2011 was a transformational year for Stilwell Baker—I decided to give our customers what they were asking for. During the year, we transitioned from offering engineering and layout services, to designing and manufacturing complete products for customers. Some of the products were simply PCBs and fixtures, sometimes boxes of boards, and others were complete box builds ready for distribution. All of the work was done in the United States, and we’re planning to stay on that course.
For several years I’ve seen a growing trend in the electronics market for low to medium volume electronic product development and manufacturing within the United States. In my conversations with customers, it became obvious that where we needed to go as a company was to engineer entire original designs and manufacture products as an ODM. Now we can manage customers’ projects in their entirety, which is especially helpful to companies that don’t have deep talent in electronic engineering, or experience with the manufacturing process.
Our target market is comprised of companies that for reasons of insufficient volume, complexity, regulatory challenges, and intellectual property concerns, are looking for an ODM in the United States. They don’t want to go, or can’t go offshore.
When you really look at the cost of product development—the labor, transportation cost, time to market, and intellectual property integrity—turnkey product development in the US makes sense for certain companies. Though margin has driven outsourcing to China for decades, the advantage is eroding according to the Boston Consulting Group. “Seven ‘tipping point’ sectors are poised to return to the U.S. for manufacturing: transportation goods, computers and electronics, fabricated metal products, machinery, plastics and rubber, appliances and electrical equipment, and furniture. Combined with increased U.S. exports, these groups could boost annual output in the economy by $100 billion, [and] create 2 to 3 million jobs…“(The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: Which Industries?).
There’s also been a marked shift in U.S. companies from outsourcing pieces of a design to outsourcing entire product development because they don’t have the resources, or prefer not to dilute resources by tackling projects outside of their core business. Our core business is developing electronic products, so our services are a fit for a wide variety of customers.
Today instead of asking, “Can we rent an engineer,” customers are giving us everything from the general description of a product, to detailed specifications. We can run with their project from that point—through architecture, specification, detailed design of hardware and firmware, mechanical packaging, product testing, and certification—to delivery of a completed product with ongoing new product introduction support.
“Giving the customer what they want” is proving to be a rewarding experience for both our employees and our customers!