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Your company has just developed a prototype system and you have been given the task to select a Contract Manufacturer (CM) to help ramp manufacturing. Where do you start?

There are a large number of CM’s out there and each with their own expertise. How do you select the right one? Here is a list of key criteria that will help you make the right selection.

Key Criteria #1 - Attitude: The most important overall criterion is the CM’s Attitude. Is this contract manufacturer willing to be a key partner to you and your company? Are they flexible and willing to move and change direction when you need it the most? Will the contract manufacture go the extra mile to ensure your successful launch of this new product?

Key Criteria #2 - NPI: Does this CM have a documented New Product Introduction (NPI) Process and the infrastructure to support this essential productization step. You need to make sure that this CM has the expertise and capability to move your product from the prototype stage to volume manufacturing.

Key Criteria #3 - Technical Expertise: It is very important that the CM has the technical expertise to support the build and test process. You do not want to select a PCB board level CM to build a large scale OEM process tool where a strong level of electromechanical expertise is needed. To validate technical expertise, make sure the contract manufacturer can show you examples of past build projects that demonstrate the needed technical capability

Key Criteria #4 - Size:  Biggest is not always better. If you are a small to mid-size company, going with a large contact manufacturer might not be the right choice. In most cases, you are not going to get the attention you need or the resources from the large CM. Also, you most likely will not get the CM’s A-players on your small to medium size project, where is you went with a smaller CM, you would.

Key Criteria #5 - Location:  It is always better to pick a CM that is in your general area. Communication will be a lot better with face to face meetings and you can also personally validate your build more frequently by directly visiting the CM’s factory.

Key Criteria #6 - Quality:  Does the contract manufacturer have documented Quality (QMS) process. Are they certified, such as ISO9001, ISO13485, or AS9100? Are they audited on a yearly basis? Does the CM have a true quality department staffed by real people?

Key Criteria #7 - Price:  This criterion is one of the hardest to qualify upfront. Price is much more than a dollar value on the contact. It has to do with the overall value that the CM brings as your partner and how they can ensure your success. Make sure you understand what value the contract manufacture is bringing to the table. Is it their NPI process, is it their Supply Chain, or their technical expertise? Going for the lowest price does not mean that you are getting the best value.

In conclusion, using these 7 criteria can help you select the right CM to ensure a successful launch of your new product. You will need to understand which criteria are most important and weight them accordingly.