Demand for full-service electro-mechanical assembly is rising

By Mark Shortt

Assembly may be the last step in the product manufacturing process, but it’s by no stretch the least important. If quality can’t be assured at the end of it all, the product is a no-go regardless of whether it’s a high-speed cable assembly, a PCB assembly, or an assembly of stamped and welded parts.

Assemblies often include numerous electrical, mechanical, or electronic parts—or a combination of any of these types. In the case of electro-mechanical assembly, the process is best handled by experts who are familiar with all of the constituent parts, including their function and how they fit and interact with each other.

Today, OEMs are increasingly outsourcing the process of electro-mechanical assembly to qualified contract manufacturers. Many are choosing to entrust the assembly process to a single, qualified supplier so that they can avoid the inherent supply chain risks of contracting with multiple shops. This is creating opportunities for contract manufacturers that can use their engineering and quality assurance capabilities to successfully produce and test not only the electronic and mechanical components, but the fully integrated electro-mechanical assemblies as well.

The story by Mark Langlois, Precision Machining Company Takes Projects from Parts to Finished Assemblies, details how a Massachusetts firm, known for its machining and engineering talents, has earned the trust of customers who require large quantities of fully tested electro-mechanical assemblies. Check out Mark’s piece to see how the company earned that trust.

Manufacturers are looking to embrace AI

Industry analysts are expecting big growth in manufacturers’ use of AI over the next five years, with market estimates ranging from single-digit billions to upwards of $20 billion by 2028. While AI has great potential for improving manufacturers’ automation and production efficiencies, its applications span part design to predictive maintenance, digital manufacturing workflows, quality management, and supply chain optimization, among others. For a glimpse of how AI can be used to rapidly customize models of 3D-printable objects, such as assistive devices, see the story by Adam Zewe, AI-Driven Tool Makes it Easy to Personalize 3D-Printable Models.

Rootstock Software reported in November that 82 percent of manufacturers are planning to increase their budgets for AI in the next 12 to 18 months, based on its survey of 350 manufacturers in the United States, U.K., and Canada. Twenty-four percent of the respondents reported they are planning “substantial increases between 26 and 50 percent,” according to a release that highlighted the findings of Rootstock’s State of AI in Manufacturing Survey. Rootstock is a developer of cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for manufacturers.

“We are witnessing the dawn of a new era powered by AI, and manufacturers are eagerly embracing these tools as they’ve seen its potential to unlock powerful data insights across critical functions such as inventory, production planning, supplier collaboration, and more,” said Raj Badarinath, chief product and marketing officer at Rootstock Software, in the release. “While AI is not a new concept in the industry, we’re still just scratching the surface of what is possible.”

The survey found that more than 70 percent of respondents said they’ve already implemented “some form of AI” into their operations. Sixty percent said they’ve begun using automation software, while 37 percent are using predictive AI and 35 percent have deployed generative AI. However, potential roadblocks include an AI skills gap and the complexities of integrating AI into a manufacturer’s operations. Some 49 percent of respondents identified a lack of internal knowledge about AI as the biggest barrier to adoption, followed by 43 percent who cited the difficulty of integrating AI, and 37 percent who pointed to high implementation costs, the company said.

Perhaps the most noteworthy finding was the general perception that AI is “integral to the forward trajectory of the industry.” Ninety-one percent of respondents reportedly agreed that AI is important to the future of manufacturing.

“There has been enormous pressure on manufacturers to find new ways to improve productivity and increase efficiency in their operations, so it’s satisfying to see how AI is accelerating those initiatives,” said Rootstock Vice President of Product Marketing Stu Jackson, in the release. “As the available capabilities and integrations involving AI continue to advance, we’ll see a clear division between the leaders and laggards—with early adopters dominating their respective manufacturing segments.”

Finding the right manufacturing process

When you’ve designed a part for your product, you may or may not know which process is best for manufacturing the part. Is it machining, casting, molding, metal fabrication, or something else? Does it involve more than one process and, if so, which processes?

In some cases, the right manufacturing process is pretty clear, especially if you’ve had success with the services of a particular contract manufacturer. In other cases, the number of factors to consider may seem overwhelming. You may know which process you want to use, but it may be difficult to decide which supplier offers the best combination of quality, customer service, and turnaround time to suit your needs.

The article Fast Growing Startup Delivers Custom Parts Quickly introduces a rapid manufacturing specialist who dealt with these challenges as a hobbyist before striking out on his own. Today, the company that he and a colleague started five years ago offers an accessible and efficient process for producing high-quality custom parts with quick turnarounds. In the article, the company’s CEO discusses the advantages that he believes his company offers over other companies that may provide similar services for rapid or custom manufacturing.