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Thermal sensor suppliers: What to look for in a long-term partner

Thermal sensor suppliers: What to look for in a long-term partner

As a purchaser, one of your main concerns is managing relationships with suppliers. At large corporations, the trend is to certify top suppliers to support strong, long-term partnerships and create value. The quality of customer-supplier relationships is now a key contributor to a company’s performance.

You often hear about financial savings, of course. But on the highly-complex thermal imaging market, the stakes are much broader. In order to ensure true collaboration between you and your suppliers, you need effective coordination. Communication, knowledge transfer, and a strong commitment on the part of both customer and supplier are crucial.

But when you are sourcing thermal sensors, how do you know what qualities to look for in a supplier?

Here are a few key points you should address in depth:

- Support setting up your project and the capacity to make technical recommendations

When integrating a new technology like infrared into your products or processes, you need a supplier capable of offering a full range of support services.

Whether your goal is to diversify your products or services or add value to your existing ones, you need to very carefully determine the technical scope of your relationship with your supplier.

A good supplier will be able to assist you in determining the scope of your project and identifying the most critical issues to address. They will also be able to find solutions, whether in-house our outsourced, for assembling your product.

Therefore, it is important to work with a supplier who is not competing directly with your company on the end product you plan to manufacture. Let’s take the case of a company that would like to integrate a thermal sensor into one of its systems. Here, it is a good idea to choose a supplier that only manufactures sensors (a component manufacturer), rather than a more vertically-integrated supplier (a module manufacturer). This is because a module manufacturer is more likely to be in direct competition with your product, addressing the same type of customer.

- Support with contracts and other legal issues

On the infrared imaging market, the rules for developing and/or integrating new types of components and products are strict, and obtaining the necessary authorizations can be tricky. This is why it is important to choose a supplier with proven experience applying for and obtaining authorizations.

Your supplier should also be capable of assessing any risks associated with exporting your products. Infrared is an advanced technology that is widely used in the defense industry, and some countries do not allow the sale of devices containing the technology to civilian customers. Your supplier should be able to advise you on the decisions to be made depending on the countries to which you plan to export your products.

Another important point you must address is customs and Express Consignment Carrier Facility (ECCF) filings. One thing to look for in a potential supplier is whether or not they have experience with these procedures for their own export business. And, as a manufacturer of products containing infrared technology, you will also be required to secure the appropriate export licenses. Here again, your supplier should be able to assist you with these procedures.

As for the product itself, you must ensure that it complies with environmental, confidentiality, and other standards (ROHS, REACH). Your supplier should be able to guarantee compliance and their own products and processes should also be compliant. Therefore, your supplier must know the applicable standards inside and out in order to effectively support you.

Finally, certain suppliers, especially when it comes to advanced technologies like infrared, require their customers to complete an ethics questionnaire to lay the groundwork for a long-term partnership built on trust. You should not consider this type of procedure an inconvenience, but rather as proof that your supplier is seeking a true partnership. It is also evidence that your supplier is committed to serving your interests.

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- Technical support during implementation and after-sales service

Support and service are crucial to your relationship with your supplier, so you need to do your due diligence. Your supplier’s capacity to provide you with long-term technical support and customer service over the long term is fundamental.

The ability to complete testing at your supplier’s facility is also a major benefit, as is hands-on training for your people so that they can rapidly get up to speed on the products.

Some suppliers have special testing and training centers where their customers can come and experiment with the supplier’s sensors.

Finally, some suppliers offer online services like a customer extranet where you can access your account information and get in touch with technical experts.

- Capacity to innovate and develop new products

You should ensure that your future supplier has the innovation and product development capacities to support you over the long term, serving as a source of innovation your company can leverage. Certain suppliers partner with technological research organizations to stay at the leading edge of research and innovation. Such partnerships are a huge plus. As a customer, you get the assurance that your supplier is constantly developing innovative solutions that respond to international market demand—exactly the kind of solutions you need to remain competitive.

ULIS develops its future product lines with technological research organization Leti and files between four and six patents per year.

In the space of a decade, pixel sizes have shrunk from 45 microns to just 12 microns, and product costs have come down significantly. Smaller form factors and lower costs have enabled manufacturers of surveillance equipment, driver-assistance systems, and low-end thermography equipment to integrate uncooled infrared detectors into their products and expand their business.

A solid thermal imaging sensor supplier must be your strongest ally on all of these issues. Setting up an “expanded company” with our supplier is one way to facilitate effective coordination. Your supplier’s capacity to support you in all areas should be a major factor in your choice.

Wolfgang Ulaga, a professor of marketing at Paris business school HEC, surveyed 400 Chief Purchasing Officers in Europe and North America and came to the same conclusion.
“Over the past several years, companies have transformed the way they manage their relationships with suppliers.” According to Ulaga, companies are moving from power-based relationships to long-term partnerships.

 

Interested in learning more? Get in touch with us! We will connect you with one of our in-house engineers to discuss how we can assist you.

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