As electrical equipment has grown more sophisticated and complex, the demands have become more, well – demanding. From a top level point of view, whether your equipment is on an aircraft, in a hospital, or even out in the field, success relies on three basic things:
Power distribution – the right values in the right places at the right times.
Signals and data – correct format and protected from corruption.
Environmental reliability – operating reliably in the environment that they live in.
If you are in search of an integrator/box builder that can handle your environments reliably, we will guide you below so that you understand what to look for in a company so that you get exactly what you need for your next box build.
Most technology companies have a level of expertise in circuit design, and maybe some testing. They plan to outsource the box and probably the cable assemblies, figuring that the rest is just assembly and connections.
Let’s dig a little deeper into one facet of the design: cable assemblies. Unless you have a dedicated, ongoing cable assembly requirement, the likelihood that you have exactly the correct wire bundle configuration (conductor size, wire jacket type, shielding, flexibility and environmentally sealed connectors available) is pretty small. Specifying exactly the right requirements puts the responsibility on your design team and has a higher risk on this critical class of component.
This same example can be carried on to the box design; securing the internal wire bundles, the proper level of EMI protection, making sure all the connection are reliable based on the shock and vibration environment and so on. After all, there is a reason that there are a number of professional organizations that are dedicated to high quality box builds and carry the certifications to attest to their quality and reliability.
We recommend that you at least check with a couple of contractors that have this expertise before committing your own technical resources and capital expenditures.
A professional Systems Integrator (or Box Builder if you prefer) usually will be certified for quality workmanship and adherence to strict standards by a number of organizations. If you are looking for a company that is capable of doing your job, start with their qualification standards.
Even if you don’t require a specific standard, it still signals to you that they have a quality system in place and should give you more confidence in their ability to perform. For example, here are a few certifications to look for:
(Aviation, Space and Defense) This is the Aerospace quality management system, and includes regular audits. It is revised periodically and the latest revision is indicated by the D at the end.
International Industrial Quality Standard. Includes regular audits, usually in conjunction with the AS9100 audits.
Formerly the Institute for Printed Circuits, indicates a professional level of certification for assembly, workmanship standards and repair of printed circuit board assemblies. There are several standards under the IPC organization. For example, certain certifications indicate a level of expertise suitable for teaching to the standards.
This is a sampling standard developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) along with the American Society of Quality Control (ASQC).
NSF-ISR is the certifying body for International Strategic Registration for protection of controlled unclassified information. There is an international Industrial certification under ISO 9001 and an Aerospace version for ISO 9100.
Which is the International Traffic in Arms Registration means that a company is capable of working with sophisticated technologies without running afoul of government regulations against export of certain specific technologies.
There are many other standards organizations as well. Just be sure that if you need your project built to a specific standard that it is one that the contractor can provide.
Consistently, one of the weak links in any design is the connectivity of the electronics. Whether inside or outside of the box, whether a circular connector or a terminal strip termination is called for, the number of ways that problems can arise at connections points is legend. A lot of these are covered under the IPC standards, so that is one certification to pay special attention to.
In addition to following the IPC standards, your candidate company should have the expertise to put together custom cable assemblies as needed. Having the in-house capability to build connectors with overmolded backshells for environmental sealing gives you the versatility to get exactly what you need for your application.
An experienced company will be a good design partner as well. They will take their years of experience in understanding what things can go wrong and why and you receive the benefit of that experience. Things like Design for Manufacture (DFM), field experience, and project management are some of the built-in benefits of using an experienced partner. Your chosen vendor may even be able to have the ability to “future-proof” the design so that it operates as intended for the design life (and usually well beyond) through planned evolution.
We’ve covered the primary areas of expertise that should help you with selection of your Box Builder, but there are a few other more subtle things to look for. A lot of the additional things to look for boil down to vertical integration. One of the clearest advantages of vertical integration is the ability to rapidly prototype concepts, build (or re-build) components quickly, build molds and create injection molded parts, or even 3D printed parts, manufacture metal or plastic boxes and possibly encapsulate electronics when required.
They may also be able to provide a testing program (shock, vibe, and certain electrical regimes). However environmental testing can also get pretty complicated pretty quickly and there are plenty of test labs that have made the capital investment for the right equipment. On balance, if your Box Build vendor only needs to run some simple temperature, shock, and vibe testing, and that’s all you need then that’s great. For more sophisticated testing and/or wide spectrum EMI, you’re probably better off with a dedicated lab.
The next time you have a project that is combining electronics, power, and is encapsulated or built into an enclosure – consider the advantages of outsourcing. Look for a supplier that has the right certifications; is experienced especially with connectivity issues and has the ability to provide a suitable enclosure as a minimum. Beyond that, if they have special equipment or expertise that is integrated into their processes, you’ll save a lot of time in the turnaround of design iterations. Time saved equals money saved – especially for custom projects.
Questions? Reach out to us anytime.
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