Why ECRs are Costing You

Education / Why ECRs are Costing You
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Summary: Engineering Change Requests, or ECRs, don’t have to be as time-consuming as they so often are. Efficient data management, combined with automated workflows keep engineering teams focused on delivering value, cutting production costs and delivering better products faster.

Engineering Change Requests, or ECRs, play a big role in product development.

And they might be costing you.

Not only are they difficult to manage, but ECRs are often responsible for laying waste to otherwise well-laid plans.

Today we’re going to look at what an engineering change request actually is, what they do, why they’re expensive, and what you can about them.

What is an ECR?

But before we go into why they’re so important and why they (can be) gruelingly expensive, to this process, let’s go through some 101.

ECRs are created when some aspect of a product needs to change. This might come from:

  • Customers (feature request)
  • Internal teams
  • In response to some problem (e.g. your product keeps breaking).

Generally speaking, ECRs are the first step towards a product change.

A request comes in and, if accepted, becomes an engineering change order (ECO) that will eventually be released to an actual change in the product.

ECRs fuel continuous improvement and product development, and are usually used to fix:

  1. Critical production problems
  2. Improve product quality, safety, and durability
  3. Reduce production cost.

Why they matter

The big reason ECRs matter is that products are rarely perfect the first time around and ECRs are why products work as well as they do.

Without them, many of the things we all use every day wouldn’t be as safe, long-lasting or useful as they are.

The Cost

Engineering teams dedicate a staggering amount of time to change requests.

Unfortunately, not all these change requests are created equal.

Recent research has found that 34% of ECRs are duplicates or reference a problem that has already been fixed.

This means valuable resources are spent opening, reviewing, and (potentially) sending change requests onwards…

When the actual change has already been reviewed and assigned.

What’s more, while ECO processes are often strictly controlled by a CAD/PDM system, ECRs regularly live in the more nebulous world of ad hoc processes.

So what does this mean for manufacturers?

The business impact

Because engineering drives manufacturing businesses forward, there’s a direct impact on the business when ECRs get out of control.

ECRs eat up engineering time

First, engineering time. ECRs require a tremendous number of engineering hours.

Not only is this expensive, but every second an engineering or design manager is sorting through ECRs, they’re not doing some other high-value task.

And this opportunity cost can quickly multiply.

If the engineering department is still tied up reviewing ECRs, then scheduled project work gets bumped.

ECRs delay production

ECRs create a lot of unknowns regarding production schedules.

First, they’re an unknown product requirement. By their nature, ECRs are unplanned and can include essential changes.

These changes, while critical, tend to throw a bit of a spanner in the works of planning engineering projects.

The result? Missed production deadlines.

ECRs makes products launch late

The production delays caused by ECR reviews push back product launches, which hurts business in two major ways.

First, Lost profit

Not only do you miss out on profits from the time of the scheduled launch to when you actually launch, but you also miss out on sales in the long term.

early time to market means longer sales life and higher market share

Second, you lose first mover advantage.

The delays ECRs cause in product development can kibosh your first mover advantage.

First mover advantage is when you’re the first product of your kind in the marketplace.

Apple’s iPhone had a first mover advantage in the smartphone product category, for example.

When you’re second or later to market, people often don’t care about your “imitation” and have already moved onto the next big thing.

The Solution

The problem at this point is clear – the number of non-value adding engineering change requests needs to be reduced and triaged effectively.

And for us, that means efficient and automatic data management.

So ECRs can be filtered, processed, and prioritized automatically.

Instead of a manual process that looks like this:

“The design engineers struggle to understand the requests and use large amounts of time to find out the missing information… The search for information often consists of browsing the part catalogs, PDM, and ERP as well as visiting the factory.”

Efficiently-managed data has the capability to centralize data and staff communication so that this time-consuming and manual goose chase for information doesn’t occur.

Automating the engineering change review process with automatic workflows free up the time and labor engineering departments need to find and process changes that actually add value to the final product.

Tom Nall, a Principal Staff Engineer at a global mobile device company said it best himself:

“If there was ever a business process designed for automation it is the ECN [engineering change notice] process. Automating the ECN process not only significantly reduces the time required to complete the process, but also dramatically improves your ECN auditing and analysis capabilities.”

Wrap Up

Engineering change requests are necessary if you want to deliver quality products.

But not all ECRs are created equal.

Engineering teams need to improve their ECR system by managing their data and process effectively, ideally with collaborative, cloud-based software.

Engineering changes might be costing you. But with a bit of data management and workflow automation, they don’t have to.

Photo Credit: CCO License via Pixabay.