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What is an Engineering Change Order (ECO)?

This article defines engineering change orders (ECOs) and describes the role they play in new product development (NPD) and manufacturing.

Engineering change order (ECO) definition

An engineering change order (ECO) is a document that specifies either new product design details or proposed changes to existing products. ECOs provide a list of all the components, assemblies, and other documents that are affected. The engineering change order is sent to all key stakeholders (change control board or “CCB”) including engineering, quality, procurement, manufacturing, and external design teams or supply chain partners in many cases. Every CCB member is responsible to determine the impact of the change order and whether the ECO can. be implemented as planned and on time. CCB members will approve or reject the change and when all CCB members have approved the ECO, then it can be acted upon.

ECO Summary of Change View

The role of ECOs in engineering change management

The change process starts when someone identifies an issue that may need to be addressed with a change to the product. It ends when the agreed-upon change is implemented. ECOs are used in between to summarize the modifications, finalize the details, and obtain all necessary approvals.

Product Change Management: Three Challenges, Five Fixes White Paper

Often small to medium-sized businesses make do with the tools they have to manage their product data. Paper, spreadsheets, and email are often used throughout the product development and engineering change management processes. These tools can wreak havoc when product information is released into production.

But there’s no need to settle for inefficient, frustrating product change management. There are other options to help control product information and share changes across the organization and supply chain.

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Key Stages of the engineering change process:

  1. Issue identification & scoping:

    Someone identifies a problem or issue and determines that it may require a change. The scope of the issue and its possible impact are estimated.

  2. ECR creation:

    An engineering change request (ECR) is created to examine the necessity and feasibility of the change, to identify parts, components, and documentation that might be affected, to estimate costs, and to list the resources required to implement the change.

  3. ECR review:

    The ECR is circulated for review and discussion among key stakeholders and is modified as needed.

  4. ECO creation:

    Once the ECR is approved, an engineering change order (ECO) is generated, which lists the items, assemblies, and documentation being changed and includes any updated drawings, CAD files, material disposition codes, standard operating procedures (SOPs) or manufacturing work instructions (MWIs) required to make a decision about the change.

  5. ECO review:

    The ECO is then routed to a change control board (CCB) made up of all stakeholders (including external partners when appropriate) who need to approve the change.

  6. Approval Notification:

    Once the ECO has been approved, the affected individuals are notified that the engineering change should be implemented.

  7. Change implementation:

    Those responsible for implementation use the information in the ECO to make the requested change. While an engineering change order is used for many changes, some companies will use other types of changes as well. These include manufacturing change orders (MCOs) and document change orders (DCOs).

ECO Routing And Approval

ECO benefits

While you may groan at the prospect of pulling together another set of documentation, an ECO is a critical part of keeping product development on track and making sure product information is accurate. A good ECO contains the full description, analysis, cost, and impact of a change, and a good ECO process ensures that all stakeholders have bought into the change. Having an organized method of handling product changes reduces potential design, manufacturing, and inventory errors, minimizes development delays and makes it easy to get input from different departments, key suppliers, and contract manufacturers.

Following good ECO practices also makes it easy to document a full history of what changes have been made to a product and when they occurred. In industries with regulatory requirements, like the medical device industry, having a full history of every change to a product is mandatory. (Depending on the industry, change orders and even the change process itself may be audited by a regulatory body.) Keeping a record of product changes will also help you debug any problems that occur after your product launches. The task of identifying and fixing the root cause of any problem is easier when you have a complete product change history.

How Did Affirmed Networks Reduce ECO Cycle Times By 90%?

Affirmed Networks is transforming mobile. With Arena’s cloud-based PLM solution, Affirmed eliminated silos and increased team visibility to keep all teams on the same page.

Using streamlined ECO processes, engineering change cycle times were reduced by 90%.

By providing controlled access to the product record, Arena reduced product design confusion and versioning.

In addition, Arena produced the following results:

  • Reduced engineering cycles by 90%
  • Eliminated need for costly five-person IT management team
  • Boosted sales enablement processes

Without a clear ECO process in place, making a change to a product can set off a chain of costly, time-consuming, and avoidable events. Take a part switch that happens late in the development process. Engineering may tell manufacturing to be aware of the new part, but if that information is never conveyed to the purchasing department, the old part will be ordered. When the components arrive, manufacturing will not be able to assemble the product, and its launch will be delayed until the new part is obtained (most likely with some rush charges incurred along the way).

Engineering change orders make it possible to accurately identify, address, and implement product changes while keeping all key stakeholders in the loop and maintaining a historical record of your product. Without them, miscommunications occur that lead to delays, incorrect purchase orders, and improper product builds.

Engineering Change Orders: Paper-based vs. electronic software systems

Managing ECOs
With Paper/Manila Folders
Managing ECOs
With Electronic Systems
Cycle Time
  • An ECO is normally reviewed by one person at a time or in a joint in-person meeting
  • If multiple copies are distributed, edits must be consolidated and reviewed again
  • Paper ECO can be misplaced
  • ECO review can be a long process (weeks)
  • ECO can be reviewed by multiple people via electronic distributions
  • All edits are made to a single version, so no consolidation is needed
  • ECO is always available online
  • ECO reviews are accelearted
Signature Process
  • Early approvers won’t be aware of edits, necessitating additional rounds of review
  • Official approval disappears if the ECO file is lost
  • Harder to maintain a clean, complete history of changes
  • All approvers sign off on the same set of documentation
  • Electronic signatures are 21 CFR part 11 compliant, a requirement for the medical device industry
  • Automatic maintenance of clean history for audits
Issue Resolution
  • Individuals need to be tracked down to resolve problems
  • May need to wait for change control board (CCB) meeting to review and discusses with other affected teams
  • People’s comments can be viewed, so hold-ups can be quickly resolved
  • Can easily see who hasn’t signed and request approval electronically
Package Format
  • Large paper file of documents and drawings must be printed
  • Tedious and labor-intensive to pull together information from many locations
  • Electronic documentation is environmentally friendly
  • Easy to create and access ECO when managed in the same system as underlying product information


Companies need to be able to adapt quickly in today’s constantly changing environment, and often that means making changes to their products. Engineers make modifications during development and production with the intent of adding functionality, improving manufacturing performance or addressing the availability of a particular part.

To make sure proposed changes are appropriately reviewed, a solid process is critical—especially if members of your product team are scattered across multiple locations (for instance, design engineers in Boston, the manufacturing team in Texas, and component manufacturers all over the world). At the heart of a solid engineering change management process is the engineering change order. Read about five fixes that can help improve engineering change management.

Learn how Arena PLM can help you control your engineering change process, accelerate your engineering change order review and approval processes, and eliminate ambiguity when communicating product changes to your extended supply chain. Also check out our free ECO template.