Change management is virtually a requirement in the electronics and other manufacturing industries. It specifically relates to alterations needed after the initial design phase of your project. In many industries, the engineering change order is the most frequent example of change management.

Most businesses have an engineering change order process, and improving it is always a going concern. Fortunately, it’s possible to make it efficient and quicker. This article defines an engineering change order and discusses ways of improving its efficiency.

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What is an Engineering Change Order?

An engineering change order (ECO) refers to the documentation required to complete an engineering change request or any other process necessary to make changes to a production process or a finished product. An ECO specifies proposed changes to existing products or new product design details. It goes by several names:

  • Engineering change notice/note (ECN)
  • Engineering change request (ECR)
  • Manufacturing change order (MCO)
  • Manufacturing change request (MCR)

You must send ECOs to all critical stakeholders – change control board (CCB) – including engineering, procurement, quality, manufacturing, external design teams, and supply chain partners. Every CCB member must approve the changes before manufacturing acts on them.

An engineering change order occurs when there is a need for change caused by one of the following issues:

  • Correction of a design error that became evident during testing and modeling, or when customers reveal it
  • Changes in the customers’ requirements necessitating redesigns of one or more parts of the products
  • A change in manufacturing method or material caused by changes in vendors, a lack of material availability, or the need to compensate for design errors

An engineering change order is necessary to create a thorough paper trail for future reference – even though it’s often electronic. The paper trail records all changes made to a design, making it easy to revisit or return to a previous iteration if necessary. A documentation trail also shows stakeholders that the company works actively to fix issues and make improvements.

How to Prepare an Engineering Change Order

The change process begins when someone identifies an issue that needs addressing using a product or process change. It ends when the manufacturing team implements the agreed-upon change(s). ECOs are the documents you use between these two points to summarize the modifications requested, finalize the details, obtain all the necessary approvals, and communicate issues to all involved parties.

After determining that you need an engineering change order process, ensure that you streamline it from the start. Presenting your manufacturer with the correct information upfront helps you reduce the back-and-forth that can bottleneck the production process.

Use the following engineering change order format to ensure you pass along all the relevant information your manufacturer requires to make the needed changes.

  1. Identification of changes
  2. Description of changes
  3. Reasons for the requested changes
  4. List of all documents affected by the changes
  5. Approval of changes
  6. Instructions on when to introduce the changes
  7. Cut-in dates
  8. Stranded inventory
  9. Data implementations

An engineering change order checklist like the one above enables you to get things right the first time. It also allows you to avoid disconnects between drawings, unintended omissions, ambiguous markings, and other unintended changes that can cost your business a lot of time and money.

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How to Improve an ECO’s Efficiency

Poor management of engineering change order procedures can vastly increase your production or product recall costs. Hence, it’s essential to make these processes as efficient as possible, and one way to do that is by embracing technology and going paperless.

The use of paper ECOs can significantly inhibit your company’s level of efficiency and communication. Yes, having a hard copy paper trail is vital to keeping good records on some occasions (such as protection against hacking attacks). However, accessing and using digital notices can make it so much easier for you to share information and make notes or amendments.

It also allows you to archive ECOs for a future paper trail and reference to know what alterations you made in the past. One way to make your production process efficient is by installing digital workstations throughout your facility. Additionally, empower these remote desktop environments to allow seamless sharing of data and ECOs plus the ability to access the material from anywhere on site.

The move to digital is now a logical and necessary step to increasing the interconnectivity between engineering and your manufacturing floor. It results in higher quality products, quicker communication, and makes the entire engineering change order process more efficient.

Engineering Change Order Benefits

These are some of the benefits of an engineering change order:

  • It keeps product development on track
  • It ensures all product information is accurate
  • It contains the full description, cost analysis, and impact of a change
  • It ensures all relevant stakeholders have bought into the requested change
  • It’s an organized process of handling product changes that reduce potential design, inventory, and manufacturing errors
  • It minimizes development delays and ensures easy input from different departments, contract manufacturers, and key suppliers
  • It allows companies to meet regulatory requirements where applicable, such as the medical device industry that mandates a full history of all product changes
  • A clear record of the production process enables you to debug problems that arise after your product launch
  • It prevents a timely and costly product change or upgrades process

The Bottom Line

Companies need to adapt quickly to the current constantly-changing business environment. That often means making the necessary changes to their products using an efficient process. Engineers often make modifications during product development and production stages to improve manufacturing performance and product functionality and address particular parts’ availability. An engineering change order communicates these changes.

An ECO is a document that the design activity approves, which authorizes and describes the implementation of one or more engineering changes to processes or products and their approved configuration documentation.

ECOs are critical in any production situation, but especially in cases where your product teams are in multiple locations (for example, design engineers in Wisconsin, the manufacturing team in Minnesota, and component manufacturers all over the U.S. Upper Midwest).

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