Sub-Assembly Manufacturing in Mexico: Q&A with NovaLink Engineering and Information Systems Manager Manuel Campos

Manuel Campos Sub-assembly manufacturing

Manuel Campos is Engineering and Information Systems Manager at NovaLink. We recently sat down with Manuel to get his opinions and expertise on sub-assembly operations, what type of products are good fits, what is the most important aspect of starting a sub-assembly operation and answers the debate of manufacturing in Mexico vs. China for the best fit for assembly of complex manufacturing products. 


What Is Manufacturing Sub-Assembly and What Is Involved in It?


Essentially, sub-assembly in factories is the processing portions of a final product, in addition, sub-assembly teams also analyze the process to make the intended item in the most efficient way: reducing the idle time and maximizing throughput as well as improving efficiencies.


Usually the term “assembly” or simple assembly, is related only to the work in the main assembly. But those assembly tasks that may appear as only a small portion of the process may result in processes needed for improving the production of the final product. For example, this might include expediting the product flow by reducing waste which could be key to reducing the processing times. It might also include estimating the task times for the product and having preliminary operations ready or components complete in order to be incorporated to the final product.


It’s much more involved than just getting the components for a product and putting them together; there’s a lot of analysis that goes into the flow of the assembly line and being able to see what processes work most efficiently. When you see the full picture of a Mexico manufacturing operation, you then have the ability to break it down to the smaller components to ensure that everything that you are adding to the product assembly is actually a value-added task.


What Types Of Products Are Good Fits For Sub-assembly?


The most common are products that have a variety of components involved: the automotive industry is a good fit for sub-assembly as it’s a type of product that has literally thousands of components involved in making a full vehicle.


Other good business opportunities for sub-assembly would be electrical or mechanical products. Besides the automotive industry, the medical industry is also greatly benefited by incorporating the sub-assembly practice into their productions.


For example, in building or creating a medical pump there are many, many components and a great amount of time is spent having to reverse-engineer the product, to break-down all the components: the hoses, the valves, the electrical components, etc., to get a clear understanding of what is involved in making the pumps. They can be very complex.


In reality, almost all industries have, or benefits from, incorporating sub-assemblies into their final product.


Is Sub-assembly Production Labor Intensive? Does It Need a Great Amount of Operators?


Not necessarily, no. Let’s say you have a sub-assembly process setup for producing cardboard boxes.


After analyzing the process for making the final box, this sub-assembly might be broken down into different, smaller tasks: getting all the supplies together, getting the cardboard sheets made up, getting the type of machine that can make the final product. When you have machinery involved, the labor portion is just for loading and unloading the sheets. You discover there is actually not much labor in it at all.


So, it depends on the industry and it depends on the product you’re making that dictates whether or not what’s going to be labor intensive or what’s going to be a semi-automated, or if it’s going to be fully automated.


What’s The Most Important Thing A Client Needs To Know Or Understand Before A Sub-assembly Production Can Begin?


If you’re a new prospect reaching out to NovaLink considering reshoring manufacturing, the first thing we are going to be asking is how well you understand your existing supply chain. What lead times do your vendors have? What capabilities do your vendors have? Do your vendors have minimum amounts for key materials?


Another important thing to know is how do you plan to do your purchasing according to your manufacturing demands? If you are able to plan ahead for these questions and have the materials and availability in place, then starting production at the factory is actually the easiest part: we can then support you in preparing for available stock for keeping your line running. If that knowledge is not available, which usually gets done during the ramp up process, you may have the risk of having lines down because of lack of materials, or you have the risk of having a line down because of a product variation that was not considered at the very beginning of the planning phase.


Now, that’s not to say that a product variation is an issue or obstacle in materials supply. NovaLink can always aid you in overcoming these. But material variation can be avoided as an obstacle if it is planned for in advance.


Another key question to be asking: how well do you understand your bill of materials and how do you handle the waste and the costs of newer materials?


A common error is the belief that if I buy a thousand pieces of X components that it will translate into a thousand finished products. However, that’s not the case in most scenarios: there will be some waste that may be incurred by your suppliers or vendors, and some by process of execution which might be material related or even manpower related.  Once we start touching the material for producing the product, new material needs to be applied in order to satisfy or guarantee a good quality product at the end of the line.


Those types of variations impact product production the most. Clients should be aware that at all times we are using our expertise to optimize the manufacturing production plan: We can look at the production and discover ways to improve it; for instance, perhaps it can be improved by reducing time, or by adjusting the criteria, or changing the method in which the product is being produced. For example, having machinery involved into the process. And in some cases, when the customer is launching a product for the first time, there is also the opportunity to optimize the final product definition. We have the opportunity to interact with the client and explain why certain characteristics or certain features of the product can be modified to meet, or to exceed their expectations.


Why Would You Say That Mexico Is A Good Fit For A Sub-assembly Production?


First of all, the pool of talent in Mexico is very diverse in its skillset. There have been many industries established in Mexico for many years and the workers here have experience with many of them. Over the last 20 years there have been industries in Mexico that are not only labor intensive, but also have a technical aspect that has been proven to be well executed in Mexico.


Whether it is automatic electronic equipment or high power, industrial equipment, or the kind of IT-related things such as the assembling of computers, PCs, and main boards…Mexican labor is very skilled and able to adapt.


In the apparel industry, there’s talent in Mexico that has been proven over time that has the manpower, the knowledge, and the skill sets required for any textile industry: I would say the worker is the most valuable asset that Mexico can provide.


The pool of talent that we have at NovaLink, where most of the employees have more than 10 to 20 years working with the company, provides you a culture that is proven to produce results immediately. There is no need for six months to ramp up.


In addition to the talented labor pool, there’s also the benefits of having the borders close for material transit…having many different entry ports. Entry ports for moving the parts and products in and out of the country. I believe these are the best benefits for the clients.


And these benefits are attractive to manufacturers not only because it may be affordable (or not.) It’s because the benefits that are associated as a package greatly outweighs the benefits of anybody who’s thinking in just terms of costs: affordable labor or not, you’re not going to get that skillset in the variety that is available in Mexico.





Supported by over 30 years of experience, NovaLink has provided shelter or contract manufacturing services to a variety of industries. Whether it is a product that requires precision and high tolerance, or a product that has been commoditized, NovaLink operates at an advantage.

Do you need a nearshore manufacturing partner or solution for your business? Contact NovaLink today: 956-621-7362 or visit our website:




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