Contec Helps Lookout Worldwide Inc. Lower Manufacturing Costs Dramatically While Ensuring Reliability.
Lookout Worldwide sought help with the design, development, and production of its alarm system for boats, vessels, and industrial equipment. Its unique Ambush alarm system would not only help owners recover items when stolen but would include breakthrough prevention capability by measuring much smaller changes in alignment and location than was possible from GPS monitoring alone, alerting authorities before vessels had moved more than a few feet. But the Ambush system would require a combination of high end communications, including GSM radio technology, iridium satellite technology, and digital compass technology, along with a GPS system, accelerometers, firmware, and software to allow the system to interface with a user friendly online database. The key challenge was to put all of this technology together in a small package and keep manufacturing costs down, while ensuring the highest possible standards of performance and reliability. “Although we were offering a product that does more than any other on the market, we knew it still had to be priced competitively,” said Lookout Worldwide’s Vice President and Marketing Manager, Ernie Sosa. “And it had to perform at the highest level. We chose Contec after visiting their manufacturing facility and seeing how dedicated they are to quality.”
Working closely with Lookout engineers, Contec took over both the design and manufacturing of the alarm system, focusing on ways to keep production costs down. Contec engineers began by committing to design a single platform for both the cellular and satellite based versions of Ambush so that a minimum quantity buy would cover both devices. They also reduced costs by using only two PCB layers. This was a major achievement given that competing products with much less capability were using a minimum of four PCB layers and some had as many as eight. In addition, the design allowed all parts to fit only on the top of the PCB so that it would require one pass instead of two at the PCB shop. To further reduce costs, Contec provided built-in auto testing capability, and it searched diligently for lower cost components that would still meet or exceed reliability standards. But the biggest savings came from using easy-to-assemble surface mount components, which cut labor costs substantially.
Contec managed to reduce Ambush’s manufacturing costs by more than 50 percent. “We estimate 30-40 percent savings due to using surface mounts and another 15 percent from having just two layers of PC boards,” said Sosa. “In the end we were able to produce a system with far more capability than our competitors’, keep it competitively priced, and not compromise one inch on quality.” In fact, some design features that lowered costs also improved reliability. The surface mounting of components, for example, not only reduced labor but ensured a consistent build because a machine controls the process and temperature of the soldering. Contec also found solutions to another challenge: how to have Ambush’s power supply be stable yet run at a very low current to use minimal amounts of a boat’s battery. Designers also made sure the ungrounded system would stand up to the major power surges that occur when boats start up. Finally, Contec took on the management of Ambush’s warranty program, including repairs and administration. “They were always looking beyond the scope of work to help us be successful,” said Sosa, noting that Contec designers pushed to make both versions of Ambush significantly smaller than originally envisioned, giving boat owners more options for hiding the devices onboard.
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