How to Evaluate Contract Manufacturing Partners for Complex Projects

The importance of choosing the right contract manufacturer for your business cannot be overstated. Contract manufacturers are essential partners who bring your design into reality, and the success of your product depends upon their ability to make it effectively.

Choosing the right manufacturer requires careful evaluation. While it’s impossible to define what the right manufacturer looks like across all industries, there are some common steps you can take to evaluate and choose the right one. 

1. Follow a Formal Evaluation Process

Formalizing the evaluation process will help ensure every manufacturer receives fair consideration and you don’t neglect key decision factors. Before you begin to look at potential partners, define what the evaluation process will look like. Key steps in your evaluation may include:

  • Sending an introduction letter or request for proposal to the manufacturers. These letters should include an overview of your company, an explanation of your manufacturing needs, volume of units, complexity of the unit, and more. This will help you outline your requirements form the outset and weed out manufacturers that aren’t a good fit.
  • Conduct interviews with each manufacturer. Start by researching the businesses you’ll be speaking with, just as you would review a resume from a job candidate. Prepare your list of questions before the call and take notes during the meeting. This can help you gather information and get a sense of what working with the manufacturer will be like.
  • Tour the facility. You need to know if the manufacturer is using high quality equipment and if the work environment is safe. At this point you should review the quality control process and get to know the team you will be working with.
  • Get samples. Have the manufacturer create sample units and stress test them vigorously. You want to know exactly what you’ll be getting.

2. Evaluate the Manufacturer’s Capabilities

Some manufacturers claim to have the ability to do just about anything, but they have limitations behind the scenes. Some will specialize in very specific skills but may not have the ability to produce the volume you need. Others may easily meet your volume but may not have the required skill set.

While you don’t have control over the manufacturer’s hiring process, you should take an interest in their personnel’s training, skills, and competence. Pay attention to their employees, including your impressions of management, operations, and the staff on the floor.

You should also look at their equipment and technology. Does the manufacturer have the tools needed for the job, or have access to them through their network? This is especially important when you have a complex or customized job.

3. Consider Logistical Challenges

Logistical challenges can arise with any manufacturer, but working with overseas manufacturers comes with different kinds of problems. For example, supply chain issues have caused major delays when it comes to shipping and international transport.

Getting your order on time is essential for your business. You may want to start by evaluating local manufacturers first, then widening your net outward as necessary, instead of immediately opting for international manufacturers that are cheaper upfront but could come with headaches later.

4. Ask About the Cost

One of the major reasons that contract manufacturing even exists is money. It’s simply cheaper to outsource the manufacturing process to specialists who already have the capability to manufacture your products.

While quality, logistics, and other factors are important, you can’t hire a manufacturer you can’t afford. At the same time, shopping around for the lowest quote isn’t always the best idea because the cheapest price won’t always net you the highest quality product.

5. Evaluate the Manufacturer’s Track Record

Make sure you’re looking at the manufacturer’s company and track record and asking the right questions about their qualifications. Is the manufacturer financially stable and will it remain in operations for the foreseeable future? How many years of experience do they have in the industry?

6. Ask About Compliance

Regulatory compliance is important. Ask your potential manufacturing partners what their process is for meeting compliance standards. Remember, regulations vary from country to country. If your supply chain moves between multiple nations, you need to find a partner that can meet compliance standards internationally.

7. Consider Customer Service

Good customer service is crucial for any manufacturing partner you choose. A manufacturer could have every capability you need, but if their customer service is poor your relationship won’t work. While you can’t 100% evaluate the customer experience before you become a customer, look for manufacturers that are responsive, direct, and professional in their communications.