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>The fine art of full turnkey assembly

UK CEMs now have to be as versatile as ever to survive and prosper in an ever-changing marketplace and one of the recipes for potential success is by providing real value-added services to customers. Full turnkey assembly is a buzzword synonymous with UK manufacturing at the moment and is a term used to describe the whole manufacturing process from design to despatch and everything in between. It’s certainly good work if you can get it but Derbyshire-based Kingfield Electronics seems to have perfected the art and its managing director Nick Taylor claims that full turnkey assembly accounts for around 80% of the company’s total business. Dave Tudor reports.

Kingfield electronics was started by Nick’s father in 1985 and in those days was involved in the design of laser particle sizing equipment. “We had no actual premises in those days and operated out of the family home,” Nick explains, “but to cut a long story short, the royalties from the sales of those products provided us with an income stream and from this we expanded into providing PCB assembly and sub-assembly services to several local companies.”

Core competences

And the growth continues to the present day. With a turnover of around £5 Million and steady year-on-year growth, Kingfield now employs 52 members of staff and occupies around 19,000ft² of real estate. But as Nick divulges, it became apparent very early on that the company’s core competence was in box-build and providing a total assembly service. “We definitely are not a PCB assembler that just happens to build boxes,” he affirms. “In fact just the opposite – from a very early point in the company’s history we saw ourselves primarily as a box-builder who also happened to offer PCB assembly services as well. I believe this is a major differentiator between us and the competition.”

Full turnkey assembly

With such an emphasis on the box-build element, it’s not difficult to see why Kingfield reports that full turnkey manufacturing forms a large part of its total business. For many CEMs the evolution starts with PCB assembly and expands from there, but with Kingfield, the box-build service was always the core competence. “It was always our intention to provide a complete service,” says Nick, “and consequently we’re very strong in the field of design and particularly design for manufacture (DfM). This is an area of the business that is constantly expanding and we like to get involved with the customer right at the front end of a project so that we can offer advice and expertise on DfM, PCB layout, legislative requirements – in fact the whole process. It’s important to remember that many of our customers are purely design and marketing organisations and so look to us to provide the actual manufacturing expertise to turn a concept into reality.”

Calling on resources

As well as having a strong in-house team, Kingfield, through established partnerships with industry experts can also provide solutions for specialist applications. “We have customers involved in very niche markets such as RF and microwave engineering,” says Nick, “and through these established relationships we are able to offer expertise in many diverse areas. From the customer’s point of view it’s a seamless exercise because we handle everything but behind the scenes we’re able to call upon a wealth of external resource for almost any application.”

Next year the company plans to offer a design service that will extend even further back into the process. Nick appreciates that while the majority of his customers already have a design concept prior to manufacture, this isn’t always the case. “We have had instances where the client knows what the final product should do in terms of functionality, but has no particular design in mind. From next year, we’re looking to offer this service to complement our existing portfolio, but it would be true to say that this forms a relatively small part of our business. Most of our clients are large OEMs designing complex, specialist equipment and so in most cases, our input is needed with the manufacturing side.”

It’s all in the build

The total range of services offered by Kingfield is extensive and includes complete product design encompassing hardware, software, compliance and product aesthetics, global material sourcing and supply chain management, rapid prototype turnaround (PCB assembly and full box-build), low-to-medium volume PCB assembly, test and full box-build and system integration. According to Nick, the difference with Kingfield is that a large percentage of its customers want the full turnkey assembly service. “It would be true to say that over 80% of our output is finished boxes,” he confirms, “and much of the products we manufacture are destined for complex, high-value, high quality, high-reliability applications in market sectors such as military and defence, pharmaceutical, industrial, scientific and medical.

“Our customers are happy for us to handle everything and that often includes actually shipping to the end-user’s premises. We’re not really in the business of just being PCB assemblers and in fact we would tend to subcontract this type of work out to our partner companies based in the Far East, because often it’s just not cost-effective for us to do it here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in the present economic climate, if all we did was populate PCBs, I’d be very concerned about the future of the company. Cheap and cheerful is certainly not our bag at all.”

Kingfield Electronics is able to add more flexibility to its manufacturing operations by implementing a number of material management strategies such as Vendor Management Inventory (VMI), Kanban, JIT and a brand new ERP system. “In our business we have to be flexible,” remarks Nick. “Customers will often not state final order details until late on in the build so we have to have systems adaptable enough to cope with last minute configurational changes and still get the work done in the permitted timescale. Over the years we’ve become expert in this and it’s definitely another of our core strengths.”

Supply chain matters

As part of its supply chain management system, Kingfield puts considerable importance on its selection of suppliers, preferring to foster effective business partnerships rather than simply placing purchase orders. The company has an established vendor base that over the years has demonstrated capability in delivering quality and cost-driven solutions. Up until recently, due mainly to the type of work it undertakes, Kingfield has resisted the option of low-cost manufacturing but as Nick explains, times are changing. “We began to investigate low-cost manufacturing options about 18 months ago, mainly to remain competitive in the marketplace particularly with processes such as PCB assembly. Some of our biggest customers were starting to look at offshore manufacturing so it made sense for us to manage the process for them if it was applicable.

“My plans for next year are to purchase all blank PCBs from low-cost sources, outsource as much of our PCB assembly as I can and also some of the light mechanical and sub-assembly build that we undertake. In effect, what Kingfield is evolving into, is an interface that provides the customer with a number of options and solutions. If the client is highly price-competitive we can use a Far Eastern manufacturing option, but this is backed by our stringent supply chain management process and all the robust systems and backup mechanisms that we have in place here. Alternatively for more complex builds, we would make the decision to manufacture here in the UK. Contrary to belief, not everything lends itself to low-cost manufacturing both in terms of product and cost and in certain instances it would definitely be the wrong decision.”

Another of Nick’s goals for next year is to target educational institutions and universities. He has passionate views on the UK being a nation of inventors and innovators and thinks that this is something to be encouraged. “Through my own father who was himself a designer and an inventor, Kingfield Electronics was born and has developed into the successful company it is today,” he says. “A lot of good ideas are being developed in our universities and research centres and we have the capability to turn those concepts into real products. This is very much something that I’d like the company to be involved with and it can only be good for UK electronics manufacturing in the long-term.”

Written by Dave Tudor, published in the December issue of the EMP Magazine.