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Definition: contract manufacturer


An organization that makes products under contract for other companies. It caters to the OEM market. In the computer and electronics fields, thousands of products are manufactured by contract manufacturers. These products are ordered by and branded with the OEM's name, which sells them to its customers.

Contract Manufacturers Can Be Large
Some of the most popular products are made by contract manufacturers. For example, Microsoft's Xbox game machine is made by Flex, formerly Flextronics Corporation, with factories around the world and nearly $30 billion in sales in 2023.

The ODM
An "original design manufacturer" (ODM) is similar to a contract manufacturer, but typically owns the intellectual property (IP) for the product itself, while the regular contract manufacturer uses its customer's designs and IP. Contract manufacturers can make hundreds or even thousands of different products, but ODMs often specialize in only a handful of categories.

EMS and CEMS
Contract manufacturers in the electronics field that not only make products, but offer assistance with the design and supply chain generally prefer to call themselves "electronics manufacturing services" (EMS) or "contract electronics manufacturing services" (CEMS). See OEM.