June, 2020

In the latest CMsights post we share a guest-authored article from Joseph Norton which illustrates the role of configuration management and CM standards like EIA-649 during a supply chain emergency such as that precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe is a current member and past officer of the SAE G-33 Configuration Management Committee, an NDIA Certified Configuration and Data Manager, and is trained as a Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt in process improvement.

Image courtesy Joseph Norton

Change is Risky, Now More So Than Ever

Change and risk are constant companions throughout life, which means controlling change is key to mitigating risk. Whether called change control, configuration control, or change management; Configuration Management (CM) is a simple concept to understand, as it encompasses change processes such that all is known by all involved. However, CM is a much more complex concept to implement in practice. 

To steer companies through the effective use of configuration change control, CM Principles (https://cmstat.com/consulting-training/cm-training/) provide topic-specific guidance through the variety of issues encountered during the initial creation, revision, and maintenance of individual products or complete systems. These principles help to manage the design baseline, subsequent revisions, stores design versions, revisions, and associated data, but also serve as the process for releasing data so an organization can produce and deliver products that meet documented requirements.

A Product Data Management (PDM) strategy is essential to implement these CM principles whether done so by using engineering PDM software, enterprise PLM solutions, or industry-specific CM tools. Without such a strategy the risk due to changes is greatly amplified. However, the use of PDM or PLM software to manage change control does not by itself mean you have configuration management under control!

The Role of CM Standards and CM Plans

SAE International, the publisher of EIA-649 (https://www.sae.org/standards/content/eia649c/), positions the Configuration Management Standard as guidance, whereas requirements for CM typically appear in a contract or statement of work. To deploy CM consistently, companies usually customize CM practices and policies into a company or project-specific CM Plan that takes into account unique capabilities, conditions, and circumstances of their own operations. (Read more about CM Plans in this previous CMsights article https://cmstat.com/what-is-a-configuration-management-plan/.)  

This all but guarantees that, when adhered to, the CM Plan not only shows the way to the best possible outcomes in each stage of a product’s lifecycle but the consistency with which the CM Plan is applied across all of the company’s product lines assures customers that this company is a vendor of choice. The resulting traceability and accountability become the cornerstone of customer satisfaction and repeat business during the tight schedules of emergency situations.

The use of CM in a Supply Chain Example

Ripped from the headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic are many stories of challenges centered on national and local shortages of medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE), and hospital supplies. The standard strategy is to fill shortages faced by customers and fill them fast. When decisions to rush products to market follow suitable risk/benefit analyses, the integrity of the product, procedures, and customer satisfaction can be sustained even through a crisis. Getting urgently needed products out the door quickly and into the customer’s hands may, during a nationwide emergency, require shortcuts that in turn generate more than their share of risks.

All phases of company operations must make the same product described in the contract—the basis of customer satisfaction and payment. Placing an approved design into the PDM system is the simplest and most reliable way to assure all internal and external partners of an organization are “reading from the same page.”

Affected departments of a company should rely on their PDM as the “single source of truth” because the active release is always retrievable for downstream activities. For example, the Supply Chain organization refers to the Bill of Materials to procure materials and supplies. Production imports design geometry into fabrication and assembly equipment. Quality inspects finished products to the approved design they have on file and to industry and regulatory standards.

Consider the case of a fictitious company, “Masks, Filters & Gowns” (“MFG”), which produces and distributes N-95 face masks along with other medical PPE. Despite late-breaking news concerning development of reusable masks, the industry defines the N-95 model as “single-use” making attractive the potential for profit from increased demand for a consumable product. Unfortunately, rapid deployment is equally subject to exploitation.

While the product team reviewed their designs of face masks, “MFG” replaced the elastic ear loops with loose fabric straps to (1) mitigate the uncertainty of future elastic deliveries from their supplier, (2) cut the cost of materials and (3) streamline the production process. The revised design receives an immediate and enthusiastic review. However, in the excitement, working copies of the changes are inadvertently hand-carried out of the meeting to begin work before the final reviews and approvals are affixed and filed, thus bypassing the PDM.

