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Why do Contract Electronic Manufacturers get it wrong when supporting Box Build?

The electronics industry is rapidly evolving and in the world of Contract Electronic Manufacturing, the need to consistently ‘add value’ and build ‘long term partnerships’ are phrases that are often declared but seldom delivered.

The question that commonly arises is “Why do CEMs often get it wrong when supporting Box Builds?”

Most, if not all printed circuit boards will in one form or another, be built up into higher level assemblies or enclosures (Box Builds) which are later tested before being shipped. The requirement can be seen with mobile phones, in airport baggage handling systems and more recently, the emergence and evolution of AI and cloud computing. All of these areas are critical applications requiring a reliable service, often driven by time to market pressures.

OEM’s often look to their CEM as the key ‘box build’ provider, having already built up the PCBAs and enticed by the convenience of day to day management with one vendor who can do it all.

No matter what business you are in, there will always be core competences and areas of added value. Naturally there is a wish to fully support the customer, increase share, profit and growth; but at what cost to you and the customer?

box builds cem

A closer look at the CEM box build problem

CEMs are experts in populating printed circuit boards. They understand the electronic component landscape and can source and fulfil a vast range of technologies depending on the board design and chosen components. They know machine placement capability and often have skilled manual labour to support non-automated processes. Over the years, more and more CEMs have adopted a ‘box-build’ value added service in a plan to retain customers on what is becoming a cost competitive service. Competition likely arisen due to more automation of technology advancement.

Providing a box build solution in this way has its drawbacks and this is where the major issues lie; all too regularly is the capability under-valued. It’s putting the PCBs in a box, adding a few cables, a fan, a power supply and testing right? Wrong. Depending on the end application, complexity and size, box builds can become a real challenge.

box build

The challenge could arise from something as simple as limited space within the facility to build such a system and it could be that a CEM will attempt to build by utilising the staff they have, limited knowledge and decisions made based solely on customer supplied CAD and traditional labour models associated with placing electronic components.

Product gets quoted, PO placed, and the existing customer is happy – That is until it comes to materials sourcing, operational planning and then committing to a delivery date that continues to change. An OEM will want flexibility and competence in those areas.

A strategic approach

PP Control and Automation have taken a different approach. As a strategic outsourcer with its core competency being ‘Box Build and System Integration’, populated printed circuit boards are just another material line item and the requirement is managed accordingly through an approved vendor process. With 80% of customers on a Kanban supply, implementing the right processes and key vendor partnerships from the start is key. Robust planning and lean manufacturing operations backed by a skilled workforce of electro-mechanical technicians ensures that customers new and existing continue to befit from a >98.50% OTIF service.

By outsourcing to a strategic supplier, a number of issues that arise with leaving the box build to a CEM that is unprepared will be eliminated. Firstly, it will be a core competence and therefore there is no worry of incorrectly skilled labour and a lack of experience. A strategic partner has the flexibility to scale up production, or down depending on demand. The capacity and resource is readily available and the latest state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and expertise in handling box builds is a core investment for the business. There will be no lack of experience in dealing with non-electrical vendors and full supply chain management is available. Lastly, major benefits will occur if a strategic partner is identified early in the process and advantage is taken of expert DFM abilities.

Too often, companies allow a product design that engineers in unnecessary cost, creates a cumbersome supply chain and poor efficiency of build. Such companies then spend time and energy, post design, attempting to reduce costs… but it’s too little, too late.

Value-added design partners

With over 50 years of experience in the development of control systems for a wide range of different industries, PP C&A are also excellently positioned in the area of ‘Design for Manufacture and Assembly’ (DFMA) – in conceptual development of ideas as well as in basic consulting.

Many companies continue to develop a product design that leads to unnecessary costs, requires an inflexible supply chain, and leads to inefficient manufacturing processes. Decisive for the development of optimal design processes and products is the early integration of the development, production and purchasing departments of PP C&A and its customers.

PP C&A can offer engineering design support in relation to:

  • EN60204 Standards
  • CE Low voltage directive
  • Compliance to latest safety legislation

PP C&A work closely with its technical partners, supporting specialist, market specific standards, EMC consultancy and advice in relation to NFPA79. In addition, PP C&A can offer a full design capability for:

  • UL508A (USA Market)
  • CUL508A (Canadian Market)

PP C&A’s ability to incorporate the expertise of established technology and engineering partners leads to innovative solutions that offer significant benefits to the customer.

PP C&A is a member of the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN Group) with access to its specialist skills across a variety of manufacturing disciplines, including full-service industrial design and a CEM company. Academic partners are also an important facet to the process and PP C&A have close relationships with Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) who can assist in technology development and access to prototyping support.

PP Control & Automation can assist in every stage from early design concepts, design for manufacture and assembly, supply chain design & optimisation, product standardisation, design approval processes, build, test and logistics – a complete “end to end” contract manufacturing solution that fits your very specific needs.



Garry Myatt, Sales Director

Connect with Garry on LinkedIn



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