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Achieving Effective Decision Support within

today’s Global Manufacturing Supply Chain


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Today's Decision Support Needs in Electronics

For many Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) the manufacturing process is not considered to be a core competency, so these companies have decided to use Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) companies to perform this task.  Although the business reasons for outsourcing manufacturing are clear and compelling, there are some challenges to making this strategy a success that are often overlooked by the OEMs. A key question that OEMs should ask themselves:

“If manufacturing is outsourced how can we get the shop floor data needed to ensure that key business processes within the Product Life Cycle continue to be effective?”

The Product Life-Cycle (PLC) of an electronic product is made up of several interlocking functions that need to collaborate in “near” real-time to successfully bring a quality product to the marketplace on time (see figure 1).  Internal collaboration based on sharing shop floor data and “tribal-knowledge” takes place on an informal basis and typically goes unnoticed as an inherent part of the PLC, until it is gone!  For example, a design engineer interested in measurement data from a prototype run to validate product specifications would make a request for functional test data. A second example could be a test engineer requesting failure data to validate test coverage.  In both examples informal requests for information would result in the transfer of data and knowledge between two internal teams, which results in improved decision support. If access to shop floor data is lost then decision support will erode. In the electronics industry the manufacturing process is a key producer of data that is needed by engineering or product-related functions within the PLC to be effective.

Decision Support 1

EMs can underestimate the impact of losing access to shop floor data and the informal collaboration that takes place within the PLC.  The challenge for the OEM is “how to bring the factory back to users within the product life cycle” once manufacturing has been outsourced or moved to a lower cost country. To be able to address this challenge it is worth looking at how shop floor data is used for decision support within the electronics PLC.

Within today’s electronics manufacturing supply chain there are two fundamental types of decision support that use shop floor data to be effective, those that support the Product and those that support the production Process.  Both types of decisions are important, as they are required to successfully bring an electronics product to the marketplace. 

If manufacturing has been outsourced, these two different types of decisions will not be the responsibility or focus of the OEM.  EMS companies will gravitate towards decisions that support the production process (i.e. Process Decision Support), while OEMs will focus on decisions that support their products (i.e. Product Decision Support) as shown in figure 2.

Decision Support 2

The two decision support functions can be outlined as follows:

Product Decision Support: is the process of capturing product data from anywhere in the manufacturing supply chain and allowing that data to be converted into the information needed to reduce the time and cost needed to get an electronics product to market.  Product Decision Support is ultimately the responsibility of the OEM.

Product Decision Support Goals:

  • Streamline the design effort to reduce the time to successfully launch a new products
  • Streamline the test engineering effort and costs needed to accurately validate product functionality
  • Eliminate external product failures and warranty costs
  • Meet industry regulatory or customer contractual obligations
  • Validate supplier performance and quality
  • Certify product performance to published specifications

Process Decision Support: is the process of collecting shop floor data in real-time and converting it to the information needed by the production process to maximize asset utilization and to reduce costs. Process Decision Support will remain with the OEM if they have captive manufacturing or it will be transferred to the EMS if manufacturing is outsourced.

Process Decision Support Goals:

  • Reduce manufacturing costs
  • Increase asset utilization and manufacturing throughout
  • Increase process quality
  • Reduce the impact of internal failures
  • Tracking and Reduce work in process (WIP)
  • Reduce response time to problem detection and resolution

Product Decision Support will erode over time if manufacturing is outsourced and data flow to the OEM is stopped, restricted or delayed, as key product-related functions within the PLC will not receive the data needed to be effective (see figure 3).

Decision Support 3

Although the loss of access to shop floor data might not be immediately catastrophic or even visible, this erosion in decision support will reduce the effectiveness of a wide range of PLC functions over time, resulting in increased time-to-market, shipment delays and more field failures. The erosion of decision support will have a larger impact on OEMs that make sophisticated products in highly competitive or regulated industries where “failure is not an option and is costly”!

Cloud-Based Decision Support

In order for OEMs to maintain effective Product Decision Support within the product life cycle (PLC) once manufacturing is outsourced (or moved to a low cost region), they need to put a solution in place that will facilitate automated shop floor data collection from anywhere in the manufacturing supply chain.  The solution must also centralize the data collected and provide access to anyone within a globally dispersed PLC.

The advent of cloud-computing and web-based technology has enabled companies to address the need to share data across dispersed business processes, so a similar approach can be taken here. A Cloud-Based Decision Support solution that uses web-based data collection and cloud-based data storage and analysis would enable OEMs to gain access to the data needed for effective Product Decision Support, as shown in figure 4.

Decision Support 4

Today’s manufacturing supply chain is made up of hundreds of smart machines that are web-enabled making automated data collection via the Internet seamless and easy. There are commercial solutions on the market such as Shop Floor Connect from Derby Associates that was specifically designed to provide a web-based data collection framework for the electronics manufacturing industry. Shop Floor Connect enables OEMs to centralize raw shop floor data in the cloud and have “near” real-time access to this data from anywhere in the global manufacturing supply chain. Once data is flowing from the manufacturing supply chain, it needs to be used by the OEM to improve Product Decision Support and/or to feed other internal enterprise systems. Effective decision support will require a data analytics solution that can convert shop floor data into information.  Derby Shop Floor Insight is a commercial web-based data analytics solution that enables OEMs to transform raw shop floor data into the historical and/or real-time information needed to improve performance and quality across the global manufacturing supply chain


Today’s manufacturing supply chain has significantly changed since the early 90s and OEMs have either outsourced manufacturing or moved it to a low cost region.  The result is a globalized manufacturing supply chain with internal and external service providers.  OEMs need to put a data management solution in place that will enable them to maintain effective Product or Process Decision Support so that they can meet their product goals regardless of the manufacturing strategy chosen. OEMs should leverage modern web-based technology and services to implement a Cloud-Based Decision Support solution, as this is in line with key trends within the Internet Era.  The solution must provide historical and “near” real-time access to shop floor data from anywhere in the global manufacturing supply chain.  Data should be centralize in the cloud and authorized users should be able to access and analyze the data for decision support from anywhere via the Internet.

Whether OEMs decide to outsource manufacturing or move it to low cost regions the technology and commercial solutions are available to “bring the factory back to users within the product life cycle” so effective Product Decision Support can be achieved.



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