Quality control should be a top priority for every electronics contract manufacturer (CM). Quality assurance in manufacturing and original electronic manufacturer (OEM) order fulfillment is critical to a company’s reputation and overall success. Every good CM should have a proven system in place to ensure high-quality manufacturing. The following six processes represent a top-tier quality assurance plan for a CM.
- Quality Engineer on Staff
The quality of a manufactured electronic product is only as good as the engineer behind it. Engineering is an enormous part of every great CM’s job. Adding quality engineers to the process from the beginning sets the project up for success. Quality engineers on staff add value to the assembly process as they provide the knowledge and expertise to suggest better designs, prevent problems before they arise, and create an all-around higher quality product.
Check for quality engineers by exploring the CM’s About Us page to learn what you can about the engineers on staff. Special certifications, licenses, experience, and awards can point to engineers you can trust, as well as a history of successfully completed customer projects. Quality engineers can help a CM provide smooth builds, timely manufacturing, and low defect rates – all important quality considerations for customers.
- Risk Management
Mitigating risks during the manufacturing process is crucial for keeping costs down, meeting project deadlines, and achieving better-quality final products. Risk management is imperative for any CM’s process in order to best to limit liabilities. Catching risks and potential issues before they impact production is the best thing an electronics CM can do. This is possible with a comprehensive risk management plan – starting with risk assessment.
A proper risk assessment catches problems before they occur. For example, a CM should make sure the company can obtain the required components to build a printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) within the lead time the customer requires before accepting the project. This is a type of risk assessment process that could prevent serious issues down the road. Risk management as an electronics CM involves evaluating and forecasting financial risks prior to manufacturing, as well as identifying ways to minimize unforeseen complications.
- IPC Inspections
IPC Inspection Guidelines determine the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) of an electronic component. AQL is the maximum number of defective units a batch can have before necessitating rejection. Checking for adherence to IPC Inspection Guidelines is a major part of quality assurance. Otherwise, defective products could make it through the assembly line to the end customer. Class 2 IPC requirements are for dedicated service electronic products, while Class 3 includes products where consistent high performance is critical. Class 3 products, therefore, come with more stringent IPC inspections.
- TTC System
A Track, Trace, and Control (TTC) system is invaluable to quality assurance. A CM should use an advanced traceability system to regulate processes, control quality, prevent errors in human-critical environments, and build products that are safe and reliable. TTC systems track components, provide visibility into the manufacturing process, collect real-time product data, record human operator handling, and reduce human error through a check-and-balances system. The TTC system also proves important lifecycle records in the event of a product recall.
- First Article Approval
First Article Approval is a process in which an electronic CM thoroughly inspects the first unit produced in an order before building the rest of the production batch. Unlike a QC checklist, however, First Article Approval doesn’t aim to match products with inspection criteria. Instead, the goal is to show that the process of manufacturing the unit is correct, efficient, and sustainable.
Buyer contracts will often include a requirement for First Article Approval prior to completing a mass production. During the approval process, the manufacturing company will inspect and analyze the first units production processes, making sure all equipment is properly calibrated to help prevent defects during assembly. Upon approval, the first article’s dimensions, characteristics, manufacturing processes, and tooling will become the gold standard for the rest of production.
Certifications aren’t just an “added bonus” at an electronics manufacturing facility. They are proof that the establishment has the space, equipment, and skill required for exceptional electronics manufacturing. A CM should always have special electronics manufacturing certifications marking it as a trusted provider. Certifications provide assurance that the company will adhere to the most rigorous quality standards in the industry. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the customer will receive an impeccable product.
Check for Quality Assurance Processes Before Choosing Your Electronics CM
Proper quality assurance processes are key to a safe and viable manufacturing facility. If an electronics contract manufacturer doesn’t have these six processes in place, he or she may not be able to guarantee quality assurance. Lack of quality assurance exposes the company to serious mistakes, human error, manufacturing defects, wasted money, unsafe products, unfollowed client specs, and more. As a customer, always check your prospective CM for these six processes before entrusting the company with a project.