Engineering Change – Don’t Lose Control!

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Products evolve. They change over time in response to the environments in which they’re being used and in the operational demands they are subject to. For simple, low-complexity products, this doesn’t present an issue. But, for long-lived products, especially those with complex designs, large numbers of parts, configurations and other variability, engineering changes can become tough to track.

It is probably not a stretch to assume that the longer a product is in service the more important it becomes to understand the history of that product to differentiate it from other iterations deployed in the field. This has major implications for field maintenance and product support.

Doing the change correctly is where this capability starts. Doing it correctly from the start is the best way to ensure that it is done correctly over time.

When you consider the discussion we had about estimating, it is easy to see the change scenario is both necessary and frequently needed. New products frequently require change because of unforeseen usage complications encountered in the field. Older products require change because conditions in the field change over time, and that means the product is exposed to new and different conditions during use.

Imagine an automobile company with hundreds of different models of cars in use, each with multiple production years and each production year with multiple changes to any of the thousands of parts within the individual vehicle. This gives you an idea of how critical it is to do engineering changes.

The change process covers the initial requirement determination, problem analysis, a specific change request, a record of the specific changes suggested and documentation concerning the suitability of the change, costs involved, impact analysis of implementing the change, planning the change implementation, reporting and documenting the change, releasing the change and finally reporting on its effect.

When you consider all of those steps repeated many times throughout the life of a product, you can understand the challenge involved in doing this well.

It is all key to serving your customer and being responsive to their needs. If you are flying along in an airliner and a light illuminates in the cockpit that tells the pilot that the landing gear is not locking into place, you will want to be sure that the crew has all of the information at their disposal to make a good decision regarding their best course of action.

Perhaps an early series of landing gear were found to be defective in design. The parts had been modified to make them more reliable. On the other hand, the company supplying the displays to the airplane company for use in their cockpits had shipped a whole series of displays to customers that were defective and randomly illuminated even when they weren’t supposed to.

Your pilot’s decision regarding possible options may come down to knowing which series landing gear and which series display panel is installed on that particular aircraft. Your future may depend on how well one or all of these three companies documented their engineering change orders.

Learn more about product data management.