Are engineering change requests a necessary part of your process?

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What's the pointAlthough a solid change management process is absolutely necessary, it’s easy to fall into an overly complicated, unnecessary or misunderstood engineering change request (ECR) process—especially if your process lacks purpose.

In some cases, by the time you craft the ECR, add in the appropriate documentation, talk it over with the product engineer and send the ECR around for approval, the engineering change order (ECO) is completely redundant.

So if your ECRs are just being used as mini ECOs, do you really need them? If the same people go through the same process twice for every change, and there are no real differences between ECRs and ECOs, what’s the point of having both?

Give your engineering change requests a purpose

While there are some exceptions, ECRs are actually an important part of the change process for most companies. However, it’s important that you know why you are writing ECRs in the first place, and that you enable the right people to participate in the ECR process.

In many companies, an engineer will write an ECR, send it to key players for approval and then write an ECO to put through the same process with some additional people included, like the VP of engineering.  In this example, the ECR is a fairly unimportant part of the overall change process—especially if most people ignore the ECR on the first round, knowing there is an ECO coming.

In many ways, having engineers come up with ECRs is somewhat contrived. When an engineer submits an ECR, it’s not usually to request a change; it’s to propose a solution. To make the most of the ECR process, and separate it from the ECO process, consider incorporating customer, supplier and manufacturing feedback into your ECR process.

How can you make the most of ECRs?

Some companies use ECRs as a way to document proposed, accepted and rejected engineering changes, particularly in highly regulated environments. If you’re using Arena BOMControl, ECRs are a great way to informally discuss an issue—and capture the discussion—before you create a formal change.

In smart organizations, engineering change requests are a formalized way people outside engineering can make recommendations for change. Within our customer base, we see this in a variety of ways.

Some organizations use ECRs as a way to capture customer complaints. One really innovative way to do this is to link your customer case system to the request system in your PLM tool.

Other companies use ECRs to increase/improve communication with suppliers. You may not want to loop your supplier into your ECO process, but when you think about it, your supplier is in a perfect position to catch problems with the parts you’re purchasing, or notice places you can optimize across product lines. Encouraging suppliers to submit ECRs gets them involved, but is less of a commitment than an ECO.

In general, ECRs are a great way to capture suggestions without incorporating everyone into your ECO process. ECRs can capture defects at all levels—supplier defects, shop floor defects, customer concerns, feedback from sales. A natural flow might look like this: a product issue comes in from customer support, an incident report is created in your customer care system and the ECR to ECO process begins.

If you are leveraging change requests properly, you will stop thinking of them as busy work, and start thinking of them as a way to incorporate more relevant feedback into your process.

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About the Author

Alex Gammelgard
Alex managed social media marketing and communications at Arena from 2011 to 2012. Although coming in fresh to the manufacturing industry, Alex is married to an engineer and is well ... Read More 

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