Power Conversion Systems: Three Manufacturing Options

In our recent blog posts we’ve been discussing specifying and sourcing power electronics in order to help you better understand your needs as well as the various design and manufacturing options available to you. These options range from using an off-the-shelf power conversion system, to designing and building your own power conversion system in-house, or partnering with an outside vendor to handle some combination of custom engineering and product manufacturing.

Manufacturers who consider building their systems in-house typically do so for three reasons: cost, control, and competitive advantage. If your company’s resources, expertise, and workload all support the option of designing and/or building your application-specific power converter in-house, either in part or in whole, you have three basic options:

  1. Design, produce, and assemble the entire power conversion product or system, using outside vendors only to supply the necessary components, such as IGBTs,capacitors, heatsinks, and cabinetry, as well as ICs and passive components for controlprinted circuit boards (PCBs).
  2. Purchase modular, OTS or semi-custom components and subassemblies from outside vendors and assemble the pieces in-house, perhaps using a standard modular platform as a base.
  3. Design your power conversion device or system in-house and contract out manufacturingto a qualified vendor to build the final product.

If ownership of the entire design and manufacturing process isn’t realistic, you’ll be faced with the arduous task of selecting outside vendors with which to partner.  The reality is this decision can make or break the success of your project or product launch.  As such, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate potential vendors in order to identify the ideal candidate to partner with.  When evaluating vendors consider the following:

Is our products design and manufacturing requirements within the vendor’s core competencies? Are they really just a manufacturer or distributor of components or do they have the design engineering and build expertise to help with our application specific needs?  Semi-custom product design’s often fail when companies engage with contract manufacturers to also provide design engineering services.  Rarely do these vendors have the technical expertise to handle difficult engineering tasks.

Do they have existing similar or standard solutions that can be modified?  Semi-customization of an existing, proven platform is almost always the least expensive, time-consuming, and lowest risk approach.

Are they cost competitive? Do they have the design engineering and/or production capacity, capability, and experience to cost-effectively provide our power electronic solution?

What type of support do they provide? Does your vendor provide comprehensive support for your power conversion components during and after manufacture and delivery?  Who will provide support?  The more specialized your system is, the more critical it becomes to have access to manufacturing and test engineers intimately familiar with your product and application.

Are they experienced in qualifying your type of power electronics? Does your vendor have the experience, expertise, tools, and resources to thoroughly qualify your power conversion system for safe, reliable performance?

Can they meet your production schedule? It’s not enough for a power management systems vendor to be able to provide the right solution for your requirements. They need to be able to do so consistently and reliably, delivering proven products on time and on budget.

Careful planning and the effective use of outside vendors can help manufacturers gain a competitive edge and reduce their cost and risk.. However, it’s important to spend the time to qualify the vendors you choose to partner with, as making the wrong choice can result inadded expense, time delays, and potentially unreliable or even unsafe power electronics.