In the past, when companies needed to access specialized electronics manufacturing capacity, a company would contact a manufacturer’s representative, or rep. The rep system still exists today, with many reps exhibiting at trade shows and industry events in order to attract customers. If you happen to meet one of these fine folks at a conference, should you work with them to identify a manufacturing partner?
What Does a Manufacturer’s Rep Do?
A manufacturer’s rep is like a freelance sales representative that contracts directly with PCB fabrication & assembly houses, and EMS companies. Their job is to generate sales leads and sell the services of the manufacturer they represent.
Today, many manufacturers have their own internal application engineers, marketing teams, sales representatives, and customer service engineers. They can handle many of the tasks that were formerly handled by a representative group, including prospecting and lead generation. Although PCB manufacturers are bringing some of those functions in-house, the manufacturer’s rep system still exists, and it sometimes functions like a contract manufacturing system.
For these reasons, PCB manufacturer’s reps do not focus on inbound marketing. They can often be found on the floor at trade shows, handing out business cards and looking for supply chain managers at potential customers.
You’ll often find manufacturer’s reps at big trade shows and industry conferences.
So the question becomes: should you use a manufacturer’s rep or should you scout for an electronics manufacturing partner on your own?
Upsides of Manufacturer’s Reps
The most important job a manufacturer’s rep performs is to link a client’s production requirements with a manufacturing partner. Oftentimes this involves finding the right balance between lead time, cost, and production quantity. For these reasons, manufacturer’s reps may represent more than one PCB manufacturer or contract manufacturer. If you go through a rep, they may introduce you to a company that you were not aware of, and the cost benefits could be substantial.
If you’re planning to scale up and need to access higher volume production overseas, a manufacturer’s rep can help streamline the process. They could also make the 2 AM phone calls that sometimes occur when working with an overseas manufacturer. Make sure to leverage their relationships when planning for overseas production as they can help an inexperienced company navigate the overseas production ecosystem.
Downsides of Manufacturer’s Reps
The problem with a manufacturer’s representative is that they are typically not engineers. They may have some prior knowledge of manufacturing processes, so if you mention specifically what is needed they can probably provide the appropriate introduction to an EMS company. But with some advanced designs, they may not have the expertise needed to identify the particular manufacturer that will produce the best results. The risk is that there are defects, or a job gets no-bid status and everyone wastes their time.
The simplest thing a buyer or engineering team can do to prevent this is to develop a clear specification and scope of work for their production run. Provide this scope of work and fabrication/assembly drawings to the rep so that these can be viewed by a potential manufacturer.
Beyond PCBs and Assemblies
While PCB manufacturers have traditionally used a system of reps to match clients with capabilities, reps can provide customers with access to many other capabilities and products. For example, many manufacturer’s reps provide representation for small component distributors, harness and cable assembly manufacturers, injection molding and sheet metal fabrication services, PCB materials, and other services. For final packaging and shipping of a finished product, customers typically won’t find these services from a PCB manufacturer, and instead will need to look to a packaging and shipping company to provide these logistics services.
If your company will need these additional services, a manufacturer’s rep can provide significant value here, just like they might for PCB fabrication and assembly services. The sales and compensation model is the same for these other services, and a representative’s services can help you cut down your research and evaluation time when searching for new vendors.
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