Engineering Change Orders (ECOs): What are They, Challenges, and Tips

January 27, 2023


The success of any hardware product company is impacted by how well the team can manage change. Market events, customer feedback, product issues in the field, and new competition all result in a need to adapt products.

Hardware companies require processes in order to manage changes efficiently, ensuring engineers understand the scope of a change and can articulate it to the rest of the organization. An engineering change order (ECO) is central to managing those product changes.

While different types of change orders are used in product development and manufacturing, an ECO is the most common way to promote changes to an established design baseline.

An engineering change order is a streamlined process that ensures every relevant team member sees and understands the changes so they can provide feedback and approve the proposed changes.

In this article, we’ll discuss engineering change orders in more detail, providing information on what they entail and offering tips for setting up the most efficient process for engineering change management.

What is an engineering change order (ECO)?

An engineering change order is a formal review process of proposed engineering changes to an established baseline that will impact form, fit, or function. An ECO, at minimum, will list all of the affected components and will provide the reasoning behind the proposed changes.

Red-lined drawings, inventory disposition instructions, and part effectiveness are other types of information that may be contained within an ECO.

The ECO process will involve different team members that are required to review or approve the proposed changes. Having an established engineering change order process ensures that all proposed changes are evaluated and signed off before they are implemented.

The ECO record is necessary to refer back to for compliance or to determine the root cause of an issue once a product is in production.

Other types of change orders

There are other types of COs besides ECOs, most notably manufacturing change orders (MCOs) and documentation change orders (DCOs). These types of change orders are similar to ECOs, but carry differences in both intent and execution.

Manufacturing change orders (MCOs)

An MCO is typically initiated by the manufacturing team rather than the engineering team. It is used for process or documentation changes, rather than for changing the design of a part, assembly or product.

For example, a production team might submit process improvements using an MCO if the existing process is not efficient or straightforward.

If there are changes required to both the design and the manufacturing process, an MCO will be submitted to the appropriate teams for review alongside an ECO.

Document change orders (DCOs)

A DCO is used to update or otherwise change the documents for a product or component, such as:

  • Fabrication drawing
  • Protocols and procedures
  • Written instructions

More minor changes, such as adapting work order instructions or editing a typo in a document, will go in a DCO rather than significant design changes. A DCO will go through the same approval process as an ECO or MCOs, but the component revision values will not be incremented, nor will the status of the components be altered.

Learn how Duro PLM can help you establish best practices for your change order process by hardware organizations streamline their change order process. Schedule a demo.

What’s the difference between an engineering change request (ECR) and an engineering change order (ECO)?

An engineering change request (ECR) is another common change management process that precedes an engineering change order (ECO). ECRs are used to document the initial request or suggestion to address a design problem. Similar to an ECO, an ECR would contain a list of the components that would be impacted and the reasoning behind the requested changes. 

It’s often feasible to combine the ECR and ECO processes, as the ECR can be seen as redundant for certain organizations. PLM software like Duro runs a single engineering change order process that merges the concept of the ECR into the ECO process. For those organizations that absolutely need a separate ECR process, integrations to tools like Jira provide a nicely integrated ECR step.

How long does an engineering change order take to process?

The time it takes to process an ECO depends on the complexity of the change, how many people are involved in the approval process as well as how established your processes are.

The type of software you use to manage ECOs can also impact the timeframe to process them. product lifecycle management platforms can help streamline your ECO process and allow you to achieve a resolution in a quick and repeatable manner.

PLM platforms like Duro use pre-established workflows that make it simpler and faster to process a ECO as well as ensure relevant team members are alerted when they need to take an action based on a proposed change.

Duro can also help ensure that all the necessary information for a CO is surfaced easily, preventing delays and enabling more agile workflows. Incomplete ECOs are likely to get rejected, causing potential delays with production. Using a PLM-based ECO process reduces the rejection rate and helps speed up the approval process for product changes.

The 7 stages of the engineering change order process

An engineering change request usually goes through seven different stages before it is approved and implemented. Make sure you take the right steps to increase the chances that your COs include complete information, can be easily interpreted by all parties and that resolution is achieved quickly.

1. Identifying the need for an ECO

The first part of the ECO process is the identification stage. Here, the need for an engineering change order is identified, potentially due to a design error or a flaw in the engineering or product development processes that previously went unnoticed.

2. Investigating the need for change

Once the need for an ECO is identified, the change needs to be investigated. This helps determine the scope and severity of the change and examines the potential impacts that it could have on other components or products. You’ll uncover what the possible repercussions of the change would be and what actions might need to be taken.

This step is often captured in an Engineering Change Request (ECR) document but is just as often merged into the initial stage of an ECO (this depends on your organization’s requirements, as addressed above).

In a separate ECR document the proposed change will be examined to assess feasibility and to identify the affected parts, components, and other documents that will need to be changed if it is approved. This documentation might also include estimated costs, resources, and materials required to make the change.

3. Creating the engineering change order

An engineering change order lists all of the parts, assemblies, items, or documents (like drawings and designs) that need to be changed in order to complete the order. The more detailed the descriptions, the better, as they will help other people understand the full impact of any change.

Other things noted in the CO may include:

  • CAD files
  • Fabrication drawing
  • Work instructions
  • Disposition codes

4. Reviewing the engineering change order

A change control board is in charge of looking at all the ECOs. They will then review the ECO as it stands and take a look at the suggestions or implementation requirements needed for the order to be fulfilled.

5. Approving the engineering change order

The stakeholders will either approve or reject the CO after they have reviewed all of the documentation. If it is approved, a notification will go out alerting relevant parties that the CO will need to go into effect.

