For most companies, manufacturing changes begin when an issue is identified on the manufacturing floor and end when a solution is implemented into a product’s design. But there are a million ways to manage what happens in between—and how you navigate this gray area can either help you or hold you back. To ensure that changes are effectively implemented across internal and external teams, it’s important to develop solid manufacturing change processes.
What goes into creating a manufacturing change process?
Here are some things to consider as you’re developing your manufacturing change process:
- How are manufacturing change orders (MCOs) initiated?
- Who are key stakeholders?
- How are disagreements resolved?
- Who needs to sign off on each part of the process?
- What is an acceptable amount of time for deliberation?
- How is the resolution communicated to the floor?
- How are different touch points managed along the way?
These are just some of the questions that need to be answered to develop a manufacturing change process that works—and as you may have noticed, communication is at the heart of each one.
Not only is communication essential for developing a manufacturing change process that addresses problems efficiently, but it is also necessary to ensure that changes are properly shared with internal teams and external vendors. If you’re looking to develop effective and organized communication between your manufacturing and engineering teams as well as other stakeholders, here are some steps you can take.
How do you encourage communication between manufacturing and engineering?
The first step to building strong relationships between your engineering and manufacturing teams is to encourage regular interaction between these departments. There are many ways to do this. Engineers can get involved with the manufacturing process by spending time on the manufacturing line. This simple act allows engineers to get face time with line workers and leads, receive feedback and comments they can use at the design table and show their interest in the manufacturing process. In addition, by observing the day-to-day challenges of production, engineers may be able to find places to optimize their product design.
On the flip side, involving your manufacturing team in the design process early allows them to catch potential production challenges before the product reaches the assembly line. Encourage your engineers to share their prototypes with manufacturing to find out how they would build them. By soliciting the opinion of your manufacturing team before production begins, you can catch problems early—perhaps even before they impact production—and save time and money.
With solid give-and-take between manufacturing and engineering, engineering can design with manufacturing in mind, and manufacturing can be better prepared for production. This win-win situation is only possible when an open and communicative relationship is established between these teams.
Adopt formal systems that facilitate communication between teams and external vendors
Even with open lines of communication between engineering and manufacturing, it’s important to adopt a standardized system for initiating, evaluating, implementing and reviewing manufacturing changes. This provides your assembly line workers and leads with formal ways to document and share manufacturing changes—besides flagging down an engineer—and helps you optimize the process. As you can imagine, having a clearly documented system for implementing change is even more important for teams with multi-step manufacturing processes or remote manufacturers, suppliers or distributors.
Be sure to include all key stakeholders in your manufacturing change review process and make it easy for them to participate. You can use paper change forms to capture, document and process changes, but especially for remote teams, you may be better off using tools that allow everyone to provide same-day feedback—like a change management software program. With electronic change management systems, you can bypass common holdups like geographic boundaries so information gets to the right people at the right time. (Full disclosure — this is one of the main reasons so many companies adopt Arena bill of materials (BOM) and change management software.)
Providing easy ways to communicate problems on—and off—the line makes it easy to resolve small problems quickly and educate stakeholders about bigger problems before they impact business. For more tips on managing the manufacturing change process, check out our article, “Three tips for creating a manufacturing change process that works.”