Are engineering change requests a necessary part of your process?
Although a solid engineering change management process is essential to product launch success, it’s easy to fall into overly complicated, unnecessary, or legacy practices. This is particularly common with the engineering change request (ECR) process.
ECRs are a precursor to product changes and are a way to record a discussion around a problem or an enhancement related to your product record. In some cases, if ECRs are not used correctly, by the time you craft the ECR, add in the appropriate documentation, review it with the product engineer, and send the ECR around for approval, initiating the engineering change order (ECO) may be redundant.
So, if your ECRs are being used as quasi-ECOs, do you need them?
What Is an Engineering Change Request?
ECRs describe proposed enhancements to a product design and serve as a collaboration tool when there are questions regarding your product record, documentation, or cost/change impacts. ECRs provide an opportunity to review, discuss, log issues, and respond to questions or concerns before making formal changes.
What Is an Engineering Change Order?
In fast-moving product companies, engineering change orders provide a more formalized way to create, review, and approve changes between all impacted teams outside of engineering.
Once an ECR is approved, an ECO is generated. An ECO lists the items, assemblies, and affected documentation, and includes any updated drawings, CAD files, material disposition codes, standard operating procedures (SOPs), or manufacturing work instructions (MWIs) and is sent to all key stakeholders/change control board (CCB) for review. In many cases, the CCB includes engineering, quality, procurement, manufacturing, and external design teams or supply chain partners.
Distinguish Your ECR and ECO Processes
ECRs are an important part of the change process for most companies. However, you must know why you are writing ECRs in the first place and enable the right people to participate in the ECR process.
As explained above, an ECR typically initiates the change process and promotes discussions only within the engineering team to help determine the impact of a change and the best possible solution. An engineer will write an ECR before every ECO in most companies and send it to the key engineering team leaders for approval. Once approved, it’s common to create a more detailed ECO form to put through a similar process but generally with key product team members outside of engineering. In this example, the ECR is a fairly unimportant part of the overall change process.
To make the most of your ECR process and distinguish it from your ECO process, consider using ECRs only when further discussion is needed before implementing a formal change.
Engineering Change Processes Save Time
Most companies use ECRs to document proposed engineering changes before investing more time to create detailed fixes or solutions to problems. Companies that use product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions can benefit from controlled and automated change review processes that allow all dispersed teams to stay on the same page while driving to product launch. ECRs are a great way to informally collaborate on an issue and capture key concerns or possible solutions before teams invest the time to document and route a formal ECO to all key stakeholders.
Some organizations even use engineering changes as a way to accelerate the resolution of customer complaints. One innovative way to do this is to link your customer complaint or customer relationship management (CRM) system to the request process in your PLM solution. We have companies like Kinsa that have done this to speed the customer feedback loop. Kinsa’s customer support team can quickly escalate a ticket generated in Zendesk to a product customer complaint in Arena with the click of a button.
Other companies use engineering change notices (ECNs) in addition to ECRs and ECOs to further improve collaboration with suppliers and contract manufacturers. This helps every supply chain partner proactively engage and address any design issues or problems with assemblies or components (e.g., environmental compliance issues, material availability). Encouraging suppliers to initiate and submit engineering changes also gets them involved in driving continuous improvement. And, for some companies, using ECNs to communicate approved changes with suppliers and contract manufacturers ensures they’re using accurate and up-to-date information.
Making changes to products is inevitable in today’s constantly shifting environment. As products become more complex and teams are more dispersed efficient change processes are necessary to speed change review and approval and improve communication. Using ECRs to discuss issues and address proposed product fixes saves time and money before bringing your extended product and supply chain teams into the ECO review and approval process.
So, consider your goals and team requirements, and choose the optimal engineering change process to drive product development success. For more best practices, consider this white paper on breaking down barriers to product innovation.