5 Ways an Automated System Improves Your Engineering Change Management Process

Here are some stories that may sound familiar:

  • You send 10 machines to a client’s facility. A few days later, the installation crew calls to tell you that they followed the instructions, but the machines don’t work. It turns out that wiring diagram they used is outdated. The newest set of drawings specifies 14 wires per machine, whereas the installation crew is working from a previous release that had only 10. They can add the new wires, but the work will cost $100 per wire for a total of $4,000.
  • Your client calls you upset about a $10,000 invoice for design revisions. Unfortunately, when you go back to look at the documents, you’re unable to identify exactly where in the development process the changes took place. Even though you’re sure they were on the client side, you can’t prove it, so you have no choice but to absorb the extra cost.
  • One of your designers sends a revised set of drawings to the production department. When the production department asks what’s changed, the designer responds, “Several things, I didn’t really keep track.” To make matters worse, the new set is Version 11, while production was still working with Version 9. All you can do is send the designer down to production armed with both sets of documents and a highlighter — and hope he can identify everything that’s changed in the past two releases.

These kinds of things happen all of the time. And they cost engineering firms countless hours — and countless dollars.

Fortunately, they are all preventable. Every one of these situations can be avoided by using a documentation system that automates the change process.

Here are five ways an automated system improves your engineering change management process.

Implements changes across the entire project immediately

Depending on the complexity of the product or process, a change on one sheet could affect 20, 50, or 100 other sheets.

In a manual process, this means an engineer would need to identify all of the sheets that will be affected, open each sheet individually, modify it, and then go into the title block and note the change.

For every single sheet.

Faced with 20 or 50 or 100 sheets to modify, even the most careful engineer will likely miss something along the way.

With an automated system, you never have to worry that a sheet will get skipped or a change will be left undocumented. When you make a change, the software will update every affected sheet — as well as the underlying data model — automatically, so you can be confident that everyone working on your project has access to the most recent design documents.

Takes the pain out of cross-references

This is related to the previous point, but cross-references cause enough headaches for engineers that they deserve their own discussion.

Say you use a device on one sheet and then again on another sheet — a cross-reference appears on both sheets. Now, what happens if you change the device name or grid position on one sheet?

The top complaint that we hear from users of manual systems is that the cross-references aren’t right. They point to the wrong device, or even the wrong sheet, and device names are inconsistent. The result is engineers spending a lot of time looking at sheets trying to find devices — only to discover that the devices are wrong or not there at all.

With a system that provides automatic revision control, your cross references will be right, every time, and your data will always be consistent.

Tracks the changes you care about most

Every individual and department that works on a project has a different priority list. For example, your purchasing department needs to know when part numbers change, but they don’t really care about wiring changes. On the flip side, wiring changes are essential information for the installation department. Part number changes? Not so much.

Over the course of a project, there may be thousands of changes made to the design documentation. But each person may only be interested in 50 or 100 of those.

A best-in-class automated system allows people to track and view only the changes that are important to them. This ensures they don’t miss anything vital or get bogged down looking through thousands of rows on a spreadsheet.

Go back to the first example above. If you’d caught the problem before the installation crew had wired the machines, the cost of the change would have been just the cost of the wires. At $5 a pop, those 40 extra wires would have run you a mere $200, rather than a disheartening $4,000.

Allows you to assess cost implications of changes and bill customers appropriately

How many times have you gotten a call from a customer wanting to know why they received yet another bill for revisions? Have you always had the answer at hand?

An automated system makes it easy for you to track changes back to the project phase in which they occurred. This allows your costing department to determine if remedial charges are necessary and bill your customers accurately, so you don’t end up absorbing extra costs.

Helps you improve your process for the future

Finally, an automated system with advanced tracking capabilities can give you information you can use to improve your development process.

For example, if the change record reveals quality control problems, you can look for areas where you need to do better testing. If a lot of changes come from the customer, you might want to rethink your communication process to better identify their needs and specifications in advance. You may even have design elements you can reuse to save time and money on future projects.

Engineering Base is a powerful engineering collaboration platform with automatic revision control. Learn more.

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