A Change Order for Engineering Change Orders (ECOs)

August 2, 2023

In the dynamic world of hardware development, change is inevitable. The need to adapt and improve designs to meet evolving requirements is crucial for success. Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) play a pivotal role in this process, empowering engineers to make modifications while managing risks and ensuring product quality. In this blog post, we'll delve into a 30,000ft view of ECOs, discuss their limitations, and explore recommendations to enhance their effectiveness.

What are Engineering Change Orders (ECOs)?

Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) are documents that facilitate modifications to the design, manufacture, or assembly of a product. They are formal requests to make changes to the engineering design or the manufacturing process to address any underlying issues that may impact product quality, cost, or delivery.

ECOs may be initiated by different stakeholders in the product development cycle, such as engineers, designers, manufacturers, or customers. ECOs can range in scope and complexity, from minor adjustments to products such as replacing a component, to major changes such as redesigning entire product assemblies.

Types of Engineering Change Orders

There are typically three types of ECOs:

  1. Product ECO: A product ECO is used to make changes to the engineering design of a product. This may include changes to dimensions, materials, or components used in the product.
  2. Manufacturing ECO: A manufacturing ECO is used to modify the manufacturing process of a product. This may include changes to production techniques, equipment, or procedures to improve quality, efficiency, or reduce costs.
  3. Supplier ECO: A supplier ECO is used to request revisions to components or materials supplied by external vendors. This may include changes necessary to ensure compliance with regulations, standards, or to improve quality and performance.

The Importance of ECOs

Engineering Change Orders are formal documents used to propose, review, and implement modifications to hardware designs or processes. They serve as a structured framework for managing changes throughout the product development lifecycle. Here are some reasons why ECOs are vital in hardware development:

  1. Flexibility and Adaptability: As hardware projects progress, unforeseen challenges and new requirements arise. ECOs enable the team to adjust designs and processes accordingly, ensuring the final product meets the evolving needs of customers and the market.
  2. Quality Control: ECOs help maintain rigorous quality standards by documenting the reasons for changes, proposed solutions, and their potential impact. This ensures that modifications are thoroughly analyzed, reducing the risk of introducing errors and defects.
  3. Cost and Time Management: ECOs provide a systematic approach to evaluate and prioritize changes, helping teams identify the most critical ones and allocate resources efficiently. By minimizing rework and avoiding costly delays, ECOs contribute to project cost and schedule control.
  4. Collaboration and Communication: ECOs facilitate cross-functional collaboration by involving relevant stakeholders in change evaluations. Effective communication ensures that everyone is aligned with the changes and their implications, fostering a unified and coordinated effort.

The Traditional, Legacy ECO Process

  1. Documentation: Well before the ECO process is kicked off, engineers are constantly iterating on designs understanding how to best improve the previous revision. During this time, many versions are captured across data management systems to capture micro-iterations of design changes, but none are actually formally reviewed. Once a team has decided on a candidate to promote to the next iteration the ECO process begins, it is in this moment that formal documentation is created for a cross-functional review. Part of the documentation includes why the change is necessary, how the design changed, and why the proposed design best fits the requirements. The creation of this document can take anywhere from hours to days, depending on the complexity of the design and the magnitude of the change.
  2. Approvals: Once documentation is created, it is then handed to multiple stakeholders for them to review the design changes, validate the design according to their field of expertise, and sign off or provide further feedback on the proposed design. Many people may refer to this as the approval process. The approval process is a generally vital step to ensure that the design satisfies system requirements and there is not a point of failure for a particular subsystem.
  3. Release: Once approvals have been received and there is a unanimous decision, the release process begins. This process includes entering the documentation, final design files, approval logs, and any supplemental information into a lifecycle management platform. The lifecycle platform would have captured the previous revision information and would now capture the next revision’s information. Once everything is in place for the next revision, a team member will close and release the ECO and formally up-revision the design.

Limitations and Problems with the Legacy ECO Process

While ECOs are powerful tools, they are not without their challenges. Here are some limitations and problems associated with their implementation:

  1. Process Complexity: The ECO process can become convoluted, particularly in large organizations. Multiple approvals, reviews, and sign-offs can slow down the process and lead to delays in implementing crucial changes.
  2. Documentation Burden: Creating comprehensive documentation for every change can be time-consuming. Engineers may feel overwhelmed with paperwork, potentially reducing their efficiency and motivation.
  3. Lack of Real-time Collaboration: Traditional ECO processes may suffer from delays due to the need for physical signatures or sequential approvals. This can hinder real-time collaboration and responsiveness.
  4. Incomplete Impact Analysis: In some cases, ECOs may not fully assess the ripple effects of changes, leading to unforeseen issues downstream. Incomplete impact analysis can result in costly rework and disruptions.

The Bild ECO Process

While the traditional ECO process contain many gates to prevent overlooked changes/mistakes into production design, they often are bloated and rarely enjoyed/followed by engineering teams. This results in expensive software being leveraged and retrofitted for a much needed agile workflow. At Bild, we learned about what teams were really looking for and developed a more agile, flexible, and equally robust ECO process.

  1. Make design changes: In Bild, we recognize design changes are made with intent. As you make design changes and create versions, Bild automatically captures them against a future ECO. When finalizing on a design proposal, commit messages are already captured with historic changes, so teams can understand how the design changed from the previous version and what each version entailed. Bild also associates any feedback items captured on top of a design directly within that ECO. Documentation becomes virtually no-to-little lift and teams are able to spend more time reviewing designs to ensure validity and reduce design risk.
  2. Approvals: Similar to the traditional ECO process, Bild offers the ability to capture e-signatures for a cross-functional review. Approvals and feedback are timestamped to ensure traceability and robust record-keeping. Each approval is tied specifically to a design revision and version, ensuring each stakeholder is reviewing the correct version of the design. Comments are captured in the same approval to centralize information.
  3. Release: Once the approval is completed, teams can close and release the ECO. Bild’s auto-increment setting will up-revision the design to the next alpha/integer, mark the design as released, and close out the ECO. All the design versions made from the previous revision, feedback items, and approvals are automatically captured within the ECO and further cannot be changed.

Teams on average are cutting the time managing their ECO process by 70%, giving them more time to work on design changes and validate them. Ready to gain back time and drive a more agile, robust ECO process? Check out an interactive demo here or see a live demo with a team member!