Newton's Cradle: The end-user market impacts OEMs and vendors further up the supply chain.
Supply Chain Challenges
Being an original equipment manufacturer is a weighty responsibility. As an OEM you provide critical components for your customers’ products, and you never want to be the bottleneck that holds up production.
OEMs of optical products face special challenges. Optical elements require precision fabrication, which can entail a long lead time. Those lead times are compounded when a component requires custom optics. In such a situation it can become difficult to supply a customer’s needs consistently without ending up with an expensive inventory of unsold components.
Here are three suggestions for optical OEMs to ensure that you receive quality custom components at the rate you need.
1. Understand your customer’s customer’s market.
By definition, an OEM doesn't sell directly to the final consumer; your optical component is a part of a part, and may even be a part of a part of a part…of a part. For example, a single custom lenslet is a very long way from being a microscope, and yet the microscope market will affect demand for that lenslet. It’s to your advantage to monitor how the products you support are selling. Anticipating changes in demand lets you adjust your production rate accordingly.
2. Choose a fabrication method that matches your long-term production needs.
It is easy to get lost in performance specification. Just because an optical supplier can match your quality needs does not mean they can meet your quantity. Is your market volatile? Is demand accelerating? Do you need rapid prototypes? These factors should be in the forefront of your mind when selecting your custom optic vendor.
3. Identify potential optical suppliers before you lock in your optical design.
Occasionally there is a mismatch between a supplier’s fabrication rate and your production rate. It doesn’t mean the design is "wrong;" it just means that the custom optical component, as designed, cannot be made at the rate at which you need it. Often hunting will reveal the right optical supplier with the right tools to get the job done.
Sometimes, however, the problem is intractable. It can be a material issue (e.g. hardness, brittleness, availability, etc.), a size issue, or a curvature issue. In such a situation, you’ll be grateful you are in position to adjust your optical design, production rate, or quality specifications.
The common theme in all of these points is anticipation and communication. Make sure you understand both your customers’ needs and your suppliers’ capabilities, and think in the long term about how either of those aspects might change.
Ross Optical maintains an inventory of OEM customers’ hard-to-find standard optics. If you have a sudden increase in demand, your optical components are always in stock. That supply provides a buffer while Ross ramps up production to meet your new needs. We can also arrange to stock custom optics upon customer request. Learn more about our inventory solutions, or download our supply chain guide.
Our optical engineering team can help optimize your design for performance and cost savings, and we’ll make sure it can be manufactured at the rate you require. For more information or to discuss your OEM project, email our chief technical officer, Lisa Yang, at firstname.lastname@example.org.