Outsourced electronics manufacturing for SMEs

Author : Steve Marshall | Managing Director | Offshore Electronics

01 September 2019

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Contract electronic manufacturing (CEM) is a specialised service that can help companies bring products to market faster, improve productivity & quality, and cut operating costs. Traditionally, contract manufacturing services have been seen as suitable only for large organisations.

This case study was originally featured in EPDT's 2H 2019 Electronics Distribution supplement, included in the September 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

However, as Steve Marshall, Managing Director at CEM, Offshore Electronics notes, with increased competition, the development of global supply chains and the trend for electronics companies to focus on their core skills to deliver greater business value, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of smaller OEMs adopting an outsourced manufacturing model.

In addition to responsiveness to market demand, improved productivity and cost control, the outsourced model can provide SMEs with a number of other important advantages that allow them to punch above their weight. These include the ability to capitalise on the specialised engineering knowledge, experience and resources of a dedicated electronics manufacturing partner.

This can manifest itself in a number of ways, but typically involves an improvement in the quality and consistency of manufacturing, as the contract electronics manufacturer (CEM) will have invested in advanced and often highly automated surface mount, inspection and assembly technologies. It can also be seen in the ability of the CEM to help electronics designers optimise their board designs for the manufacturing process. For example, it is not uncommon for boards to be designed with components on both sides – with minor revisions it is often possible to engineer cost out of the board by bringing all components to one side, without affecting performance or functionality.

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One example of a company that is benefitting from the use of an outsourced CEM service is EM Electronics, a leader in the design, development and production of extremely specialised low DC voltage instrumentation. EM Electronics has partnered with Offshore Electronics to outsource the manufacture of the circuit boards and assemblies that are critical to the success of its products. This partnership is key to the company’s ability to ensure consistent quality and accuracy of its measuring instruments, which are capable of operating at picovolt levels, and of maintaining a flexible and competitive service to its customers.

Founded in 1979, EM Electronics is a small family owned business that has successfully carved a niche for itself in the development of ultra-low voltage amplifiers and DC measuring instruments. Today, the company is an acknowledged leader in this specialised field, with its products being used in scientific research institutes, standards testing and calibration laboratories, medical centres, and for process and systems improvement in applications throughout industry.

Founder and Managing Director, Ernest Moorey, explains that: “Our customers are typically working at exceptionally low DC voltages, in areas that can range from cryogenics and calorimetry, to sonar detection. Our amplifiers and measuring instruments are therefore designed to provide extremely high levels of sensitivity and accuracy – for example, with noise resistance less than 1 ohm and resolution down to 20 picovolts. The way in which each device is manufactured is therefore critical if we are to ensure optimum quality and consistency between instruments.”

EM Electronics had previously considered setting up its own dedicated electronics manufacturing facility. However, as Ernest Moorey, points out, “We eventually concluded that we should focus on our core skill sets – designing and developing instruments and supporting our customers – and then outsource some of the more specialised manufacturing processes to partners that had already made the investment required to produce the highest quality electronics and electro-mechanical assemblies, and who had the knowledge and experience to ensure that our boards and assemblies are produced in the most effective manner.”

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EM Electronics talked to a number of potential suppliers and initially worked with one in the UK. “Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful, as they were unable to meet our specification, quality expectations or provide a reasonable standard of customer service”, says Ernest Moorey. Subsequently EM Electronics worked with another supplier, prior to the company being put in touch with Offshore Electronics.

“This proved to be a revelation,” explains Ernest Moorey. “Offshore Electronics is run by experienced engineers who understand both our business requirements and the technical demands of our instruments. They take a genuine interest in helping us manufacture the best possible products. From the outset, they have been able to provide us with an outstanding service, both in terms of manufacturing capabilities and customer support. For example, they have helped us modify the design of our boards to make them easier to manufacture, while simultaneously improving quality and performance. They also help us with component sourcing, product assembly, testing and trouble-shooting.”

EM Electronics’ instruments include the A20 sub-nanovolt amplifier. This has an extremely low short circuit input equivalent noise resistance of less than 10 ohms, and provides a resolution of a hundred picovolts with a comparatively short response time; this makes it ideal for use in areas such as super conductivity research. To achieve this level of performance requires precision electronics manufacturing techniques, combined with the use of specialised components and materials, including for example, super mu-metals. 

“These require careful handling and assembly if we’re to guarantee the performance of our instruments,” explains Ernest Moorey. “Offshore Electronics is exceptionally proficient in this area, giving us complete confidence in them as a business partner; in fact, it’s fair to say that they have been a major contributor to the ongoing success of EM Electronics, providing the manufacturing resources and technical expertise that have helped make us a world leader in our field.”


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