Navigating the Process of Change: A guide to Engineering Change Management

March 17, 2023

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Engineering change management (ECM) is essential for organizations that manufacture, design, or engineer products. The process involves documenting and approving any changes made to the product design or manufacturing process.

Proper management of engineering changes can lead to improved product quality, faster time to market, and better communication between stakeholders. However, managing engineering changes can be a complex process that involves multiple departments, workflows, and stakeholders.

This article explores engineering change management, its importance, and the steps involved in the change management process. We also look at some best practices for managing engineering changes and the tools and technologies available to support the process.

What is engineering change management?

Engineering change management is a systematic approach to managing changes to product designs, manufacturing processes, or supply chain operations. Engineering change management involves the documentation, review, approval, and implementation of changes to a product throughout its lifecycle.

The process ensures that changes are evaluated for their feasibility before they are implemented. It also provides traceability and accountability for all changes made to a product, ensuring that stakeholders are aware of any modifications and why they were made. This helps minimize the risk of errors, rework, and delays that may arise if changes are made without proper review and approval.

Engineering change management is essential in achieving product quality, maintaining regulatory compliance, and keeping up with technological advancements.

Engineering design process defined

In the engineering design process, engineers follow a series of steps to design, develop, and produce a product that meets the customer’s needs. Let’s explore the different stages of the engineering design process and how engineering change management plays a crucial role.

Concept

The concept phase is the first step in the engineering design process. During this phase, the design team must define the product concept and identify the customer requirements. The goal is to create a comprehensive understanding of the problem that the product is intended to solve.

In today’s highly competitive markets, engineers utilize various metrics as well as quantitative research from market analysis, user feedback, and customer surveys to identify opportunities and create a product concept that meets the customer’s needs. Engineers then create detailed designs that meet those requirements, providing valuable insights into the product’s viability.

To ensure that the concept is viable, the team must develop a feasibility study, which involves the technical and commercial evaluation of the product. This process considers several factors, such as product development cost, production costs, product quality, and market potential.

Detail design

Here, the engineering team takes the product concept developed in the previous stage and produces a detailed design that meets the customer’s needs. This phase involves creating exact specifications and design requirements for the product.

Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create detailed 3D models and schematics of the product. This allows the team to visualize the product virtually before committing to building a physical prototype.

This phase aims to create a design that is both functional and able to be manufactured. In addition to creating detailed design specifications, the team will identify materials, manufacturing processes, and assembly methods used to build the product.

The engineering team must consider product reliability, durability, and serviceability factors during the detailed design phase. This phase is critical as it lays the groundwork for the next step, which involves building and testing a physical prototype of the product.

Using project management tools (like Asana) to support the detailed design phase and manage project schedules and milestones is common. Product lifecycle management software is also valuable to manage product information and ensure that design revisions are up-to-date and accessible to all team members.

Choosing the best product lifecycle management software for your needs is important for effective collaboration and communication.

Production release

During this stage, the design is finalized so the product can be manufactured. Here, engineers work closely with the manufacturing team to ensure that the design can be produced using the available manufacturing processes.

This involves reviewing the design for manufacturability (DFM), which may mean making changes to a design to ensure it’s optimized for a specific manufacturing environment.

The goal is to manufacture the product at the lowest cost and highest yield. The team also considers other factors, such as the availability of materials, manufacturing lead times, and production costs.

Once the design is finalized and approved, the engineering team will release the design to the manufacturing team for production. The team will create detailed manufacturing instructions at this stage, including a bill of materials (BOM), assembly instructions, and other production-related documents.

These documents provide a step-by-step guide to the production process, ensuring that the product is manufactured to the correct specifications.

This phase also involves final testing and validation of the product to ensure that it meets the necessary quality and performance standards. This may include testing the product in real-world conditions or conducting laboratory tests.

The results of these tests are used to verify that the product is ready for commercial release.

Make

The product is then manufactured and assembled. This involves the physical production of the product based on the design developed in the previous steps. The make phase can be pretty complex and involves many processes and procedures.

One of the critical aspects is process control. The goal is to ensure that the product is produced to the required specifications. This is done through a series of checks and inspections to ensure that each step in the production process is completed correctly.

Another necessary element of the make phase is supply chain management. This includes sourcing raw materials, managing suppliers, and ensuring that components are available when needed.

