Optimizing Engineering Change Management in a Virtual World
Long gone are the days of working from an office cubicle or meeting face-to-face with colleagues in a boardroom. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it not only tested manufacturers’ ability to keep production lines running—but forced manufacturers to adopt a new way of working.
In the wake of COVID, remote work has become the new normal for operations where there is not a need for manufacturing teams to physically build products on a factory floor. According to a manufacturing survey, most companies reported that employees will continue to work either partially or fully remote beyond the pandemic1.
So how does this shift to remote work and virtual teams impact manufacturers’ ability to maintain productivity and deliver innovative products to customers on time?
Most organizations would agree that engineering change management is an integral part of new product development and introduction (NPDI). It allows teams to create, review, and approve new or existing designs and ensures everyone is working on the latest revision. Yet, engineering changes are often managed with manual processes. And as teams become more dispersed, it can be difficult to drive effective reviews and get change control board (CCB) members to approve product designs quickly.
Ultimately, manual or paper-based engineering change management systems can cause design and manufacturing errors and lead to compliance issues and other bottlenecks that impact product launches.
Here we explore how companies can leverage a cloud-based product development solution to implement a virtual, real-time change management process and get products to market faster amid pandemics and other disruptions.
WHY ELECTRONIC CHANGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS ARE BETTER
To lessen the impact of unforeseen events, manufacturers must be able to quickly respond and address issues that affect NPDI. This means having an engineering change management system that facilitates real-time collaboration to speed product design and review cycles.
Manual or paper-based engineering change management processes can be very cumbersome and typically do not support today’s remote work practices. Passing paper-based (or even file-based) engineering change orders (ECOs) requires submittal and review by only one person at a time. They prolong the review process and make it difficult to review changes in parallel. In addition, these outdated processes increase confusion and errors caused by serial review processes.
In contrast, electronic change management systems make it easier to create, review, and release changes especially when teams are scattered across different locations. They can be configured to automatically route ECOs to the CCB team members all at once, or in parallel, if desired. This eliminates delays when one or more people hold up their review. It also provides a traceable audit trail to see which team members have reviewed and approved changes at any point in the process.
Electronic systems also provide more flexibility when it comes to assigning reviewers. Since manufacturers are often confronted with part shortages and other supply chain shocks, they need to be able to quickly notify others (e.g., multitiered suppliers) in addition to the CCB or add additional reviewers on the fly. This enables the entire supply chain to gain visibility and recommend changes or suggest new parts or suppliers should there be issues with designs or manufacturability. It also enables the extended supply chain to provide insights regarding supply chain risks or alternate sourcing.
ADOPTING THE RIGHT ENGINEERING CHANGE TECHNOLOGY
When evaluating different digital solutions for your engineering change process, it is important to consider how changes are tied to your product record and how dispersed teams will access, review, and approve the latest designs.
Because spreadsheets, email, file-sharing, or other manual approaches are not tied to the entire product record—they create data silos and communication gaps, making it difficult for teams to collaborate efficiently and process the rapid, continual changes that occur throughout new product development.
Cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) and quality management system (QMS) software solutions, on the other hand, aggregate all elements of the product record into a single, unified system. They provide electronic change management and ensure that engineering changes are always linked to affected parts, bills of materials (BOMs), training documents, and other critical records. This gives your teams easy access to the most current product information at all times.
Key engineering change capabilities for Cloud PLM and QMS include:
- Driving real-time engineering change reviews for internal and external teams
- Establishing approval roles and routings for different types of changes
- Configuring changes to automatically notify CCB or external reviewers (e.g., supply chain partners)
- Setting approval deadlines for CCB members and other reviewers
- Providing a convenient dashboard for teams to check outstanding assignments or notifications
- Capturing a complete change history with a traceable audit trail
To drive the successful adoption of a cloud-based engineering change management system across your organization, consider the following tips:
Get stakeholders involved in the process from the beginning.
As you start to develop your engineering change process, don’t just replicate what you’ve always done. Consider the power of the new solution and get feedback from key stakeholders across the organization. Engaging your team in the process will encourage them to embrace the system once it is fully deployed.
Train teams on how to use the system.
Some employees are resistant to any change. They may be reluctant to use an electronic engineering change management system, especially if they are accustomed to using manual or paper-based processes. Providing training and engaging your teams will make them feel more confident about how the new system can help them increase productivity and meet company goals to deliver products on time and under budget.
Keep it simple.
You don’t have to perfect your engineering change process right out of the gate. Start with the basics and then expand as your team becomes more comfortable with the system.
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To learn more about how cloud-based PLM and QMS solutions can optimize your product development processes and enable you to thrive, explore our latest white paper.