Like many other aspects of your lives inside and outside of business, restrictions caused by COVID-19 have disrupted the normal way of conducting Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT’s). Because of travel restrictions, social distancing, and other precautions companies and governments are taking, the typical way of conducting a FAT is put on hold. Similar to how business has evolved during this time, FATs are now being successfully carried out remotely using digital tools. As the world and industry changes, OEMs must evolve with it.
An Overview of the Factory Accepted Test (FAT)
Usually, a FAT is performed at the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) site prior to shipment. The tests are conducted in accordance with the customer’s specification as described in their Request for Quote (RFQ) to ensure the system is ready to be shipped and installed on site. When done thoroughly, any potential issues can be identified and corrected by the engineering teams before the machine leaves the factory thus saving valuable time and resources on your end.
Each company has different requirements for different roles the equipment will play in their packaging operations. For instance, if you’re employed by a medical device company you won’t be interested in the washdown capabilities of your equipment, you’d be concerned with how the equipment will perform and that it meets ISO 11607-2 or other validation guidelines. Where in meat packaging sanitary washdown design is a must.
Regardless of the products you’re packaging, the benefits of a successful FAT are evident when your project managers can ramp up production to meet their startup goals quickly. Eliminating unnecessary service calls or incidents, pre-delivery, allows for smooth commissioning and sustainable consistent operation. Establishing a solid FAT protocol is pivotal for you experiencing a successful startup. In today’s world, the FAT is going to look a little different being remote, but your FAT goals remain the same.
What Your Typical FAT Looks Like
As you likely already know, and was described above, in normal circumstances FATs take place at the OEM’s plant for you to see the line in action with your own eyes. Managers like yourself usually send a team of no fewer than four representatives to the OEM’s plant. Tests are run to check off all the boxes of the FAT and technicians work out any issues before your line is shipped to your plant.
Typically, your team members visit the OEM’s plant for a period of about four to ten days, and sometimes longer if issues arise. For OEMs, machines and lines may be built in places like Germany, Spain, and Italy requiring international travel. Depending on personal preferences, some individuals like the change of scenery and want to get their hands on their capital investment, but others find traveling away from their daily duties inconvenient.
Whether or not you favor traveling to the OEM’s site for a FAT, for most manufacturers around the world travel is close to impossible and COVID-19 restrictions may prevent you from entering the OEM’s plant. Although restrictions are slowly dissipating, developing the processes and technology needed for remote FATs are essential to the packaging and manufacturing industry’s flexibility in the long run. This pandemic has proven that we don’t know what’s around the corner.
What Does a Remote FAT Look Like?
The important point to remember with remote FATs is that they accomplish the same goals as a typical in-person FAT. The goal is still to make sure your equipment and packaging line are satisfactory in preparation for shipment to your factory. The only difference is that collaboration takes place through digital aids and across the world, rather than face to face.
Remote FATs use video conference software, direct access to PLC while in operation, streaming live feeds, and high-resolution cameras to collaborate between you and your OEM. Using this technology, the OEM technicians will walk through and detail every aspect of the line for you and your engineering and operations teams. They will take you through tests, answer any questions, and work on any issues to complete the FAT to your satisfaction and requirements.
Furthermore, using video conferencing software allows recording of the process which helps for your review and future reference. Also, video clips or the entire recording can be used as documentation in conjunction with your company’s FAT paperwork or checklists and potentially be used in training.
Flexibility for the Industry
The development of remote FATs in the packaging and manufacturing industry adds flexibility for an industry that is always changing. As we’ve learned during this time, traveling and collaborating in person isn’t guaranteed. For some companies, choosing a remote FAT, even after all COVID-19 related restrictions have been lifted, may become the new norm. Reasons to opt for a remote FAT can be boiled down to two factors: time and cost.
- Time spent traveling - Important technical personnel could be more efficiently working on the project in question or on another project that also requires attention. Even commuting from airports, hotel rooms, and the OEM’s plant utilizes valuable time. Time from traveling isn’t allocated for just one technician, but at least four.
- Cost –The cost to send a team of at least four individuals outside their vicinity to an OEM’s factory for four to ten days adds up quickly. Costs include airline tickets, lodging, food, and any other transportation or business costs associated with your employees.
Many companies have developed comprehensive travel guidelines which outline the criteria for domestic and international travel. At this time, most still have their teams grounded to protect them from potential exposure. Until companies can reinstate normal traveling protocols, remote FAT’s, done correctly, have become a valuable and highly desirable option which have kept companies like yours on track for their targeted ramp up. Without these tools, commissioning would be over ninety days behind. It is entirely possible, that based upon successful execution, remote FATs will ultimately replace in-person FAT’s in the future.
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