Efficient supply chain management is essential for this phase’s smooth operation and for ensuring that the final product is delivered on time and within budget.

It’s also essential to manage production costs. This involves identifying areas where cost savings can be made while maintaining the quality of the final product. This might include optimizing manufacturing processes, using lower-cost materials or components, or negotiating better supplier deals.

Quality control is paramount at this stage. This might include inspections, and checks to ensure that the final product meets the specified quality requirements.

Service

Once a product enters the market, customers may require servicing or maintenance. While engineers have worked to ensure that the product is reliable, durable, and easy to maintain, issues may still arise after the product has been released to the market.

Customer success and support teams typically handle face-to-face communications with customers. Engineers must take feedback from the market about issues or improvements and determine how or when to adapt the original design.

When to initiate a change management process

A change can occur throughout any of the above-mentioned phases of the engineering design process. You should initiate the change management process to: address product defects, improve performance, reduce costs, or adapt components based on availability.

The change management process ensures that modifications are carefully evaluated, documented, and implemented. It minimizes the risk of errors or delays in product production.

How to prepare an engineering change order

One of the key pieces of change management is initiating an engineering change order, or ECO. Knowing how to prepare an ECO is essential. This process involves describing the proposed change, identifying the affected components, and specifying the reasons for the modification.

The engineering change order will address the impact the proposed change will have on the product, manufacturing process, and supply chain. Stakeholders review the change order and determine if the proposed change is acceptable.

Finally, if accepted, the proposed change(s) can be implemented by updating the product design, manufacturing process, and appropriate documentation.

Tips for getting change management right

To ensure that changes are implemented effectively, specific steps must be taken. Below are some tips for getting change management right.

Establish clear procedures

Clear procedures provide a framework for implementing changes. They ensure everyone knows their role in the approval process and is on the same page about next steps. Without clear guidelines, changes can be misinterpreted or overlooked, leading to confusion and delays.

Define the scope of the changes

By defining the scope of a change, organizations can quickly identify what is changing and how the changes will impact different business areas. This helps to ensure that changes are implemented smoothly and efficiently. Trying to do too many changes at once could cause confusion or complicate the process.

Ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the changes

All stakeholders must be made aware of the changes being implemented. This includes engineers, supply chain managers as well as manufacturers and likely, the sales and customer success teams.

Having a standard approval process set up in your PLM with a list of approvers and reviewers will help make sure the right people are in the loop. If everyone affected by the changes understands what is happening and why, there will be less confusion or resistance to the changes.

Document the changes

Thorough documentation helps ensure that everyone involved understands what changes are being made, why they’re being made, and how they’ll be implemented. It also provides a record of the changes for future reference, audits and evaluation.

Having standards for documentation, will help ensure the right information is completed and that everyone understands where to find relevant information.

Leverage PLM software

PLM tools provide an easy way to manage change orders. You can initiate a change order within the PLM and automatically alert relevant stakeholders when they need to review or approve a change.

Standardizing and centralizing your change order process within a PLM software solution ensures that everyone involved in hardware development understands what’s changed and and can provide feedback quickly and efficiently.

Not only does this speed up ECOs, but it also helps reduce errors, duplicate entries, and the frequency of rejections. As a result, your approval process and production timelines are much shorter.

Benefits of engineering change management

Implementing an effective engineering change management process provides numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved product quality: Engineering change management ensures that all product changes are thoroughly evaluated, tested, and approved, improving product quality.
  • Better collaboration: A centralized and standardized change management process results in better communication, feedback, and decision-making across all stakeholders.
  • Improved traceability: Documenting all product changes and approvals provides a clear record of all modifications and the reasons for the changes. It makes it easy to see how many other components or products will be impacted.
  • Better risk management: By thoroughly evaluating the impact of any change on the organization, engineering change management can help to manage risks and avoid costly mistakes.
  • Increased efficiency: A well-designed engineering change management process can streamline product development. Easy to follow processes help reduce product development timelines, resulting in increased efficiency and faster time-to-market.

Accelerate change management with Duro

It’s clear, engineering change management is a critical process that ensures a product’s development and success while minimizing the risk of errors and inefficiencies.

By following a well-defined change management process, organizations can improve product quality, reduce time-to-market, and enhance customer satisfaction.

Implementing a PLM solution such as Duro can help streamline your engineering change management.

Schedule a discovery call with Duro today to learn more about how we can help your organization.

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