If outsourcing of your electronic controls is not part of your strategic plan, It Should Be. All product manufacturers are under intense pressure to rapidly design, develop, test, certify and produce the next-generation product. Increasingly, the single point of leverage where additional capabilities, functionality, and higher-value is the electronic components and software. Product development teams must design and develop electronics which matches marketing requirements; perceived and real customer needs in an era of quickly evolving technology, all while meeting cost targets. Internal product development teams not only must be highly cognizant of customer needs but of all the various technologies which can be brought to bear against these problems.
Increasingly these challenges are filled by outside engineering teams. These teams exist to match customer requirements to technology and must maintain a reservoir of expertise and broad capabilities to achieve success for their customers’ projects. These teams who work with varied amounts of supervision bring project management skills, critical outside perspective and expertise in technologies that your team may only have limited expertise.
In our work over the years building electronic controls for small, 12-person companies to Fortune 10 companies we’ve never found Product Managers that didn’t see opportunities in the market and niches to fill with Engineering Organizations that had enough of the right resources to exploit those opportunities. The company size isn’t of particular importance. The industry doesn’t matter-we’ve found this to be true in industries like Automotive Component Suppliers, Food Processing, HVAC, Drive Systems and many, many others. We hear the following messages over and over:
|PRODUCT MANAGER||ENGINEERING MANAGER|
|“We Constantly miss opportunities around here – we just can’t respond fast enough.”||“We need to build the _______ from the ground up so we can control the revisions and quality!” (Interpretation: protecting my job is top priority).|
|“Our Engineering team is always behind. Off the record, I’m pretty frustrated.”||“We can’t let a 3rd party in here and learn about our product.”|
|“I’ve got my field salespeople screaming at me about different competitive threats, and I can’t make our people understand what we’re facing.”||“We’ve got a lot on our plate, but we can make the __________ happen, we just need a few more months.”|
Frankly, our customers are some of the most influential, savviest, largest development companies in the world and they outsource development projects to us. These are companies with scores of engineers in the US and around the globe. Companies with almost unlimited financial resources and buildings filled with Engineers with Masters Degrees and PhDs. Here’s what these companies have learned:
None of the companies we work with blindly hand out Engineering contracts to anyone with a compiler and an oscilloscope. Companies with a history of successful projects, a wealth of endorsements from other customers, the required resources, and the specific technology background required for the project get Contracts.
Manufacturers who regularly outsource to brand new vendors can achieve higher costs, lower productivity and slower time to market. You always increase your costs and risk by the constant use of new vendors:
Before we got smart, we buried our ownership of the Intellectual Property in our quote. From time to time a customer would get upset with us at the end of projects when they found out they didn’t own the technology. Carefully consider who will own what at the end of the project. There are good reasons for you, the supplier, or both, to jointly own the IP so think it through carefully.
You can tank a project quickly by changing the target after the project is started. Do your homework up front to ensure you know exactly what you want before requesting the RFQ. If you make changes afterward, the vendor should have the option of revising his quote.
Don’t let your vendor know you have a proprietary format for your documents, specifications, schematics, code or other design documents. Let them get into the project and then find out that your test specifications will require hundreds of development hours.
Focus all the time on the project requirements, technology, and implementation issues and nothing on how you expect the product to be tested. Don’t design a process that matches the functional test requirements to the critical outcomes you expect from the project.
Search the world until you find an Eskimo in the Aleutian Islands that has heard of this technology and is “pretty sure” that it can be done for 1 month of sled dog feed. Don’t ask the single, most important question of a prospective vendor:
“Can you provide the names of three customers with similar projects who would use your services again?”
Before starting your project don’t think through how often you need to communicate and all the media, documents and strategies you will use to maintain good communications among all team members. Use poor communications to create cost overruns, schedule slips, and inferior quality. Share as little as possible with your vendor. The vendor’s job is to design the screen door not worry about how it will work on the submarine.
Don’t think seriously about the types of technology that can be an asset to achieving your goals. Revision control systems, teleconferencing, automated resource/problem tracking systems, and project management systems can be handled manually or not at all.
Keep track of defects (hardware or software), resources, enhancements for future versions, and many other types of issues manually. Post-it notes are an especially effective tool for missing your schedules and delivering a product with missing or incomplete functionality.
Ignore all the issues about using overseas resources:
In some places, one critical building or component supports the entire telecommunications infrastructure. This component will probably hold up for the duration of your project. The team can work around limited, slow or spotty telephone and internet service.
In some places, bribery is common and an acceptable way of promoting business. Don’t worry your management may never find out?
Don’t learn about the culture and the people you will be working with to identify what kinds of reward systems and what encouragement works best.
Ignore the extra cost of shipping and duties on transferring parts and equipment of a foreign country. Ignore the local holidays, vacations (usually much more extensive than US vacations), and different attitudes toward work hours and deadlines.
Don’t worry if some cultures object to people on your US team based on Race, Sex, Religion or Sexual Preference. Handle these issues after they get out of hand.
Real Time Automation is an Engineering firm specializing in networking and controls applications. RTA provides custom PCBs, controllers and networking hardware and software. RTA is a member of the Profibus Trade Organization (PTO) and an authorized implementation vendor and member of ODVA. For more information see the following:
To discuss your particular project or need, contact the RTA Solutions Team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-249-1612.