Picking the right manufacturer for your product

manufacturerA real partner will be more than a service provider - they will become part of the team, with the ability to support your growth, and the drive to encourage it, says John Cameron, managing director of CB Technology.

Selecting a manufacturer is a big decision. Months, if not years, have already been poured into refining your product idea, monitoring the competition and winning investment. It is important to get the next stage - selecting the company that will bring your product to reality - absolutely right.

A manufacturer that is on its game will bring the knowledge, skills and experience required to get your product from design to production in the most efficient and cost effective way while minimising risk throughout the manufacturing process.

However, when choosing who to work with, it’s important to remember that you’re looking for a partner, and not just a provider. It pays to look beyond the obvious, product-based aspects of manufacturing.

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Rethink ‘necessary’ experience

Identify whether a project requires a manufacturer with extensive experience in your industry, or if expertise in another sector may bring fresh ideas and true innovation. Manufacturers in similar spaces, for example, metalworking and Electronics Manufacturing Services, typically offer a range of standard services. However, some will have unique skills and capabilities, often as a result of a previous specific customer need or problem solving exercise. It can pay to research what else is on offer beyond the norm - hidden capabilities might just surprise you.

Learn about their processes

It’s important to find out how a manufacturer will handle different aspects of the process from planning and resourcing to demand fluctuations and material sourcing. You should feel confident that they can respond to risks without affecting production. Furthermore, they should be monitoring and evaluating processes continuously to properly de-risk the supply chain.

Where is the value-add? 

When you assess a manufacturing partner’s skills and resources, do you think they can help you develop your product? Do they bring to the table innovative ideas that will help you grow or do they merely reproduce blueprints? Are they financially stable to scale up or down with you?

A real partner will be more than a service provider - they will become part of the team, with the ability to support your growth, and the drive to encourage it.

Technical skills, language capabilities and quality testing may be essential to your project and in that case should be checked before signing a deal.  But, to really help your product and company develop, your partner should be able to handle unique challenges. Look for examples of previous projects where they had to flex their support to accommodate unforeseen challenges or rising demand. While superior testing equipment and capabilities are a great sign, what you’re really looking for is a partner with the experience, expertise and a cool head to guide your specific project to success.

Consider workplace culture

A strong working relationship results in a productive partnership. Open, collaborative dialogue between supplier and customer is critical to establishing a long-term partnership that will operate successfully through a range of business challenges.

If you can, seek a manufacturer with a positive workplace culture - its team is far more likely to work creatively, robustly and efficiently. This should build confidence that your partner will deliver what has been agreed and, as a result, makes the manufacturing process run smoothly for all.

Does location matter?

It is essential to consider the pros and cons of working with a domestic manufacturer versus one based overseas. Considerations include IP protection and quality of products, as well as your marketing objectives and company ethos.

For a UK customer, the choice is usually between a local supplier, with the perceived cost premium involved, and a lower cost supplier overseas.

The critical assessment is the invoice price compared to the total price. It is important to question whether the invoice price actually represents the final cost of buying from a low cost supplier?  Have the additional costs of time, communication, quality and responsiveness of the manufacturer, alongside the potential for accelerating costs, been factored into the price offered? Are there any fears over business continuity that could impact the supply chain?

Cost is a major factor in determining which manufacturer to choose, especially in the current economic climate, but the number of other factors to consider are plentiful.  Many businesses are now rushing to recoup lost time as restrictions ease while the pressure is on to rebuild the economy. However, this is a decision that will impact your business for years to come and could be critical to future success.

John Cameron is managing director of CB Technology