Travel restrictions and forbidden access to company premises and production sites due to the global pandemic have strongly affected a great number of operations in the manufacturing sector, with companies increasingly turning to remote collaboration tools to carry out their activities and ensure business continuity.
Factory Acceptance Tests: What are They?
The Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) is a process consisting of a sequence of operations aimed at verifying the proper functioning of machinery during -and after- its assembly stage. The goal, both for manufactures and their clients, is to ensure compliance with the project specifications agreed upon when launching a project.
The test is performed within the company that produces specific equipment and ensures that each component is properly working both singularly and as part of the overall machinery, as well as in the technological ecosystem it will operate in.
Checks are usually customized to detect and provide evidence of any compliance errors, and to plan a range of corrective interventions to overcome them before the machinery is installed at the end client’s premises.
Therefore, the whole sequence of operations the FAT consists of shall be completed, in order not to miss any noncompliance which may otherwise only be solved after the installation, inevitably delaying the project’s closing date and affecting the budget.
How Travel Restrictions Have Impacted the Industrial Landscape
The present COVID-19 spread has considerably affected the business world, especially those companies operating in the Industrial Manufacturing sector. To carry on their productivity, they rely on on-site workers whose activities are difficult to make remote.
Many companies have been severely impacted by the pandemic, both in terms of operations and finance, resultining in plants closed down and cuts to the workforce. In addition, the decreasing demand of certain goods has forced the downsizing of the production of all related items in the supply chain.
In this scenario, the main priority for industry players is the health protection of their workforce and client’s staff when visiting production plants to monitor the progress of their orders.
While entire production lines were shut down and travels were limited in compliance with authority regulations, new opportunities have arisen for the digitalization of many Field Service activities, providing companies with the tools to connect on-field workers with colleagues or external professionals from remote, thus ensuring business continuity, efficiency and sustainability at different levels in the supply chain, including the essential Factory Acceptance Test phase.
Remote Collaboration for the Management of FATs
In this scenario, a concrete and profitable contribution is provided by digital tools for remote collaboration, which allow to check on the progress of works and run Factory Acceptance Tests in complete safety, with no need for the client’s staff to travel and reach the work sites.
Using a Head-mounted tablet (HMT) on a helmet, factory operators are enabled to share their point of view via video streaming with other technicians from remote, to show them in real-time the whole testing phase and interact throughout the execution of the operations thanks to advanced Augmented Reality features.
Upon accessing the room where equipment is being assembled, in compliance with the company’s safety protocols, the technician activates the wearable device with the remote support software installed. The application directly connects them with Project Engineers and Product Development Specialists, who may communicate with the operator on-site through the desktop interface of the same software, with no need to leave their office. The clients, from their premises, may also connect to the session, contribute, and interact, as if they were in person.
The vocal control features of the tool allow the field technician to perform their tasks hands-free, ensuring greater focus on procedures, while remote operators can share documents and add multimedia content (technical layouts, photos, videos, notes) directly to the video streaming.
Moreover, the integration of remote collaboration tools with Artificial Intelligence allows to automatically add all the information recorded during the session, such as tags, dialogs, and related multi-language translations, to be later indexed and shared with other company departments.
The Benefits of Remote Collaboration for Factory Acceptance Tests
Modern digital tools to run FATs from remote offer unprecedented benefits for user companies, led by the reduction of the time required for setting up and technologically innovating supervised machinery. Additionally, the digital tools offer a more agile response to customer requirements and improved knowledge transfer within and outside the organization. Just as importantly, the operational quality and efficiency standards provided by ultimate tools are comparable to those normally achieved without the aid of such technology.
- Maintaining quality: unchanged efficacy of operations and activities compared to traditional tests
- More time available: longer availability periods of resources when travel and intervention times are reduced to zero
- High productivity: increased number of completed tests, since running multiple tests at once is possible
- Increased safety: reduction of the risks associated with operations, both for the company and the client, as their staff is not required to be on-site in person
- Quick knowledge transfer: real-time information sharing throughout the whole organization by recording sessions and automatically adding information via Artificial Intelligence
Remote collaboration applied to the manufacturing industry opens up new perspectives in the execution of Factory Acceptance Tests, where all machine components, related automations, and project design can finally be tested and monitored from remote, thus overcoming any errors detected in the production process and paving the way to the virtual commissioning era.