Contract Electronics Manufacturer of the Month

Industrial Process News is pleased to feature Speedboard Assembly Services as its Contract Electronics Manufacturer of the Month.

The UK-based CEM  was founded in 1983 and is currently owned by Richard Watson and Neil Owen, both of whom were former customers of Speedboard Assembly Services prior to their acquisition of the business. The establishment is based in Windsor Berkshire, where its factory occupies approximately 22,000 sq. feet of space with a workforce comprising 90 staff members.

Speedboard offers a broad range of manufacturing services, ranging from traditional build-to-print through to full lifecycle; including Design for Manufacture (DFM), Design for Test (DFT), Design for Purchasing (DFP), prototyping, full production, packaging, delivery to end customer, repairs and after sales support.

The company has five SMT lines which, between them, comprise 15 Siemens SiPlace machines. It has a selective soldering line and a dedicated offline prototyping area; with standalone solder paste, pick & place and vapour-phase machines. Inspection and Test capabilities include Automatic Optical Inspection (AOI), X-ray, BGA Scope, Boundary-scan, In-Circuit Test (ICT – both flying probe and bed-of-nails), Functional Test and Soak Testing. The company also offers Kanban stock holding, operating a Quality Management System which is BSI-certified as being compliant with ISO 9001.

Nick Fairhead, Sales and Marketing Director at Speedboard Assembly Services, said the company stands out in the industry for its versatility and flexibility. “Most CEMs have the technical capability and are very similar in that respect,” he mused. “We feel our key differentiator is our focus on customer service and our people. It’s here where we are truly breaking the mould – we are developing the traditional customer supplier model and going way beyond that.”

“We offer a ’configuration to order’ (CTO) service where we customise ‘vanilla’ equipment to meet specific end customer requirements. This gives our customers the benefits of scale of economy, i.e. manufacturing large batches, plus the flexibility to define the final specification at the last minute.”

Speedboard serves customers in a variety of high-tech sectors. Its main focus point is the low to medium volume assembly of high technology assemblies, predominately in the industrial, defence, medical, communications and security sectors. The company has also just signed up to SC21, the supply chain improvement programme developed and managed by the trade organisation ADS, thus enabling Speedboard’s customers to benefit from the high standards demanded by the aerospace sector.

Neil Owen, Speedboard’s Managing Director, commented: “Signing up to SC21 is part of our commitment to achieving high performance in both business and manufacturing excellence, and to becoming a leaner, more efficient and responsive organisation. Becoming a part of SC21 is an essential element of Speedboard transforming from being just a CEM to becoming a manufacturing partner of choice.”

“Our ethos surrounds the notion that ‘we are your shop floor’,” Nick added. “We want to take the relationship beyond normal OEM and CEM i.e. customer and supplier, and really become integrated within our customers’ businesses so we are literally regarded as their shop floor.”

Significant recent investments in capital equipment includes an upgrade to the Siemens Si Place SMT line to give 0201 capability, and purchases of new apparatus such as a 2nd 5 Axis Xray Inspection Machine, a Vapour Phase Reflow Machine and a Selective Soldering line. The investment in this equipment ensures that Speedboard has the correct capacity and capabilities to meet their Sales strategy. The component supply chain has changed significantly during the last 10-15 years, particularly from the CEM’s perspective, with perhaps the biggest change being the shortening of lead-times, thanks to the formation of much closer relations between all players in the supply chain and the extent to which information is now shared.

These closer relationships, and hitherto unseen levels of collaboration, are not only shortening lead times but are also adding significant value to the supply chain and the manufacture of cost-competitive products.

For instance, most of Speedboard’s customers now share with us the expected lifespan of each product, and whether demand is likely to be at a fixed rate or whether peaks and troughs will be the norm. We feed all the product profiles into our materials management system to form consolidated component requirement profiles, which we share with our preferred suppliers.

Working with our suppliers we then implement a mixture of consignment stock, buffer stock, Kanban and min-max agreements, which govern where stock is kept, who owns the stock, at what rate it will be replenished and when payment is to be made. Also, CEMs in general, and Speedboard particularly, are far more involved in Design-for-Manufacture, -Test and –Procurement issues, and have a far greater influence over component selection.

A decade ago, component manufacturers and distributors had their sights fixed firmly on OEMs; and getting their components designed into end products. Indeed, CEMs were seen as just ‘board stuffers’, seldom involved in procurement decisions and who would often be supplied with free-issue materials. However, with the global trend towards outsourcing all but core activities – along with market pressure to reduce NPI lifecycles, the role of good CEM/EMS companies has changed considerably.

Also, with the emergence of industry legislations (such as RoHS in 2006 and WEEE in 2007), sensitivities over conflict minerals and the need for greater traceability within the supply chain, in sectors like medical and aerospace, CEMs now take on responsibilities such as component lifecycle management.

The last ten years have also seen the emergence of a great deal of supply chain automation, much of which has added value. In some cases though dangers have been introduced. For instance, unless stock availability, lead-times and manufacturers’ information are regularly updated and verified, problems with automated quoting and ordering systems will not come to light until it is too late.

At Speedboard, we embrace new technology to enhance our supply chain management but we will never lose sight of the fact that it is still very much a human process. Also, we are continually developing ever-stronger relations with our suppliers, as meeting our customers’ demands is increasingly becoming a shared responsibility. They act as part of our purchasing and warehouse departments, just as we have become the shop floor for our customers.

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