Effectively Using an Engineering Change Order (ECO)

January 19, 2021 , in Blog

There is an adage that claims the only constant thing in life is change. Throughout our lives, we are encouraged to document milestone changes with photos, status updates and other provenance forms. Nothing exemplifies constant change more than the design process for electronic products, and the core of that design, PCBAs. Documentation during PCBA development records the necessary authorizations as well as cost liabilities that arise when implementing changes. A notable document to use for this process is an engineering change order (ECO).

Stakeholder using a tablet to use and update an ECO effectively

Engineering Change Order

An engineering change order or engineering change note is a document that manufacturers use to bring about necessary and approved changes, typically in new product development. The use of an ECO is also essential to implement a change or changes to an existing design. Furthermore, an ECO provides a way to revise the bill of materials (BOM) and document the reason and/or approval for any change. Overall, understanding the nature of an ECO is only part of the process. A company must also understand how to make use of this tool effectively.

Effectively Using an Engineering Change Order (ECO)

Whenever a company requests an ECO for its product design, a critical set of steps determines whether these changes will be beneficial or detrimental to the stakeholder. Determination usually includes manufacturing cost breakdown analysis to ensure the best balance between cost and value. Although companies may have different engineering change management processes to suit their specific needs, the overall steps will look similar. The method of making necessary changes involves three types of documentation:

  • A request
  • An order
  • A notification

These three documents are incorporated into the stages discussed below.

The General Stages of the Engineering Change Process

Identify the Issue and Assess the Scope

The initial step of the process begins with the recognition of an issue that needs to change. This stage also defines the scope of the necessary change. Afterward, there is a high-level assessment of the essential work and the number of affected parts.

Create an Engineering Change Request (ECR)

An ECR should include data and justification for the proposed change. This step clarifies the technical feasibility of process revisions or replacement components. For example, replacing an obsolete or near component lifecycle end component and comparing the newer choice specifications. This step also assesses the benefits and costs of going through with the change, and it lists the necessary resources to implement new processes identifying any related risks.

Review and Approve the ECR

The ECR now proceeds to the review and approval process. The information is forwarded to the stakeholders responsible for making the appropriate go or no-go decision.

Create an ECO

Once the ECR is reviewed and receives approval, the ECO is created. The ECR sums up the required information to facilitate acceptance. It works like a handbook to implement those changes, providing all the necessary information to implement changes effectively. In general, this includes updates to task lists, technical drawings, and bill of materials. The ECO will list all affected equipment and the applicable procedure manuals necessary to perform any change tasks. This stage is critical, and creating a meticulous ECO avoids the risk of missing essential change requirements.

Review and Approve the ECO

After an ECO’s completion, there is another review as well as an approval stage. Depending on the scope of the work, it may require several approvals from various individuals. However, once the stakeholders provide their consent, senior management can provide overall authorization.

Communicate the ECN to the Applicable Personnel

After the ECO’s final review and approval, a notification is sent to all relevant personnel groups. The Engineering Change Notice (ECN) provides details of the change permissions and steps that will occur. It’s essential to communicate the ECN to all personnel affected by these changes.

Implementation of the Necessary Change(s)

Now that the engineering change proposal is through all steps, pertinent reviews, and approvals, changes can be implemented. Every team is provided their specific responsibilities and roles necessary to perform modifications. At this point, both the ECN and ECO become critical documents that guide the implementation of tasks.

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Change is an essential part of the PCBA design and manufacturing process. An ECO provides the ability to accurately document, authorize, and assess if the request is beneficial to your company. At Tempo Automation, we employ a software-based digital thread process that allows for optimization of agile manufacturing to ensure that ECO are executed expeditiously and with minimum or no impact on delivery schedules.

To help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to view and download DRC files easily. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in different CAD formats and Excel.

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