The well-oiled machinery of the “MFG” standard operating procedure is ready to roll, but with one glaring exception. Remember that the most recent revision to the design (the replacement of the elastic ear loops with loose fabric straps) never made it into the PDM and therefore is not yet visible to the rest of the company.

Bypassing CM for expediency is a questionable practice that puts companies at risk of suffering adverse events. In this example, the most recent revision of the “MFG” face mask design is not yet officially approved and distributed. This unfortunate circumstance leaves the company unprepared to produce the correct product.

Example Escapements and Guidance from CM Standards

The following table includes potential product escapements from this example that inflict unneeded expense and delay to the company and its customers. For each escapement we reference a guiding principle from the most recent release of SAE EIA-649. The CM principles listed below are but a few examples of the sound guidance found in that standard, which contains a list of all CM principles, their definitions, and guidance to apply them throughout it. These principles are categorized as: CMP (Configuration Management Planning and Management), CSA (Configuration Status Accounting), CVA (Configuration Verification and Audit), and CI (Configuration Identification).


Likely EscapementsSuggested Guidance
Supply Chain waits in vain for the elastic not ordered (nor is it needed for this revision) while Receiving turns away delivery of fabric for the loose straps because they were expecting elastic.“Principle CMP-8. Performing configuration management includes responsibility for the configuration management performance of the supply chain.”
Assembly gears up to attach elastic ear loops, not in stock.“Principle CSA-1. Configuration Status Accounting (CSA) provides an accurate, timely information base concerning a product and its product configuration information throughout the product life cycle.”
Inspection rejects newly revised parts because they failed verification of the drawing revision Quality has on file.“Principle CVA-3. Verify implementation of each change to ensure consistency is maintained between the product, its configuration information, and related support assets.”
Finance prepares contracts and purchase orders based on an outdated product identifier with the superseded revision level.“Principle CI-4. Product identifiers are assigned so that one product can be distinguished from other products, one configuration of a product can be distinguished from another, and the correct corresponding product information can be retrieved.”
Customer Service prevents the distribution of outdated and inaccurate Warranty information, instructions, and product illustrations to end-users of the product.“Principle CI-2. Product configuration information serves as the basis for the development, production, operation, and maintenance/support of the product.”

CM provides opportunities for a company to “do the right thing” in one phase while setting the stage to “do the next right thing” in the following stage. For example, Principle CMP-8 ensures that internal and external supply chains define in their role as ground zero for production. The impact of ordering and receiving the right materials, equipment, and supplies are paramount to producing the expected design of the product.

Likewise, Principles CI-2 and CI-4 correctly identify the product and its components for procurement and post-delivery support. CSA-1 identifies when each component of the product was added or removed from the design in the lifecycle.

Similarly, Quality conforms the final product to its intended design and documented description so its delivery puts the correct product in the hands of the company’s customers and end-users alike with guidance from Principle CVA-3.

Configuration Management is Quality Management

The scenario illustrated above is exaggerated to teach lessons learned from taking shortcuts in both routine and rushed conditions. Following a CM Plan, either an industry standard or an internal document approved and adopted by the company keeps an organization on the tried-and-true path of well-defined processes. 

Configuration Management professionals know the intrinsic value of adhering to principles, but they also understand that Configuration Management does not, and should never, stand for “Convenience Management.”

Mitigate the risk of design and product escapements with consistent use of CM principles and processes throughout the lifecycle of a product. Such consistency also benefits the company by building a solid reputation for producing products in a reliable and repeatable manner, a practice that enhances the health of the company itself.

What Next?

Thanks to Joe for this most timely example on the role of CM standards and guidance during a supply chain emergency. You can connect with Joe on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/joseph-norton-7a7b2b117/.

Do you have an example use of CM relevant to the current pandemic or economic shutdown that you would like to share or need help in resolving? If so, please leave a message below or contact CMstat at information@cmstat.com

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