Best Practices

Gain Insights for Your
Product and Quality Processes

Effective Manufacturing Change Management

Manufacturing Change ManagementFor small to mid-size manufacturers, a well constructed manufacturing process that maximizes the capabilities of your tools, parts and available labor is an essential part of an efficient go-to-market strategy.

To avoid unexpected problems that delay production and eat away at your bottom line, it is helpful to implement tools and processes that specifically address the potential problems in your manufacturing change process. This article provides definitions and tips to help you create more efficient manufacturing change processes that can be used within your organization.

Manufacturing change management: What does the process involve?

The first step toward an effective manufacturing change process is understanding how change is initiated and managed in your organization. A manufacturing change typically starts when a shop floor worker, supervisor or engineering team member identifies an issue on the manufacturing line—like glue failure or a line backup—and it ends when a solution that has been agreed upon by key stakeholders is implemented.

A good manufacturing change process feeds information back into the design process so engineers are informed about problems on the manufacturing line and can apply that information to their current and future design iterations.

Manufacturing changes should be documented so that problems can be addressed efficiently. When manufacturing issues arise, most manufacturers get the ball rolling with a manufacturing change request or manufacturing change order. We define these terms below:

  • Manufacturing change request (MCR) — A change request specifying proposed modifications to the manufacturing process or equipment.
  • Manufacturing change order (MCO) — A change order describing modifications to the manufacturing process or equipment.

Some companies combine MCRs and MCOs, or use them interchangeably in the manufacturing process, but even if you don’t differentiate between the two, the rules guiding this part of your manufacturing change process should be clearly communicated and established throughout your organization. The following tips outline how to create manufacturing processes that work.

Three tips for an efficient manufacturing change process

Tip 1: Cultivate a relationship between engineering and manufacturing.

To improve your manufacturing change process, create an environment that encourages a strong relationship between your engineering and manufacturing teams. Building these relationships can take time–and is by no means is easy—but it will impact your change processes significantly.

Engineers can participate in the manufacturing process by spending time on the manufacturing line. While roaming the floor, engineers get face time with line workers and leads, and receive feedback and comments they can use at the design table. Leveraging the experience of your assembly line workers and leads may also help uncover issues faster—perhaps even before they impact production. Additionally, by walking the line and observing the process, engineers may be able to identify areas for improvement, both in the line and in product design.

Reciprocally, you may want to involve your manufacturing team in the design process early on so they can provide input before your product rolls down the conveyor belt. Encourage sharing prototypes with manufacturing to learn how they would build them. By soliciting their opinion before production begins, you can avoid problems down the road and save time and money.

With hands on experience and interaction, engineering will be more aware of manufacturing issues and needs, and can design with manufacturing in mind. With early insight into product development, manufacturing can be better prepared for production. This give-and-take between manufacturing and engineering and the resulting benefits are best achieved when a foundation between the teams has been built.

Tip 2: Make it easy to communicate in your manufacturing change process.

In addition to encouraging strong cross-functional relationships, provide easy ways for everyone to discuss manufacturing changes so you can address issues on the line in an efficient manner.

As stated above, face-to-face contact between engineering and manufacturing teams will provide opportunities for information exchanges to happen naturally. But because engineering can’t be on the floor every minute of the day, it’s important that your assembly line workers and leads have other ways to document and share a manufacturing change suggestion—i.e. submitting manufacturing changes electronically or via paper forms. Consider including engineering on all change requests and orders so they’re informed of the manufacturing problems. This will give them food for thought they can use when making design decisions.

In some cases a manufacturing change dictates a change to an engineering process. For many companies, this means capturing a proposed change to a component, assembly or associated product documentation in an engineering change request or engineering change order (ECO), as shown in this example template. And like a MCO, an ECO must be circulated to a change board for review and approval.

Not surprisingly, the importance of communication is even more apparent when you have a multi-step manufacturing process. You can avoid problems, and keep the entire manufacturing change process in check by providing easy ways to communicate problems on—and off—the line.

Tip 3: Keep your manufacturing change cycles short.

With short change cycle times, you’re more likely to achieve your time to market goals. Create change boards that include key stakeholders and make it easy for them to participate in the change process. This way changes can be reviewed and approved quickly.

In many cases, the manufacturing change process tools you use will impact your change cycle times. Paper change forms offer a free way to capture, document and process changes, but they fall short when it comes to efficiency. With dedicated change management, manufacturing changes can be reviewed and approved faster.

When your change process is managed electronically common holdups like geographic boundaries—i.e. an outsourced manufacturing group—will not prevent you from getting information to the right people at the right time. Your manufacturing team can take pictures of the problem and then attach the images to a manufacturing change so the entire team can review. This ensures that even remote stakeholders can have instant access to the details of a manufacturing change and a visual example of the problem.

Make your manufacturing change processes work for you.

Manufacturing a product as cost-effectively as possible is a goal for most small to mid-size manufacturers. Because problems on the manufacturing line can increase costs and slash your revenue stream, it is critical to address problems efficiently.

To review—if you want improved efficiency and productivity on your manufacturing line, follow these three tips.

  1. Build a strong relationship between your engineering and manufacturing teams. The knowledge swap between the departments will set your company up for success.
  2. Provide easy ways for communication exchanges to happen so manufacturing change suggestions don’t go unheard. Your entire change process will go smoother when your team members can share manufacturing problems as they develop.
  3. Create effective change review boards and use tools to help reduce change cycle times. Include all key stakeholders in your manufacturing change review process and make it easy for them to participate.