My First Visit to a Contract Manufacturer – Flextronics

Over the past 8 months, I have been writing firmware for a consumer electronic device. If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout this project, it’s that taking a good idea and turning it into a sellable product is a lot of work! I used to think that coming up with a good idea was the hardest part. In reality, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, the product I’ve been working on will be in mass production in less than a year. Just recently we began the phase of early-manufacturing and Design Validation Testing (DVT). To help support the process, I booked a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit the contract manufacturing facility, Flextronics. The reason for my visit was to help set up and prove out testing equipment that would be used to validate the functionality of devices that are manufactured. However, while I was there, I got to witness much more of what goes on during the early stages of developing a manufacturing process. It was quite an eye-opening experience.

With any large project you tackle, there are always going to be surprises — things that don’t quite go according to plan and test the limits of your problem solving skills. This project was not exempt. We started out the week with a list of issues that filled an entire white board. What I was not expecting was the incredible level of customer support that was provided by the Flextronics team.

During my time at Flextronics, the staff carried out their work with such care and ambition, I often had to remind myself who the product owner was! It was extremely comforting to see that the people assigned to our project were so knowledgeable and showed an apparent interest in the success of the project. At Atomic we like to hire people who give a shit about what they do. It is clear that Flextronics does the same.

Beyond the outstanding customer support, the Flextronics facility is quite an amazing place to see. The campus was originally built as a manufacturing facility for IBM computers. You remember those, right? Eventually, IBM sold off the personal computer product line and the facility was bought by a company called Solectron that used it to make routers, switches, TVs, and other consumer electronics. In 2007, Flextronics purchased Solectron. According to Wikipedia, Flextronics is now “the second largest global Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) company by revenue, behind only Taiwan’s Foxconn.”

While I was there, I got to witness an electron microscope in action. It was being used to take extremely precise measurements of very small parts. I also got to use a walk-in Faraday cage. That’s basically a metallic screen room that is designed to block most electro-magnetic energy. We used the room to test wireless communication capabilities in isolation from any other radio waves.

Visiting Flextronics was my first experience with a large contract manufacturer. I suppose it’s possible they all operate with the same level of support, but I highly doubt it. I would definitely recommend Flex to anyone who is looking to get started in high-volume manufacturing in the future.