What to Look for in a Satellite Electronics Manufacturing Partner

  • Celestica  |
  • 2024-05-23
What to Look for in a Satellite Electronics Manufacturing Partner

Every day, across every corner of the world, people are looking for instant, reliable communications—whether in remote rural areas, at work, or in planes flying across the ocean. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, supported by a broader connectivity ecosystem, enable this insatiable global demand for communications bandwidth.

As a result, demand for LEOs has literally ‘skyrocketed’ – and only continues to gain momentum. According to Markets and Markets, the LEO Satellite market is projected to grow from USD 12.6 billion in 2024 to USD 23.2 billion by 2029.

While this has opened a floodgate of new opportunities for satellite manufacturers, it also creates new challenges. Manufacturing satellites at this scale requires extensive, specialized supply chains, engineering strength and world-class manufacturing capabilities.

Many companies are outsourcing the production of subsystems to strategic industry partners to augment their internal capacity. These complex systems must be produced quickly and cost-effectively, and operate reliably in space environments. But with so much at stake, how can today’s space and connectivity companies ensure they are choosing the right partner? One who can effectively accelerate their time-to-market with reliable levels of quality and delivery. In this article, we’ve summarized the top three key attributes that satellite original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should consider when choosing a trusted manufacturing partner to help them achieve their goals and capture market opportunity.

1. Proven supply chain strategy

Strong, resilient supply chains are vital lifelines for every business. This is particularly true when producing highly advanced, complex electro-mechanical systems such as LEOs and ground terminals on a mass scale. Given the unique nature and limited size of the Space supply chain, having a partner with an established network of global suppliers—offering components ranging from commercial off the shelf (COTS) or automotive grade to radiation hardened (rad-hard) enables an OEM to be flexible and proactive. Ensuring that an entire ecosystem of qualified suppliers is readily available across the globe provides confidence that key components can be reliably obtained and adds vital resilience to the manufacturing network.

Effective inventory management is essential as materials or inventory can be a significant expense, with some components costing thousands of dollars. Choose a partner with sophisticated inventory management systems, stringent processes in place and expertise in managing high-value inventory.

Due to a variety of factors, material availability and cost challenges can arise. The right manufacturing partner should be able to recommend equally effective alternate components when necessary to mitigate supply chain disruptions. To ensure resiliency, your partner should also have a robust Design for Supply Chain (DfSC) approach to mitigate risk and dedicated commodity resource experts who have a deep understanding of the market and risk factors, and develop strategies to ensure security of supply.  Lastly, the best manufacturing partners will analyze key risk indicators that could impact the supply chain. Ask for detail on how your manufacturing partner plans for the unexpected. Do they constantly monitor geo-political, trade, health, environmental, and industrial issues with the potential for global or regional impacts? What are their supply continuity plans? Can they provide multiple global sources for key components? Some risks can be easily forecast, while others can’t. Are they using predictive analytics to proactively mitigate risk? What is clear is that the best partners are prepared to adapt and readjust.

Supply chain checklist:
  • DfSC approach, driving supply chain resilience at the component level
  • Sourcing optimization with dual sourcing strategies
  • Market intelligence to navigate market fluctuations
  • Proactive risk management through predictive analytics
  • Management and collaboration with sub-tier suppliers
  • Real-time event monitoring for supply chain agility

2. Engineering and process development expertise 

The ability to scale from prototype to production is critical in the manufacturing of LEO satellites. Mega constellations, or LEO networks, can be composed of hundreds, if not thousands, of satellites. The methodologies and requirements used to create initial prototypes are very different from those needed for manufacturing at volume. The production of identical products at this scale requires the development of efficient, repeatable manufacturing processes that are cost effective and reduce variability to near zero. In addition, the latest advancements in LEO satellites are driving increasingly complex printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA). Recognizing that these boards require unique manufacturing processes, from shielding and underfill to specialized conformal coating solutions and system performance calibration, while ensuring chemical cleanliness of surfaces, is critical to consistent product reliability. Mistake proofing, and identifying and controlling critical processes that impact reliability are key to avoiding devastating failures. Production errors that lead to costly rework, delivery delays, or worse – inoperable hardware, will put you at a significant disadvantage. In space, there’s no room for error.

