What Every Manufacturing Executive Needs to Know About Configuration Management

Configuration Management

Configuration Management (CM) is the foundation of a manufacturer’s operations infrastructure. The world’s most powerful MRP/ERP applications cannot overcome the shortcomings of a poorly designed and implemented CM system. In other words, if your CM system has a shaky foundation, the operations infrastructure sitting on top of this foundation will be shaky as well.

Manufacturers think little of spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars implementing MRP/ERP technology. But, by investing little (if anything) in the very foundation these applications rely upon – the configuration management system – they undermine their MRP/ERP investment.

Configuration Management is the bridge between Engineering and the other organizations in a manufacturing company. CM consists of processes, procedures and specialized information technology addressing identification, release and change management, and status accounting. The vast majority of your employees and your supply chain feel the positive (or negative) effects of the CM system.

A weak CM system sabotages your operational and communication needs. You can get an indication of the quality and integrity of your CM system based on the level of confusion, frustration, and complaints that prevail from an operations perspective dealing with Engineering.

There are as many CM systems as there are companies. CM systems should be designed and implemented based on present and anticipated future operational needs of the company. Unfortunately, CM systems are seldom the result of thoughtful consideration and careful design. Time (and painful operational and communication difficulties) reveals the shortcomings of a haphazardly implemented CM system.

Let’s quickly examine the major areas of a Configuration Management system:

· Identification (part numbering) system
· Release and change management system
· Status accounting system

Identification System

The identification (part numbering) system must support a number of diverse elements ranging from “off-the-shelf” purchased components, hardware designed with CAD tools, software, documentation, and assemblies that include bills of material. The identification system must not only take into account the assignment of new part numbers but also define the part re-identification rules applicable when engineering changes are applied, i.e., design changes, documentation changes, producibility changes.

Manufacturers experience operations difficulties when the part identification and part re-identification practices are applied inconsistently. The guidelines for the identification system should be objective, not subjective, particularly with respect to part re-identification practices. Part re-identification practices should be based on the type of change rather than change implementation considerations.

The identification system and re-identification practices must take into account the MRP/ERP system needs. MRP/ERP cannot help manage the cut-in of changes to anything other than changes made to the part number field. Advancing a revision level of a part cannot be tracked in MRP/ERP as the revision level is nothing more than a “comment” field. The basic thinking behind MRP/ERP system design is, “if you care about the revision level, you must include the revision level as part of the part number.”

Part numbering systems providing a means to classify (or categorize) parts make it easier to locate parts that have already have been assigned part numbers. This is particularly helpful to avoid the assignment of duplicate part numbers–2 or more part numbers for the same part.

Release and Change Management System

The release and change management system is often referred to as the “Engineering Change Order” or ECO process. The process must clearly communicate why a change is being made, identify the items affected, determine how and when the change is to be implemented, identify what is to be done with existing parts (use-as-is, rework, scrap, etc.) look at cost issues, and obtain necessary management approvals via the Change Control Board (CCB).

The CCB members typically include representatives from Engineering, Configuration Management, Materials, Manufacturing, Technical Support, and Customer Service Logistics.

Too often, the release and change management process is little more than a means to authorize the update the documentation affected by a change. But such a process misses an important opportunity.

The CCB must ensure the change is implemented in accordance with the implementation plan developed and agreed to during the change review and approval process. Few companies realize this value-added contribution from the CCB.

The change management process is similar to a football team huddling to plan the next play. What happens if football players leave the huddle unclear about what to do next? A fumble? A turnover? Perhaps. The CCB fumbles if it fails to develop and execute a plan to implement the change consistent with the manufacturer’s technical and business needs.

The two major elements of the release and change management system are (1) change requests and (2) change orders. An effective CM process enables the users to monitor all work-in-process as well as completed changes and change requests from their workstations.

Status Accounting System

The status accounting system is the heart of the CM system. It identifies whether or not a part number is released, provides a history of all change requests and change orders against a part, and identifies any pending change requests and/or change orders against a part. In many companies, this information is accessible only in the document control department. A weakness of many document control work practices is not reflecting any pending requests or change orders in the status system.

Status Accounting can also include an area referred to as “Product Configuration Control.” Product Configuration Control is a method for capturing the “as-shipped” configuration and configuration level of products. Later, this information is updated to include the “as-maintained” configuration and configuration level of the product.
This information is vital for understanding and managing changes that need to be applied against products that have shipped to customers. Usually, the Configuration Management function will provide a mechanism for identifying specific product levels. Manufacturing and Customer Service are typically responsible for capturing and maintaining this information. If this information is not captured and maintained, the CCB is limited in its ability to assess the specific impact of a change.

While most capital equipment manufacturers and their customers would benefit from Product Configuration Control, most ignore this issue. Not having such a process can be a tremendous source of customer dissatisfaction. It is even more important to have such a process if the product is likely to be upgraded and/or expanded during its life with the customer.

Future Trends in Configuration Management

While it is hard to fathom, the vast majority of companies still use a manual, paper-based CM process. Significant cycle time and communication improvements are possible with computer-based systems. Computer-based systems are always preferable over manual systems, but they are essential when all functions of a company can’t reside under one roof. Outsourced functions in your supply chain generally require access to the same information internal users require.

Companies benefiting from electronic CM systems have traditionally relied on internally-developed systems. There are now “off-the-shelf” systems available that may be suitable in some environments. “Off-the-shelf” applications generally do not have all the functionality required and usually require that business practices be modified to suit the application. Today, a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) enterprise application is a key part of a comprehensive CM solution.


A CM system is key to a manufacturer’s operational success. Without an effective system, time and money will be wasted. Computer-based CM systems can dramatically reduce cycle times, improve time-to-market, reduce errors and rework, and improve communication, particularly when operations are physically separated from product development.
If you are looking at this, it is likely you are experiencing difficulties with one or more of the following areas:
• Your part numbering system
• Your engineering change request process
• Your engineering change order process and the integration of product changes with Manufacturing and Field Service
• Your inventory control accuracy
• Your product release process
• Integrating your ERP system with your business processes
We’ve got the track record and expertise to solve these mission-critical issues.
Take the Next Step. Contact Dave Gardner now.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.