When Recurring Small Batch Assemblies Are All You Do

Posted by Bruce Hendrick on Wed, Sep 10, 2014 @ 14:09 PM

rbbsystemscircuitboard resized 600“Yeah, we do that.” Most electronic contract manufacturers (CM’s) have designed their businesses to say this, regardless of the need. Visit virtually any CM’s website or talk to their salespeople. You will likely encounter:

  • “Concept to Production”
  • “Cradle to Grave”
  • “Napkin to Legacy”
  • “One Stop Shop”
  • “Meeting all your electronic needs”

This business model is well established – and for good reason: it attracts large, lucrative customers. CM’s typically offer the widest possible portfolio of services so they can secure the real prize… the smooth running, large volume production. And this is awesome, if you happen to be that kind of customer.

These clients account for the lion’s share of electronics manufacturing spending so it makes sense that CM’s position themselves accordingly. The trouble, of course, is that while most spending is of the high volume type, the vast majority of assemblies are actually not.

Small Batch Job Shops like RBB

When your product mix is primarily made up of small batches of electronic assemblies, your business becomes less attractive to the traditional CM. To better meet this growing and unmet need, several years ago a few specialized CM’s like RBB began to reposition themselves to focus exclusively on producing small batches. This is no “small” matter. To do this right, the entire business must be optimized so that the constant flow of small batches is not avoided but encouraged – and serviced in a highly responsive and profitable way. This requires a dramatic re-thinking of the entire business. Hence RBB’s tagline: “We’re Big in Small.”

Okay, but what does this mean in terms of behavior? Is there really a noticeable difference? You be the judge.

Starting with what you will likely experience with our larger batch brethren, here are some behaviors you won’t see at a small batch job shop like RBB:

  • We don’t insist on a sales forecast, since most of your assemblies have unpredictable demand, uncertain timing, frequent revision changes, or all three.
  • We don’t inflate the run size by encouraging you to buy more than you need. Your inventory balances are much more manageable.
  • Similarly, we don’t believe in order minimums or last time buys (if the components can be found).
  • We don’t give prime production scheduling slots to “high runners.” All assemblies are equally valued and serviced.
  • We don’t limit the number of “attractive” customers. Since ours is a world of small batches, the more customers and unique assemblies the better. You won’t be surprised to learn one day that you’ve been encouraged to move your small batch business elsewhere.
  • We don’t chase volume as the Holy Grail – your product lines flourish regardless of volume.
  • We don’t seal up specifications and other documents so you can’t easily move them to another CM if that is what you desire.
  • We won’t raise your price to discourage small batches!

By contrast, here are some behaviors you will see at RBB or another small batch job shop: 

  • circuitsWe do manage our fluid production schedule in a state of perpetual changeover. Your small batch order easily drops into the next opening.
  • We do implement Lean Manufacturing – but very differently. Our entire process is actually one work cell that is optimized to get small batches through the shop quickly.
  • We do carve up the occasional large batch into bite-sized runs so that no small batch suffers poor service at the expense of a large one.
  • We do anticipate, assist and resolve material shortage issues – and there are many in the world of small batches.
  • We do have reciprocal relationships with large batch players so that when your product lines do hit it big, you have plenty of options.
  • We do swarm to the need constantly. It’s part of our DNA.

I hope this post helps to differentiate the small batch job shop from the traditional one-stop-shop contract manufacturer. If you spend a significant annual budget on electronics, you will likely be courted by a number of these firms. That’s the good news. However if your needs are primarily centered on a variety of small batches, the bad news is that sooner or later you may learn that your business does not really “fit” the large batch CM’s business model – and you may be forced to go elsewhere. Buyer beware.

Bruce loves to manage change and to encourage working environments where employees and customers thrive. His passion led him to found ODS – a highly practical leadership, trust and communication training firm and blog. He’s a noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer. Bruce has led RBB since 2001, becoming Owner in 2007.

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Topics: Small Batch Electronics, Circuit Board & Assembly & Manufacturing, Contract Manufacturing