing products, or do you want them to come up with new ideas? 

Why outsource product design?

Despite the benefits of keeping product design in-house, there are downsides too. Perhaps your strengths lie in other areas such as product concept or sales. You may be finding it hard to keep pace with new technology. Or perhaps you’re looking for specialist knowledge or skill that you don’t currently have in-house. 

Here are some of the key motivators that might drive an OEM to outsource product design.

Focus on your priorities

Outsourcing the design stage can free you up to focus on what you’re great at. For example, you may prefer to direct your energy into developing product concepts or price points; you can then leave the more niche aspects of product design to a specialist. Wherever your priorities lie, you’ll be able to focus on them without the day-to-day hassle of trying to make sketches come to life and then turning these into tangible products your customers want to buy.

Keep up with technology

Technology is fast-moving, so you may find it simpler, more cost-effective, and more time-efficient to hand over the increasingly complicated technicalities of design to a company that has the resources to keep pace with the rapid changes in software and hardware. Also, committing to regular training for your designers can be a strain on budget and resources.

Watch the bottom line

To be able to manage design in house you’ll need to have all the necessary skills, infrastructure, equipment, and personnel on hand. Choosing to keep your own team of designers permanently on payroll relies on having the budget to accommodate them and, of course, a steady stream of projects to keep them busy. But if you’re not maintaining an ongoing schedule of design activities, it might be more cost-effective to outsource.

Take advantage of specialist knowledge

Although you may know your products best, a fresh pair of eyes can be a good idea. By outsourcing, you can leverage design specialists’ expertise, networks, and resources. By their very nature, they will have extensive knowledge and a more detailed understanding of the challenges of the design process. They’ll be able to draw on lessons learned from previous projects. And they’ll have an appreciation of the unique characteristics of each design project.

Be strategic

How does outsourcing design fit into your current strategy? Perhaps your in-house design team are already working to capacity and you need outside support. You may have a specific project that requires specialist knowledge outside the expertise of existing designers. Or maybe you’re looking to outsource product design as part of a longer-term plan.

What are your outsourcing options? 

You could choose to bring in a contractor or sole trader. That way, you get the outside expertise and a fresh perspective but still maintain much of the control. Or, you could choose to employ a design house with specialist skills. Alternatively, you may decide to outsource to an EMS provider with design services in-house. Then, if you have an existing relationship with an EMS partner, they’ll already understand your business and will be invested in maintaining your relationship. 

Outsourcing to an EMS partner

If you’re looking for a single solution for design and manufacturing, then outsourcing to an EMS provider enables you to combine these two processes in one. There are, of course, pros and cons to every decision you make; however, partnering with the right EMS provider can have many benefits for OEMs.


An EMS provider is ideally placed to understand the relationship between design and manufacturing. And if they’re your existing EMS partner, then they’ll already understand your business and your products and will be invested in maintaining the relationship. 


Outsourcing to your existing EMS partner keeps things simple. You’ve got design and manufacture under one roof, and with that, the advantage and convenience of being able to liaise with a single supplier throughout the process. 


Your EMS provider understands the intricacies and challenges of the manufacturing process, so you have the reassurance of knowing that the products they design are both practical and suitable for manufacture. 

Time to market

When you have an idea for a product, and you know there is a market for it, time is of the essence. Partnering with the right EMS with in-house product design and manufacturing means your experience will be seamless. There will be no extra communication or delay, which will significantly reduce your time to market.


There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether or not to outsource your product design. But if you are considering outsourcing, one thing to bear in mind is to involve those responsible for manufacturing from the outset. Design and manufacturing go hand-in-hand. If your own production team, or your EMS partner, struggles to efficiently build your new design on time and to your budget, your costs will spiral out of control, and your customers will be left disappointed.

To find out more about your options for outsourcing product design, download our eBook below.

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2018; however, it has since been updated and republished. 


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.