Integrated Manufacturing Solutions: an EMS, ODM, CM, and OEM!

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Integrated Manufacturing Solutions (IMS) is a contract manufacturer in San Diego, California, where exciting things are happening. IMS has grown at a rapid pace, having expanded from 15 employees to 75 within three months, and from two production lines to five within the past year. With every new addition to the shop floor, VP Business Development Robbin Thompson further creates a space where IMS can surround their customers, and themselves, with all the necessary tools and solutions to bring their ideas and creations to life. IMS continues to expand their capabilities by making their own customized battery packs as well as an impressive new line of microscopes. Judy Warner and I sat down with Robbin recently and had a thorough discussion on how all of this works at IMS.

Barry Matties: First, would you please tell us a little bit about IMS?

Robbin Thompson: To begin with, the reason for the “integrated” in our name is because we don’t want to be situated where we’re just building printed circuit boards. We want to offer customers some varied solutions. We have our own line of microscopes that we’ve created and developed and designed here on site. The purpose behind that is because we found a need on our production floor for a microscope that required better stability, better articulating norms, and something that could better the production workers by giving them a good tool to use. Chris Nguyen created a new company call Innovative Microscopes in order to bring these new Microscopes to other contract manufacturers and to market.  

Matties: Is IMS a contract manufacturer first and foremost?

Thompson: First and foremost, yes; we started off that way. Then we decided just to offer more solutions to our customers and build up a new product development department. This started with engineering and from there we went into box builds. From box builds, we went into various testing equipment and programming, and now we’re into battery power management, so we’re offering that solution for lithium-ion batteries for customers who need customized battery packs instead of off-the-shelf. We felt the need to not just concentrate on being one type of company. We wanted to open it up and truly have a one-stop shop.

Matties: People can come in and if they want you to just load their board, assemble a box, you do that?

Thompson: Yes.

Matties: But you’re also developing your own products as well that you sell under your brand name out to the marketplace? So you're an OEM as well.

Thompson: Yes, were not limiting ourselves. We don’t want to do that because we don’t want to be in the same situation year after year. We want to give our customers an option.

Matties: I know it probably becomes more like an original design manufacturer, right?

Thompson: Yes, that moves into the ODMs and the CMs.

Matties: You’re just moving all the way through this (laughs).

Thompson: We get bored sometimes; we always want to continue.

Matties: My first thought is how do you manage that? That’s a lot of bandwidth and a lot of different disciplines that for a lot of companies would be terribly difficult and maybe even take them off their core mission.

Thompson: You’re absolutely correct, and that’s why we want to make sure we’ve taken steps. This has been a growing process; it’s not all at once. We’ve been able to identify and organize it in a way to say, “Okay, we’re at this point. Now, we’re able to move in this direction,” and have the right people in place. Our core team here is so important, and having the right people here to oversee the various elements that we provide is key for us. We want to make sure that we continue with that.


Matties: On the CM side, what sort of market do you pursue?

Thompson: We are in every market right now. I would say we’re in the defense department, military, consumers, etc.

Matties: Of course, military is always a big area, but is there a sweet spot for you in the other markets where you say, “This is where we’re going to really focus our growth”?

Thompson: Military is a big area; defense is a big area for us. We have a couple very big contracts with some of the big defense departments here. It’s funny because we’re building these cat boxes out there, and at the same time another customer came in and says, “I need a board that can identify rat tattoos.” Then we’re also building rat cages for another customer. We build vapes, and we build anywhere from tags or online banking products that you see in all of the gas stations and such. We’re literally all over the map.

Matties: We’re here at your facility, and you’re expanding. How many square feet do you currently have?

Thompson: 28,000.

Matties: It sounds like you're kind of bursting at the seams already.

Thompson: Yeah, what we were able to identify was five production lines. Three of those productions are strictly for volume production. We get a lot of engineers in here and I’ve wanted to have an R&D line just strictly for them. So we created two prototype lines just strictly for engineers.

Matties: So engineers can come in and test their product.

Thompson: Yes, and that's the thing— we open our doors up to engineers. They’re welcome to come in anytime. We’ll give them a bench if they want to test their stuff, just to try and help move it along for them.


Matties: You’re really about educating your customers as much as servicing them.

Thompson: That’s key because customers will come in and they really don’t understand how the process works. We want to be able to build that partnership and build that relationship with them.

Matties: I’m guessing that there’s a lot of longevity here in your customer relationships.

Thompson: There is. We’re building a volume product right now for the Bank of Denmark. We’ve been building this product’s prototypes for the past two and a half years and now they’re finally going into the marketplace to be used all over Finland and Denmark, for consumers. You want to build up that relationship because they could take this offshore, but they decided to stay with us because we’re so involved with it.


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