Going to a large contract manufacturer or to a boutique systems integrator depends primarily on whether you require substantial amounts of custom electronics and fabrication.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Large Contract Manufacturers
Large contract manufacturers, commonly referred to as CMs, are generally best suited for devices requiring substantial amounts of custom fabrication. Though the systems are often driven by off-the-shelf CPUs, other electronics and the chassis are custom.
Devices requiring contract manufacturing are not generic in nature; they typically have specialized I/O requirements, custom packaging or specialized hardware circuitry. Customization of hardware to this extent will cost you more than off-the-shelf devices - both in terms of actual component costs and in development costs, implying either a very high-priced or high volume end-product.
The services available from the CM vary. Some CMs provide all the engineering necessary for development of a custom system; others require you to submit complete engineering specifications. CMs may build a complete system, loading your software, packaging the system and readying it for final shipment. Most often however, a CM builds specific components of the system, with some level of hardware integration, but leaves the final software loading and logistics to the system developer.
Advantages of a Boutique Systems Integrator/Virtual Factory
The ConRes OEM and Embedded Computing Group builds OEM systems based on off-the-shelf components and offers branding, packaging and custom low-tech components such as bezels and minor metal work.This typically keeps your costs low. A full range of services are offered including system planning, system assembly, logistical services, post-sale maintenance, and more.
This model is best suited for companies with a product or appliance built on standardized components, and for companies which desire to outsource as much of the manufacturing process as possible. In essence, he ConRes OEM team becomes your own 'virtual factory'.