What Is Engineering Change Management?
All organizations that design, engineer and manufacture products are faced with a change management challenge. This is because the price of getting engineering change wrong can be enormous. There exist multiple case studies of large corporations were a faulty change management process has cost millions – even billions.
So, what is the best way to implement an engineering change management process? Uncoordinated or arbitrary change can have detrimental effects on the overall business – the process is an absolute necessity.
This blog article will go through the necessity for change management and outline typical processes that can be implemented to effectively govern product change and minimize business risk.
At the basic level, an engineering change is a is a process used to implement changes to components or products. The requirement for engineering change arises from the necessity that designs that evolve over the lifetime of the product.
A high level change management process can be defined as follows:
- Requesting or identifying the need for change
- Determining if the change is possible and desirable
- Planning the change
- Implementing the change
- Recording and following the change to ensure traceability and effectivity
These steps must be carried out in a controlled and coordinated manner, as errors can have large detrimental effects, including:
- Warranty claims for defective product
- Disruption to manufacturing processes
- Incorrect materials from suppliers
- Delivering wrong product to a customer
- Late deliveries and associated penalties
The primary goals of an engineering change management process are to ensure minimal disruption to products, quality improvements, reduction in waste, and cost-effective implementation.
Engineering Design Process
Before defining an engineering change process, let’s review a generic engineering process.
Each of these phases are different:
This phase is when the initial product is not well defined, multiple alternatives are been considered and the cost of change is not high
Once a concept is chosen, the complete details of the product must be designed, such that it can be manufactured. Here, changes can have material impacts so must be controlled; however, these impacts can be easily contained
Here the detailed design and specification is frozen and released to the manufacturing organization. At this point change becomes more difficult and must be carefully controlled.
The product is now been manufactured and delivered to customers. It is now crucial that all changes be carefully evaluated and tracked because an incorrect change can have a large impact. This is especially so when a change can compromise the safety of a product in the field.
A product that has been in service may require changes (lack of spare parts, improve maintenance etc.). Again, these changes must be carefully evaluated as it may impact multiple working units.
Types of Change Management Processes
There are several types of change management processes ranging from unstructured to highly structured and formal. The list below gives processes from unstructured to rigorous.
Here there is no real formalized change process; changes are made by all participants and are usually communicated verbally or via a chat application. This is best suited for a freewheeling team that require maximum space for creativity and innovation.
One Level Approval
A one level approach requires approval for a change from a manager or subject matter expert.
This is similar to a one level approval but requires multiple approvals – either in series or in parallel or both
Engineering Change Notice (ECN)
An ECN is always included in a mature change management process. Alternatively known as an Engineering Change Order (ECO), this represents the core method of controlling a change to a product design. A typical ECN or ECO process is shown below:
Engineering Change Request (ECR)
In very formal and controlled environments, where incorrect changes can have large impacts, the engineering change management can include an ECR process. This is a step put in place to decide if a change should occur before this is then initiated and executed. Typical ECR process is as follows:
Complete ECR and ECN
A complete engineering change process combines both an ECR and ECN and is used in environments were change must be tightly controlled. This combined process is shown below.
Change in the Design Process
How can these change management processes be synchronized with the overall design process?
The answer to this question is to apply the correct change process to the appropriate phase of the design process. The general principle is that the rigor of the change process should match the implications of a change going wrong. For example, because incorrect changes to a product that is already been manufactured can result in large negative costs, this implies that any change must be analyzed thoroughly and implemented carefully.
The cost of change increases as a product progresses along the design cycle. This can be illustrated as follows:
Taking this into account, a proposed framework for change management processes synchronized with the engineering design process could be as follows:
Change management is always a challenge in organizations. A carefully designed and executed process helps to greatly reduce risk and prevent costly errors.
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