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Checklist: Questions to qualify electronics original design manufacturers (ODM)

By Mark Zetter

Electronics product design and development is often outsourced to a contract electronics services provider. In such instances, the sooner an OEM engages the contract manufacturer for product design and development services, the better off the OEM will likely be when the product being designed moves into the production and ramp-to-volume phases.

In instances where the contract manufacturer is chosen by the OEM for strategic reasons, the contract manufacturer will likely have experience designing and manufacturing similar products which will aid the OEM to minimize costly design iterations, help bring the OEM product to market sooner and add various other quality-related benefits to the contract manufacturing relationship. (See, also: Sample ‘medical’ electronics product design contract)


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Below is a sampling of 59 questions focused on the type of information, and capabilities, OEM executives might want to look for when considering a contract manufacturer’s product design and development service capabilities. (See also: EMS Evaluation checklist and Top 5 mistakes OEMs make with EMS providers)

Any questionnaire presented should cover as many of the product design and development aspects as possible to help OEM executives gain a full understanding of the contract manufacturer’s tools, staffing experience, equipment and processes utilized with respect to, but not limited to, the following product design and development categories:

  • hardware / electrical development
  • PCB design & layout
  • industrial / mechanical design
  • system level design
  • software / firmware development
  • component engineering
  • change notice process
  • design validation and testing
  • review technique process (DFx)
  • quality & reliability assurance
  • software tools
  • compliance, safety and regulatory adherence


1. How many years of experience does the contract manufacturer have in designing and developing [product type]?

2. What target markets does the contract manufacturer design and build products for?

3. Where are their design facility locations? (included number of design personnel per facility)

4. Ask the contract manufacturer to discuss engineering staff turnover

  • number of design engineers hired in the last 2 years
  • number of design engineers who have left in the last 2 years


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5. Ask for revealing any alliances the contract manufacturer has with production, fabrication, test facilities, etc.

  • organization
  • nature of alliance


6. Does the contract manufacture have design skill capability in the following disciplines? (This portion of the questionnaire should be as specific as possible based on product and industry-specific product requirements)

  • Does the contract manufacture ‘sub-contract’ design work? (If the answer to this question is yes, consider presenting a similar questionnaire to your contract manufacturer, for him to present to the subcontractor)


7. How many years has the contract manufacture been involved in design activities for the [particular industry]?

8. What are the contract manufacturer’s core competencies in design and development? (Search EMS Resources Directory)

9. Is there a minimum business level dollar volume expectation?

10. Is it required by the contract manufacturer that all design and development contracts must also commit to contract manufacturing? (See sample hardware outsourcing contract)


Design flow

11. Ask contract manufacture to design methodology and flow. Flow must include at least the following:

  • input requirements
  • approval/design review cycles
  • all intermediate development steps
  • information transfer medium
  • final deliverables
  • test verification stages
  • handoffs
  • quality assurance stages
  • roles & responsibilities


12. What type of information transfer and archiving tools does the contract manufacturer use?

13. What tools are used to develop and maintain schedules and manage projects for design and development work (be specific)?

14. What collaborative tools does the contract manufacturer use to support design and development activities?

15. How does the contract manufacture verify if a design is manufacturable?

16. Does the contract manufacture have guideline requirements for ‘design for manufacturability’ (DFM)?

17. How and when does the contract manufacturer perform design verification? What is checked for verification and how are the checks enforced?

18. How and when does the contract manufacturer perform simulation? What is checked for simulation and how are the checks enforced?

19. What does the contract manufacturer deliver to his customer?


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20. What is the contract manufacturer’s overall test methodology and process (ask to include an outline of a typical test plan)?

21. Does the contract manufacturer design for testability?

22. Does the contract manufacturer have guidelines / requirements for ‘design for testability’ (DFT)? If so, what does he check, and how are they enforced?

23. How are test vectors generated?


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