6. Notifying relevant stakeholders

The approved CO will be communicated across different teams who need to understand the approved engineering change and its impact. This stage is often captured and documented in an Engineering Change Notice (ECN).

Whether you use an ECN or notify relevant stakeholders through a separate means, it’s critical that approved changes are disseminated effectively so as not to cause any miscommunications or unintended consequences.

7. Implementing the change

Once the changes specified in an approved CO have been communicated across different teams, the implementation plan, which is typically defined in the CO, will need to be executed. The implementation plan will be driven by the instructions defined in the ECO and may include an inventory disposition and part effectiveness.

Engineering change order benefits

While the engineering change order process might sound complicated, a well executed process will ensure that your product development efforts stay on track and that stakeholders are on the same page. The following are among the important ways in which a well designed ECO process can benefit your organization.

Keeps product development on track

Product development is all about advancement and improvement. If there is a more efficient way doing a task or process, then it needs to be addressed in order to:

  • Keep product development on track.
  • Ensure that you are competitive with other companies.
  • Enabling continuous product and process improvement.

COs are an important step in evolving your products. The more streamlined the process the faster you can increase quality and get your products to market.

Reduces errors, delays, and bottlenecks

Product design flaws can lead to serious issues that create delays, production bottlenecks, and even product failures. These issues can impact your customer satisfaction levels and damage your business’s reputation.

It’s essential to reduce and resolve any product issues as early as possible. ECOs are essential to ensure you rapidly address any product design issues and keep your business on sure footing.

Maintains clear records of any changes

It’s essential to maintain a clear record of document changes so that you can easily go back to a product baseline or point in time. You might need to review specific steps in the production process or revert back to a previous design.

In addition, these steps are often required for compliance to get products approved for the market. ECOs provide access to the necessary history log of designs with details of who made each change and why.

A convoluted or poorly documented process can lead to major complications when it’s time for internal reviews, quality checks, or even new employee training.

Ensures stakeholders have bought into the change

Making changes in any area of a business without buy-in from stakeholders often leads to problems. By involving the right team members in the ECO process, you ensure that they are aware of any changes and will support the implementation at the end of the process.

This is particularly important for communicating changes to procurement and manufacturing teams. They need updated information about which parts to order or how to adjust their manufacturing workflows and account for existing resources.

Engineering change order challenges

While there are many benefits of ECOs, there are also challenges to be addressed. Here are a few of the most common problems that can arise while creating an ECO.

Relying on a single author to carefully document everything

Engineering changes need to be well documented. Because not every team member will have access to the CAD software (which usually requires an expensive license) or understand the design adaptations, this documentation typically falls to a single person.

If there are no standards in place, the individual responsible for a change needs might not write up complete notes or miss a step. Managing this documentation and setting out clear outlines for what should be included eliminates the likelihood of common issues incurred when relying on a single author, such as:

  • Typos or misinterpretations
  • Accidental information omission (resulting in incomplete sections of the ECO)
  • Shorthand that make the author’s notes hard to interpret

Not understanding the full impact of a change

Having visibility and traceability into a change is an important part of the ECO process. When your data is disparate and not centralized, it can be difficult to take a step back and consider everything that will be changed and why.

A small change with one component could affect other products that use it. This ripple effect might not always be readily apparent when the change is initially made, but can lead to unknown production issues later on.

Delays in approvals

The sheer number of people needed to approve forms and gain access to documents can also cause a delay. This is especially true if you need to access multiple chains of command who start at square one in understanding each request.

If you don’t have a standard process, you might also risk accidentally leaving people off of the approvals list. With a PLM system, approvers receive automatic alerts to remind them that they need to review or approve a change. This significantly speeds up the approval process, which shortens the overall production timelines.

Risk of changes not being approved

Thorough documentation practices are essential when creating and executing COs. However, they can be time consuming and there’s a chance that key information gets missed. If key details are accidentally excluded, a change might get rejected dragging the process out even further. This is a major risk to businesses, as it leads to missed timelines and lost revenue.

Opting for a PLM system like Duro gives businesses a better way to handle documentation, helping to reduce the frequency of rejected ECOs and leading to more consistent approvals.

Engineering change order best practices

The following includes few best practices that can help organizations avoid issues during the engineering change order:

Keep change orders clean and manageable

Having a clear scope of what your CO covers and making sure the size and volume of the request is manageable helps to speed up the change management process.

When making a change, it might initially seem like a good idea to merge multiple functional updates or include other processes or product development changes in the same CO.

However, this adds unnecessary complexity and can increase the odds of getting it rejected. After all, if just one part of a complicated CO has an error, the entire ECO will be impacted.

Instead, break down changes into granular modules to make sure they’re easy to understand and speed up the review process.

Keep documentation consistent

Having repeatable processes and standardized documentation templates are key components to a successful ECO process. Consistency is also key for making sure everyone can understand the changes as well as their involvement.

A PLM platform like Duro can help centralize product requirements documents (PRDs) as well as information from CAD designs. Standard policies and templates encourage consistency and completeness of information. Automating information transfer across systems or using approval templates can help speed up ECOs.

Streamline ECO processes with Duro

The right software will go a long way in helping you submit and complete engineering change orders in a way that doesn’t slow your team down. Duro offers product lifecycle management software that focuses on accelerating your internal ECO processes.

To learn more about Duro and how it can take your business to the next level today, schedule a demo. You’ll be able to see for yourself the many ways in which Duro can improve your processes and increase your success as a hardware organization.

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