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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of columns on CAM outsourcing.
In the West, outsourcing is sometimes considered taboo and many believe it is one of the causes for shifting our manufacturing base to the East—specifically China and other lower cost Asian countries. In this series of columns, I will make a case in support of CAM outsourcing—especially for North American and Western European printed circuit board manufacturers.
As volume production in PCBs has shifted significantly to Asia, manufacturers in Europe and North America have been focusing on high technology, quick-turn, prototype, and lower volume production. As a result, most are producing a much larger number of parts, placing a very high burden on their front-end processes. The need for more capacity in technical sales, responses to higher volume of requests for quotes, and CAM operators who must cope with large part numbers is very real. Many companies struggle to hire and keep the talent required to keep up with demand. This is exactly where outsourcing of CAM and related front-end work can actually help a struggling manufacturer not only stay in business, but thrive.
There are six critical ways in which a company can significantly benefit from outsourcing. These are:
- Increased on-demand capacity
- Improved automation
- Fast turn-around
- Reduced costs
- Improved quality
- Ability to build redundancy in critical areas
I will delve deeper into each of these six areas of benefits, which are real and have been realized by many European and U.S. PCB manufacturers that have embraced outsourcing as a critical competitive advantage.
Let’s take a look at the first benefit one can achieve with front-end outsourcing.
Fluctuation in front-end engineering varies significantly in the PCB industry. The ability to off-load surges, help manage off-shift workload and over-time work can be a godsend for many companies that are trying to manage with a minimal full-time engineering staff. This is where CAM outsourcing is an ideal solution. You can simply send jobs at the end of your afternoon shift and have your off-site team working on them while you sleep. The jobs can be ready and waiting for you when you come in the next morning, ready to put to the shop floor.
Companies are reluctant to add permanent headcount to manage surges and off-shift capacity. Finding and keeping productive engineering talent on second and third shifts is close to impossible. This is where the time-shift of your off-site outsourcing team is a real benefit. Your second and third shifts are their primary shift. Some of the best talent can be deployed at off hours giving you not only the ability to off-load work, but also get access to highly skilled engineers.
Many companies that have successfully deployed off-site team members have been able to free up their internal engineering resources to work on more value-added activities. They can join the sales team and become highly effective technical sales people. Today’s higher technology demands a closer working relationship with your customers—especially in the early stages of an engagement. Highly qualified front-end engineers can be invaluable in helping bridge that gap while the heavy lifting of dealing with the orders once they come in can be managed by the off-site team.
In summary, the ability to manage on-demand capacity through outsourcing can bring many benefits:
- Ability to keep up with surges, off-shift, and overtime work
- Decreased need to add permanent headcount to manage workload surges
- Opportunities to take advantage of the time-shift of your off-site outsourced team
- Critical engineering resources are freed up to help generate more sales and interact with customers on technical sales
- Business can grow with scalable front-end engineering resources to fulfill your changing requirements.
Mehul J. Davé is CEO of Entelechy Global Inc.