Selecting Instrumentation for Contract Manufacturing

Selecting Instrumentation for Contract Manufacturing

Contract Manufacturers operate in a very interesting market space, where they apply a rather narrow range of specialized equipment and know-how to a seemingly endless array of projects for an ever-changing set of customers.  Companies that provide contract manufacturing typically specialize in a defined type of production – that is, a specific style, material, media, process workflow, scale, or discipline of work – but not on a single set end product, brand, or label.  

For example, a medical device contract manufacturer may be founded on their distinct capabilities in molding, sealing, and sterile packaging of microelectronic implant devices, and may put those skills to work producing everything from Pacemakers to wild animal RFID tags.  The company works for multiple customers, so it does not associate itself with any single brand or product line, instead striving to stay as widely available to any buyer needing such services as possible.  This manufacturer’s competitive advantage then is rooted in two separate arenas:

  • Manufacturing Technologies – the manufacturer holds very specific, high-performance tooling, equipment, and procedures that it can use in a myriad of different ways to produce any product that fits its honed skillset.
  • Component Technologies – the manufacturer will strategically source raw materials and components to use within their assembled products which best align with their competitive objectives.  

To put this into the context of process instrumentation, we find from the above that contract manufacturers have two separate needs in their businesses:  

  1. Manufacturing Equipment Instrumentation – these sensors will be installed on production equipment, selected based primarily on plant operational metrics.  Examples include a liquid level switch on a case glue sealer, or a low pressure vacuum switch on an autoclave.  
  2. End Product Instrumentation – these sensors will be installed into the end products being manufactured, selected primarily on price and functional economics.  Examples include a vacuum sensor on a medical ventilator, or a temperature switch on a handheld heat gun.     



Instruments for Contract Manufacturing Equipment 

Let’s look at a few key interests of selecting instrumentation for contract manufacturing equipment below.


Process Reliability 

Most contract manufacturers tend to run in a batch production format, where they set up their production lines for a particular product, run that batch order volume through completion, and then changeover the lines for the next product batch.  With batch operations, experiencing a production upset can have a domino effect on subsequently scheduled batches, wreaking havoc on a plant’s schedule.  For this reason, process instrumentation selection is largely part of a wider plant reliability initiative, calling for instruments that are designed and delivered with high availability and repeatability in mind.  When reviewing your options, consider features such as these found on Whitman sensors:  high accuracy (+/-0.25% of span), high cycle lives (25-50 million cycles), and harsh environment tolerance (IP67, NEMA 4X ratings).   


Technical Pre-Order Support 

Carrying on from the above point, the risk of process upsets can be greatly reduced by taking the time to engage with experienced application engineers before an instrumentation order is placed.  A second set of eyes to help select an instrument, confirm specifications, and discuss options goes a long way.  Ensuring that the device selected is the best choice for the wide variety of product types that contract manufacturers handle over a long period of time is worth the phone call or email.  Too narrow of a selection may work fine in the short term, but may not meld with future production nuances if they’re not discussed prior to order.  



Very often, contract manufacturers expand their production capabilities by adding individual new machines or toolsets to their lines, allowing them to take on new projects once they have the additional means.  Over time, a manufacturer might find themselves with dozens of different equipment pieces now requiring hundreds of different instrument manufacturers, technologies, and styles to maintain.  This can very quickly become a maintenance nightmare, not to mention a heavy burden for Quality Assurance and Compliance record keeping.  Standardizing instrumentation selection is the solution.  This is most easily achieved working with a supplier such as Whitman that can understand your full range of requirements and apply matching configurations to their customizable base product lines.  The results are fewer different product models with similar, interchangeable, common features such as connection types, wiring styles, adaptor sizes, and configuration ranges.      



Instruments for Contract Manufactured End Products 

If the above key considerations apply to the equipment making contract manufactured products, what different considerations might there be for instruments placed within these products?  


Full-Tilt Customization 

While standardization should be the name of the game for your production environment, contract manufacturers may benefit more from offering wider customization in their end products in order to win more varied and profitable projects.  Whitman addresses customization in a couple different ways that are especially useful here, producing standardized fixed features (such as housing sizes and wiring styles) while providing customizable circuitry (such as sensor ranges and sensitivities).  If this semi-standard offering is too restrictive, full-tilt customization all the way down to housing material, shape, and connection types can be accommodated to best support your project’s needs.   


Rapid Prototyping 

Contract manufacturing exists in part due to the market’s demand for cutting-edge products.  This tendency often translates into demand for ‘the next best thing’, which keeps product designers in a constant endeavor to release new product models in relatively short periods of time.  Because of these tight product lifecycles, contract manufacturers are pressed to rapidly prototype concepts in the search for the next viable product.  Instrumentation suppliers that understand this drive towards rapid prototyping and highly iterative development cycles can best support contract manufacturers by supplying engineering samples, unhoused test circuity, and non-branded sensor cores.  


Economical, Streamlined Procurement 

We’ve covered customization options at length above, but what about end products that only need off-the-shelf, low cost instruments acquired with as little fuss as possible?  Contract manufacturers working on this side of the spectrum should look for instrumentation partners that directly support low-friction procurement to get you what you need straight away.  Online ordering, common product configurations, standard economical cost models, high stock volumes, and same-day shipping are just a few of the ways that Whitman supports your quick-order needs.     

As a veteran-owned business, Whitman Controls is dedicated to supplying premium quality, reliable, technologically advanced instrumentation for use in nearly any application.  Our Bristol, CT manufacturing facility embodies over 40 years of engineering, fabrication, and customer service expertise, serving both end-user and manufacturing customers nationwide through direct and distribution channels.  Our values drive us to provide the highest level of servant partnership that you can find.  To discuss your applications or to learn more about our capabilities, please contact us at (800) 233-4401, via email at [email protected], or online at