Whether you call them ECR’s, ECO’s or ECN’s, studies have shown that the engineering change process is the most expensive process for any manufacturer.
In a paper based environment, there is usually a department that manages these requests. It could be called doc control or engineering services or something else. It is their job to receive the change request, log it in to a ‘book’ and then send it to the next person in the process. They may gather more information and attach it to the request. After each person completes their activity, it comes back to doc control to be logged and sent to the next person. The entire activity of approving a change request can take as long as 2 months. If anyone wishes to see the status of a request, they will need to ask doc control.
I have seen as many as 6 people in doc control working the change request process. These people are considered ‘overhead’ on the company balance sheet.
I have been told stories about short cuts that have been taken during the change control process that have been costly. As a result, mistakes end up getting moved on.
To sum it up – Change requests take too long to turn around, they can be error prone and managing these can be quite costly.
Change requests are a process management problem. One of the tenets of process management is to have software perform mundane tasks that don’t require a human to perform. So, let software send the requests to the right people.
Requestors can attach any additional information to their ‘electronic’ change request so that it is available to that next person
Many companies have eliminated CCB [change control board] meetings by having the interested parties discuss the issues as a part of the change process.
Those doc control workers can move from an overhead position to one that provides value to the customer.
The software [typically PLM software] provides control. The request doesn’t get sent on unless the activity has been performed. It makes sure that all steps of the change control process are taken.
The software provides visibility. Anyone can check the status of a change request with a simple computer query. You can easily see whose desk the request is sitting on. The software provides an instant audit trail [history of the change request].
The control and visibility that PLM software provides greatly simplifies compliance, whether it is ISO9001 or ISO13485 or others.
I have seen companies that averaged 45 days to turn around a change request reduce that time to less than a week. Emergency requests get turned around in less than an hour.
Most of these companies have reduced doc control to 1 person who provides support to their user community by providing training on the process and software as well as answering questions.
Solving the engineering change control problem usually saves enough time/money to justify the entire PLM software purchase.
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