July 13, 2020

How To Evaluate Your Supplier’s Engineering Capability | Vetting Chinese Suppliers (Part 3)

In this episode...

This is the third part of our series on vetting Chinese suppliers which loosely follows the blog posts in this series that Renaud wrote before.

In this episode, Adrian & Renaud discuss the importance of evaluating your potential Chinese supplier's product engineering capabilities which are especially important if you're working on new product development with the supplier.

We mainly concentrate on the 5 key engineering attributes you need to check:

  1. CAD Compatibility
  2. In-house Design Capability
  3. R&D Facilities and Capability
  4. Prototyping Capability
  5. Initial Prototype Test Capability

These give you a roadmap you can use to assess whether your supplier has the engineering experience, knowledge, and capability to create your new products before you start working with them.

Show Notes

Introduction - WHY to evaluate engineering capability in order to choose the right supplier. Tightly linked with many importers relying on their supplier's expertise and competencies to fill in gaps in their product development (design & engineering) that they do not have (for instance, implementing a camera module into products). If you choose the wrong supplier, you open yourself up to risks. Not just competency either, it may be that you choose a supplier that is the wrong size for you to be a priority.  (START to 7:16)

What are the attributes you should be checking? - size, incentives, time-scales, and business model. Work with a lawyer to address the greatest risks. (7:16 to 9:47)

What to do if your potential supplier won't sign a manufacturing contract? - some suppliers know that you need their expertise and will, therefore, refuse to sign a contract that puts too much responsibility on their shoulders. Instead of caving to their demands, you can find a new supplier, or redevelop or simplify your product to avoid the issue. This would typically happen with an ODM factory, whereas an OEM or CM + design house are other options where you will have more control (also more expense) (9:47 to 12:50) - read more about supplier choice and their pros & cons.

Does your supplier have CAD compatibility? - can files be sent back and forth and worked on with no issues? This is important if you are both working on product designs (12:50 to 13:25)

Do they have good engineers internally? - what you should look out for when assessing the capabilities of the supplier's mechanical, electrical, electronic, and/or software engineers (13:25 to 17:10)

Questions to ask and evidence to request to see engineering capability - Renaud shares some of the key questions you need to ask the supplier, such as about past projects which are similar to yours, in order to see that the supplier can truly reach your expectations (17:10 to 20:10)

Some more attributes that engineers need to display in order to assist on the R&D side and with certifications - electrical engineers need to be able to calculate motor torque, understand control systems, etc. Electronic engineers should have an in-depth understanding of PCBAs, but can they also design them in such a way that the products can pass FCC scrutiny for example? Do they know how to test the PCBAs? Software engineers - what environment are they used to? Can they work with your team on it seamlessly? Do they have examples of sensors etc that they have worked on before? Do they have experience of speeding up early prototyping for proof of concept? They may also have to help you with tooling, which is expensive. Do they have experience of reviewing tooling or do they just trust that the mold fabricator does a great job? (20:10 to 25:30)

How well can the supplier help if things go wrong? - if there are technical issues with custom-made parts (such as poor surface-finishing), can someone from the supplier's team go on-site and check why it's happening? Do they have experience with reliability testing? If the supplier is unaware of effective testing, that's a major red flag. (25:30 to 29:12)

The importance of asking questions and getting examples if you're unable to go on-site - until you can visit your supplier, quizzing them on past experience in R&D, testing, etc is a good option. Do they have experience in your materials, products, packaging, etc? If they test in-house, question their testing capabilities, too. Do they understand your quality standard? (29:12 to END) - Sofeast can also assist you to find suitable suppliers.

The advice you've been listening to draws on this blog post:

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