Engineering change orders, or ECOs, are written orders for changes in a product or process’s components, specifications, or documentation. They’re basically a way of documenting change so there’s a record of it.
When an organization develops a process or product, changes are inevitable during engineering development, integration of elements, or implementation of the system. Engineering change orders allow organizations to compensate for design errors, implement debugging procedures, or otherwise make changes to make up for design, integration, or implementation flaws. An ECO is an important part of the audit trail that shows when changes are made during the process or product development.
Why They’re Used and What They Should Contain
Suppose someone on a team identifies an issue with a process. Say, tolerance estimates were based on faulty calculations. Clearly changes are necessary, and an ECO can be created to summarize the changes needed, finalize the details of the change, and document all necessary approvals for the changes.
Common reasons for ECOs include:
• Corrections of design errors
• Changes in customer requirements
• Changes in materials or manufacturing methods
Typically, an ECO contains the following types of information:
• Identification of what needs changing, along with part numbers, component names, reference drawings, etc.
• A statement of why the change needs to be made
• A description of the change including modified drawings taking changes into account
• A list of people, departments, and documents affected by the change
• Instructions about when to implement the change
• Documentation of approval by those authorized to sign off on changes
Benefits of Using ECOs
Maybe an ECO seems like overkill for a minor change, but it’s actually essential for ensuring that product or process information is accurate at all times. It’s also essential for ensuring that everyone affected by the change understands that it is being done and why. When an organization has a method for handling product or process changes, the chances for errors are diminished, and everyone has an easier time staying on the same page. And once a product or process is established, archived ECOs provide a full history of changes and when they occurred. In some industries, change histories are required by regulations, but even when they’re not required, they’re a good idea.
Without ECOs, making changes to a product or process can be more time-consuming and error-prone. Suppose a part is switched out late in the development process of some product. Without an ECO, the purchasing department may not know about the change and continue ordering the old part. Then manufacturing is delayed, and getting the correct part may mean paying rush charges to minimize further manufacturing delays. ECOs can prevent that type of headache.
Engineering change orders implemented online are far more efficient and accurate than paper ECOs. Automating ECOs requires identification of every step in the change process, and making those steps into an electronic workflow that reaches all the right people at the right time while laying down an audit trail.
Writing down every step in a manual ECO process may seem unnecessary, but it’s the only way to make sure every step is accounted for, and that every step that can be automated is automated. Most companies use workflow tools for accomplishing this. The electronic workflow should incorporate ECO creation along with all supplementary materials (like drawings, part numbers, and design files), review by all stakeholders who have to approve the change, and circulation of the ECO to all affected parties (including external customers when they are affected, or when they are the ones who requested the changes).
Engineering change orders are simply good business, even if industry or government regulations don’t require them. The documentation contained in ECOs is valuable for archival purposes, and are helpful when a process or product is reviewed for upgrading. But you don’t have to use paper ECOs that are physically routed to stakeholders and prone to loss or errors. Electronic ECOs made with workflow software are much more efficient and effective, while being less error-prone.
ProcessMaker is open-source workflow software that anyone can use to design all the necessary forms and workflows for effective ECOs. Not only does ProcessMaker come with a first-rate collection of built-in tools and templates, because it’s open-source, but it can also be customized exactly to your organizational needs. We invite you to try out the ProcessMaker Enterprise Edition for free or download the Community Edition of ProcessMaker. It’s the perfect toolkit for creating ECOs and workflows that keep your engineering operations efficient and on track.