Volume 3 | Issue 7 | Year 2000

Manufacturing companies well recognize the wisdom of subcontracting some of their manufacturing and assembly processes to other companies. Doing so allows those companies and their subcontracted partners to hone their respective core competencies to ever-increasing levels of excellence.

Understanding the delicate balance of these kinds of partnerships, E-M Solutions operates on a fundamental philosophy totally customer-focused to nimbly respond to just-in-time orders, even while enduring design changes that often occur during the production process. A proven, single-source electronics systems integrator, E-M Solutions can offer integrations of power, cooling, cabling and interconnect systems. Because design changes are synonymous with the electronics industry – in which continual technological advancements are the norm – it takes a company like E-M Solutions to dance to that ever-changing tempo.

E-M Solutions’ global, integrated partnerships begin with its own team approach to customers’ needs. The success of these partnerships depends on E-M Solutions’ strong core competencies – including its superior global supply-chain access, its materials planning and management, its inventory management and its product design expertise. The company’s outstanding capabilities are what attract other manufacturers to choose E-M Solutions as their integrated subcontractor. With headquarters in Fremont, Calif., E-M Solutions has as its clients such respected giants in the electronics industry as Sun Microsystems, EMC, Nortel Networks and Lucent.

Getting to Market
“Because the electronics industry is constantly changing, we are faced with very tight time-to-market schedules,” says Bob Schneider, chief operating officer at E-M Solutions’ Westbrook, Maine, manufacturing facility. “Since the life cycle of a newly introduced product is not very long, our customers want to get that product to market as quickly as possible, once the technology is approved.”

When companies like Lucent need a piece of hardware such as a networking box, they call on E-M Solutions to manufacture systems-integrated box enclosures. “They focus on the design, the printed circuit boards and the overall systems,” says Schneider. “They give us the documentation pertaining to the manufacture of the enclosures.”

In addition to the enclosures, E-M Solutions will install fans, cables, switches, power supplies and any other components short of those carrying proprietary technology. E-M Solutions will then ship the product back to its client, which will add proprietary components, final-test the product and ship it to its own customer.

Hallmark Flexibility
Global companies producing technologically advanced electronics like large disk drive systems, local-area-network and wide-area-network routers and switches for communications equipment partner with E-M Solutions. “They would rather direct their resources and focus toward the design and marketing of their products, as opposed to the manufacturing of those products,” says Schneider. E-M Solutions, in a sense, acts as its clients’ manufacturing division.

“When our clients were vertically integrated with design, manufacturing and marketing departments, they might have underutilized their manufacturing facilities,” explains Schneider. “Because we have partnerships with numerous global clients, when one company is up another might be down and we are better able to utilize our manufacturing capacity.”

The volatile electronics industry presents huge challenges in terms of product scheduling. “Flexibility, therefore, is a big item for us,” says Schneider. “We are able to quickly swing resources into a particular area, and we provide fast turnarounds for our customers.”

The services E-M Solutions provides begin at the conception of a product’s design. “We help them design for manufacture so that they can get the lowest manufacturing cost possible from their design,” says Schneider. To achieve this, E-M Solutions helps its clients in supply-base selection, and then follows through with the management of the materials and the materials logistics.

Material World
The base of E-M Solutions’ business is focused on sheet metal fabrication for enclosures and managing supply-line components for those enclosures. Materials generally account for about 70 percent of the value of an E-M Solutions assembly, and because of its global presence, the company can offer clients leveraged purchasing power. “Our customer teams incorporate various talents that focus on our customers’ requirements,” says Schneider. “Within a team, there might be an engineer, a buyer and a planner.”

Among the major issues facing E-M Solutions are its clients’ critical schedule changes. “Once we receive a change in schedule, not only do we have to change our manufacturing orders, but we have to manage that supply line to get materials in here on time,” says Schneider. This presents challenges involving flexibility in timely and critical management of inventories while maintaining product quality. “Our customer teams can respond to these challenges because they are heavily weighted with talent from materials organizations.”

From a manufacturing standpoint, E-M Solutions constantly strives to find new processes that result in reduced setups while producing product through low lot sizes. “Working with low lot sizes allows us to be more flexible should there be any changes our client wants to make. It also helps us keep our inventories low,” says Schneider.

If there is anything that does not change in the everyday technologically advancing electronics industry, it is change itself. “A critical advantage we offer our clients is our ability to help with rapid design and prototyping so they can get their products proved, tested and to market quickly,” says Schneider.

The strength E-M Solutions offers its clients is its commitment to flexibility toward clients’ schedules as well as their constant stream of engineering changes. As E-M Solutions is in the process of manufacturing products for a client, that client is simultaneously advancing its technology. Schneider says, “This means there are lots of engineering changes, which create changes in our manufacturing processes, which, in turn, affects the supply line. So there is a whole structure we must have in place and this gets back to our customer teams.”

All of this nimble flexibility has at its foundation E-M Solutions’ expertise in forecasting. “It’s a challenge to read the customer, and it’s also a challenge to ensure you have the skill sets required for the project. This means that you have the capital required to make these changes while you are growing as a company,” says Schneider.

Everyday Evolution
E-M Solutions continues to project where it believes its customers would like the company to be. Recognizing everyday signs in the continually evolving and advancing industry, E-M Solutions is positioning itself for the next level of client integration. “Ultimately our clients will want us to ship directly to their customers. So we will have to deal with changes in design, in logistics, or in the types of processes we have under the roof right now that will get us to where our clients want to go and where we want to be,” says Schneider.

This will mean that the company will receive end customers’ orders and it will complete final systems integrations and final systems tests within its own facilities. “Our OEM customers then might send in their field service technicians to do the final install,” says Schneider. Thus, E-M Solutions is poised to enter a whole new phase in its client partnerships. “If you examine the evolution, at one time the OEMs might have felt that perhaps it wasn’t in their best interest to subcontract their proprietary technology or their final tests,” he continues. “But as they get more and more comfortable with us and our stronger developing relationships, and as they become more comfortable with the subcontractor environment, they will assign more of the processes to us rather than do them themselves.”

The company’s rapid growth just within the past year underscores E-M Solutions’ ability to stay ahead of the curve while meeting tough challenges and still managing remarkable growth. Revenues for 1999 were $330 million and revenues for 2000 are projected to reach an impressive $480 million.

E-M Solutions’ seven facilities (Longmont, Colo.; Westbrook, Maine; Gretna, Va.; Fremont, Calif.; Lisburn, Northern Ireland; and Guadalajara and Monterrey, Mexico) occupy 1.2 million square feet. Each E-M Solutions facility is either ISO 9001- or ISO 9002-registered. The company employs 2,350 people worldwide.

E-M Solutions will continue to develop vigorous relationships with its client partners. “These strong relationships will mean that we will truly be our clients’ manufacturing division. Our partnerships will reach higher levels and our communications links will become even more powerful than they are today,” concludes Schneider.

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