Winston Churchill said: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” If that is the case, the end result of a PCB prototype must really be perfect with all of the changes that are made during the process of building it. Seriously though, the very nature of a prototype is to keep improving the design by making changes until you get the performance or behavior you want. In the world of building PCB prototypes, change is a very good thing, as long as engineering change request best practices are in place.
When change request best practices are followed, the engineering development of the prototype will continue as it should. If change request best practices aren’t observed, however, chaos will reign. When you are choosing a PCB contract manufacturer to build your prototype circuit boards, it is very important that you find one that has a well-documented change request system in place that you can work with. Let’s explore what these best practices are, what they are not, and find out some of the ways that your CM should be managing your change requests.
What Are PCB Engineering Change Request Best Practices?
There are a lot of different ways to define best practices for engineering change requests, but above all, they must have one thing in common—they must all be based on open communication between the CM and you.
Without a clear avenue of communication, a change request system will break down. Design questions and change requests could fall between the cracks and not find their way to their intended recipient. Delays can happen if one of the parties is waiting for a response from the other. Communication is absolutely vital, and your CM should have a system in place for making sure they have clear and open lines of communication to their customers.
Another best practice that the CM should have in place is a system where everything related to building the PCBA is logged and recorded. The days of hastily jotted comments on sticky-notes or a napkin are long gone, and each question, request, and authorization should be faithfully logged into a customer database.
Not only is this important for communication, but in the event of industry audits for certification, the CM will have a reliable record of everything that has happened with your board. Additionally, it isn’t just the communication that should be recorded in the customer change request database, it should also contain all observations, errors, and customer responses so that there is a completely thorough record of every job.
Without this level of change request and customer communication management, a lot can go wrong.
Communication is the most important aspect of engineering change request best practices.
What Happens When Change Requests Aren’t Properly Managed?
Imagine if your change request was to get lost, or an error was found by the CM was not communicated back to you correctly. This could all happen if change request best practices aren’t in place. If this happens, you might see some of the following results:
- Incorrect parts due to missed change requests.
- Bad builds due to data errors not being corrected.
- Failed ISO audits due to missing documentation.
- The CM misunderstanding your requirements or specifications.
All of these potential problems can be avoided if the CM has a well-built change request system established. It is also just as important your CM documents changes you don’t want done to design. In some prototype scenarios, you may request that a needed change not be done for specific testing or a faster build. In these cases, it is important that the change request system retains the “as-built” condition documentation, as well.
How a Contract Manufacturer Best Manages Engineering Changes
To avoid the problems of requests that get dropped or documentation that goes missing, every communication between you and your CM should be recorded in a database you both share and can access. At VSE, we call each communication recorded in this database a “clarification request.” The database is one of the most utilized tools in our company.
Any questions that we have about a customer’s job, whether we need something clarified, are reporting a problem we’ve found, or are requesting that something is changed, is logged into the database. Once logged, the question or communication is sent to you, the customer, in electronic documentation that summarizes all of the details under the specific part name and number of the job.
This process is our official course of action per our ISO standards, and we only accept responses back from the customer in an electronic approval form that will be, in turn, logged back into the database. When an auditor comes and asks why specific changes were made, the answer will always be “because we sent the customer a clarification request and they answered with our standard approval form.”
All of our communication with you, and especially our change requests, are documented within our proprietary clarification request process so we know exactly what needs to be done with your circuit board. With this level of information management, we can reduce errors from miscommunication and deliver the quality in your PCBA you expect.