Should You Hire a Manufacturer for Engineering?

What Does "Full-Service" Really Mean?


  • If you are considering hiring a manufacturer who "also performs design and engineering", this article will be of interest. Please read our FAQs.



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The practice of contracting the design, engineering, and manufacturing of new products to third parties is common among medical device companies, especially start-ups. But sourcing and qualifying vendors is a daunting task. The search is further complicated by firms who optimistically offer everything medtech companies are looking for at one location. All too often, further investigation reveals possible conflicts between what is best for the client and the needs of the contractor. How does one identify candidates who offer a balanced and unbiased approach to product development and manufacturing?  


There are many interpretations of “full service” design and engineering.   

NeoMatrix breast cancer screening device

Traditional product development firms perform design and  engineering as distinct services, not including manufacturing. Companies who combine product development (meaning design and engineering) with manufacturing services are sometimes known as “full-service manufacturers.” A significant percentage these firms also market themselves as “product developers.” It is sometimes unclear if the company in question is a conventional manufacturing firm or a product developer who also supplies  manufacturing services. The “one stop” approach (design and manufacturing combined) suggests an attractive option, but the corporate cultures and motivations are so different, one questions whether the two services can effectively coexist in a single company.



Structural foam and RIM molding were considered for the case.
Generally, both processes are not available from a single manufacturer.


Full-service manufacturers face unique challenges.


In the manufacturing paradigm there are two motivating issues. One is that designs created by a manufacturer are generally driven by the company model. Secondly, engineering resources in these firms tend to be utilized for support of the revenue-generating manufacturing branch.


Manufacturers have preferences and comfort levels that fit what they have done in the past. They perform services that are extensions of their primary business and have a tendency to design what they can build. Paul Gleason, Vice President ofr Omnica Corporation (previously, Paul was the international marketing and sales representative for an OEM instrumentation manufacturer) notes, “With a full-service manufacturer, whether its processes, materials,  molding or assembly, the whole design of the  product is driven by their manufacturing paradigm and the experience base of those people. What they envision or are willing to try has to fit their process. It is in their best interest to design something they are set-up to manufacture.”


Sustaining a full-time manufacturing engine is demanding. Few firms operating at capacity have “extra” engineering resources for the development of non-manufacturing endeavors. In these multi-disciplined firms, when an  engineering problem needs to be solved before manufacturing can continue, any available engineers are assigned to the task. Paul comments, “There is always a focus on the primary income source. Any action that could move resources from that source encounters great resistance. If there are problems on the floor, the necessary engineering resources are always on call to resolve them.” 



Paul Gleason, Director of Laboratory InstrumentationAs a result of familiar challenges in a limited number of areas, manufacturing support engineers usually don’t have the experience to do principal engineering. The types of projects they see are directly related to whatever the company manufactures. Paul notes, “An example is an optical component that becomes obsolete and needs to be redesigned. If the component is not part of their general manufacturing technical expertise they will either need outside help to fix the problem, or lose production time while the necessary experience is developed in-house.”


Design and Engineering Firms – The Product Developer Model






The business model for a product development firm is based on time and materials. They sell technical expertise and resources, not manufactured goods. The goal of a successful product developer is to supply their clients with the best possible manufacturable designs and ideas in a relatively short period of time.


Above is Paul Gleason. Before coming to Omnica, Paul worked with an OEM instrumentation manufacturer for 15 years.


Specialties are more diverse with this group compared to others. The engineers see a much wider range of projects than those in manufacturing companies. As a resource, experience in many areas makes them an especially good fit for technical products or those in feasibility studies. “You want your product design to be accomplished by engineers who are broadly versed in the possibilities of the art,” adds Paul.


Finally, product developers are not constrained to a specific manufacturing technique. Their job is to design for manufacture (DFM), then find a company that is a good fit for production. When the decision has been made to employ a product developer who will ultimately transfer the design to a manufacturer, Paul illustrates the advantages of working with firms who employ personnel familiar with the needs of a manufacturing environment. “They are in a better position to understand what it takes to get the labor content out of a device, how to iron-out potential liability and cost issues, and identify which manufacturing processes are most appropriate.”