Times Have Changed
Change is a part of life in the Electronics Industry, but the last decade has seen an unprecedented change in the industry’s manufacturing structure, and as a result, in the way the industry conducts Research and Development (R&D). The System houses (OEMs) have divested themselves of most of their manufacturing, and now depend on Electronics Manufacturing Companies (EMS providers) located throughout the world to build their products. With the loss of manufacturing, they also lost much of the technical expertise that they relied on for solving technical problems and developing new technical solutions. Getting help from Bell Labs and IBM Research Centers is a thing of the past.
The burden for technology development has largely fallen on the EMS providers, who do not have the systems level knowledge that it takes to address problems or develop innovations outside of the strict manufacturing area. Furthermore, because of tight margins, they do not have the resources necessary for R&D on an industry wide system level. The R&D they can afford must be focused and high payoff, which means they require close cooperation and direction from their customers, the OEMs. This same situation now exists throughout the supply chain, including the equipment manufacturers, component and material suppliers, and independent designers. The industry is truly global, and the technology issues are global as well.
Industry wide R&D issues are greater than ever
Like it or not, environmental conscious manufacturing is a very real part of our industry today. Because we are global, we must also deal with different regulations from different countries, and different rates of change implementation. We all know that making a change anywhere in the manufacturing supply chain; from a basic material replacement to a different cleaning process; can cause significant differences in the reliability and/or performance of the final system level product. And yet, we are being faced with these changes constantly today because of government regulation and consumer pressure to preserve the environment. Understanding the effect of these changes, and making the best choice of replacements from a cost and performance standpoint, requires extensive technical evaluation, and often that technical evaluation extends throughout the entire supply chain.
Are you Competitive?
Some of the most successful companies in our industry today have discovered the economies of scale and leveraging that pre-competitive cooperative R&D offers. By joining together with their EMS providers, their EMS providers suppliers, and yes, even their competitors; sharing scarce resources and expertise to address issues of common interest; they have resolved major problems in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost it would take to do it alone. Cooperative R&D is not the only tool that a modern company needs to be competitive. They must employ many different strategies and options in today’s extremely competitive marketplace. But cooperative R&D can offer significant advantages in addressing supply chain wide, global technical issues that all electronics companies face today. It is a tool that can probably be found in the toolbox of many of your competitors.