Ask your potential partner about the measures they take to enable flawless processes. Does their manufacturing engineering team offer Design for Manufacturability (DfM) analysis? Do they frequently and successfully take products from prototype to full-volume production? Do they identify, monitor and control factors that could affect the manufacturing process, reduce costs, and improve quality?

When getting to market quickly is top priority, world-class engineering and process development capabilities that optimize time-to-launch and cost, and adhere to quality, industry, and product standards are essential.

Engineering and process development checklist:
  • Reputation for engineering excellence
  • Experience supporting similar products from prototype to high-quality volume production
  • Rigorous processes to enable flawless launch 
  • Strong DfM capability

3. Global Manufacturing Excellence

Bringing the future of satellite telecommunications to life demands the ability to combine a range of complex process manufacturing technologies and capabilities, including ruggedization, combining optics and electronics, signal integrity analysis, and more. When identifying a potential partner, ask about their manufacturing experience, capabilities, and areas of specialization. Are they experts in ruggedization and wireless testing solutions? Do they have thermal, mechanical, and vibration lab testing facilities? Satellites have to reliably operate in space environments, and for an extended service life. Does the partner understand the production test strategies and ruggedization solutions required to ensure peak performance and longevity, while helping you meet program cost targets?

Choosing a partner that offers this level of manufacturing excellence globally will provide you with access to a reliable network of worldwide resources including manufacturing sites, services to support optimized product launch, localized suppliers, and market efficiencies. Additionally, a partner with a proven track record of successful program transfers to support NPI volumes, with seamless transitions to lower-cost geographies for larger volume support ensures your product gets to market when expected.

Manufacturers such as these are best positioned to help their customers meet their cost, quality, and time-to-market objectives while mitigating risk. When assessing potential manufacturing partners, investigate their global reach. Where are they located? Which sites are most experienced in manufacturing similar products? Beyond manufacturing capability, what other services do they offer to support successful product launches? Can they offer manufacturing, process development and product design engineering resources to solution your various needs, and do so in the regions you operate?

Finally, it is vital to seek out manufacturers that already hold and meet the most stringent international certifications and standards—including ITAR compliance, Nadcap for Electronics, AS9100 certification, and IPC J-STD-001 Space Addendum. These partners will also be in a position to provide valuable guidance as you navigate any uncharted regulatory territories. Be sure to probe their understanding of these requirements, and their ability to support them.

Global Manufacturing Checklist:
  • Experience assembling a range of complex technologies 
  • Ruggedization capability
  • Robust production tests and solutions
  • Strong focus on quality
  • Global network of capable and experienced sites
  • Reliability Planning, HALT and HASS execution

At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust. An established Space supply chain; world-class design, engineering and manufacturing teams that can make recommendations to ensure you meet your cost, quality, and time-to-market goals; and a track record of seamlessly transitioning from low to high volume production or managing product launches across a global network are a must.

Identifying a trusted partner with strength and experience in these three critical areas is essential for success. Asking the right questions up front will ensure you can launch your products with confidence—and guide your business into a future full of possibility.

Your Partner for a Successful Launch

As the world’s leading electronics manufacturing services provider to the Aerospace and Defense industry, Celestica expertly drives innovation in mission-critical applications. Today, we’re positioned to take a leading role in expanding the enormous potential of LEO satellite technology — supporting companies in their journey to capture market opportunity through proven product lifecycle solutions that drive accelerated time-to-market, lower total cost of ownership, regulatory compliance, and quality.

From design to development and delivery, we bring global expertise and insight to every stage of product development — so you can launch your next product with complete confidence.

Discover the Celestica difference today!