For engineers and manufacturers, controlling their change processes involves more than thinking about the software impacts common in IT. They have to think about impacts to their production lines, equipment downtime, delivery schedules, and employee safety, just to name a few. Any type of change request, if not managed properly, can be slow to implement, full of errors, and lacking in visibility. Some change requests can even be potentially dangerous—for example, the American Society of Safety Engineers documents a 1984 incident in India where a lack of proper change management contributed to thousands of deaths and injuries. This extreme example prompted OSHA to enact process safety management regulations in the 90s.
The Change Request (CR), Engineering Change Request, or Manufacturing Change Request is the initial portion. A change request can originate from a variety of sources, such as a customer complaint or suggestion, an employee that notices a problem in the production line, or a manager that discovers a supply chain concern. The request must be 1) analyzed to determine all the effects, 2) a proposal for resolution submitted and, ideally, 3) the change approved by a Change Control Board (CCB).
Once a change request is approved, then a Change Order is submitted. Also known as an Engineering Change Order, or Change Notice, the Change Order outlines the actual process to implement the approved change. This could involve making changes on the engineering side that need to be pushed to manufacturing, or simply making changes on the manufacturing side.
What are the requirements in any change process?
- The reason for the change
Changes aren’t requested without a reason. Sometimes it’s an urgent business need, such as a piece of equipment being down. Other times, it comes in the form of an enhancement from a customer, or an employee that notices a procedure that could be refined. These changes aren’t always approved, but a detailed sound business reason goes a long way to getting your change implemented.
- Supporting documentation
When requesting a change, it’s important to include all the information needed for the change control board to properly ascertain not only the details of the change, but to determine its urgency. These documents could include detailed specifications, CAD drawings or renderings, or photos of damaged equipment or faulty products.
- Plan to implement that change
Normally with any change, you’ll have an indication of how your change request should be performed. It may include steps to remedy the problem, including timing. If you manufacture a specific product that needs to be fixed, do you scrap the existing inventory, or is there a modification that needs to be made? Perhaps there are multiple teams that need to be involved, such as engineering and quality control.
- Impact to the business during the change
If it’s an urgent change, it might need to be completed immediately, or it might wait until the next production cycle ends. If you run a constant cycle, it may require downtime of a particular line. This might impact only a single arm of a production line in third shift, or it may be a company-wide problem. You’ll want to include a full list of systems that are involved in the change.
Once your change request has been submitted, the change control board will review the change. Communication is key. If the CCB needs additional information, they should be able to receive it quickly. The decision of the CCB is then normally to proceed with the change, put the change on hold for later consideration or to deny the change. Once that decision is made, it should be communicated to all those involved. If the change goes forward, then the change order with all the appropriate steps can be implemented.
All of these steps can be undertaken via forms and emails, but wouldn’t it be easier to implement a software solution that allows for better communication, open visibility and accountability? How are you managing your engineering and manufacturing change processes?