Good FAT improves production

by John Gunst, facilities business unit director, POWER Engineers
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POWER Engineers

A factory acceptance test (FAT) can be defined as the testing completed at the vendor’s manufacturing plant before a piece of equipment is shipped (some call these vendor acceptance tests or VATs). FAT or VAT tests are important because a company can:

  • Confirm that the equipment is in proper operating order prior to shipment and arrival at your plant
  • Check the machine against your specifications
  • Eliminate installation surprises
  • Familiarize maintenance and operations staff with the machine before it arrives at the plant.

A good FAT program is not a simple process; it involves planning, scheduling and budgeting.

A successful FAT program is the result of the project team’s ability to define the equipment’s operation, performance and integration into the production line. Engineering and operations should start defining the specifications for the machine, from materials of construction through operational performance, at the very beginning of the project. All of these items need to be included in a FAT document, and FAT requirements should be included in the proposal request and confirmed in the purchase order.

There is cost associated with a good FAT program. The costs typically include commitment of personnel, materials for packaging, sample food products and other associated consumables. Under some circumstances, you may need additional staff beyond your FAT oversight team on site to help handle product and testing.

Think in terms of a cracker wrapper. If you want to run a cracker sleeve wrapper at a vendor site, who will place the crackers into the infeed, how fast will this have to be done and what potential periphery equipment, such as conveyors, will need to be on site in order to compete the test? Will you need a refrigerated storage space to store the perishable product you send for the test? All of these items cost money and will be charged to you in one form or another. Without proper planning and budgeting, what type of test will the vendor perform? Also, when requesting quotations, make sure that the associated costs for the proposed testing are identified and are included in the proposal.

At the vendor’s location, you need a plan. The best plans include multiple stages of testing.

  1. Static Review – For this portion of the test, evaluate a machine that is not running. Look for sharp edges, safety systems, and component specifications. Check for oil where it should not be and any signs of wear, such as metal or plastic filings. Have your team inside under, and around the machine when the machine is not powered up.
  2. Dry Run – Power up the machine, and watch it cycle. Open every guard door, and trip every safety switch. Check alarms and the automatic start up and shut down. Listen carefully for noises indicating balance and friction. Feel for vibrations. Check the temperature of motors and drives for excessive heat.
  3. Wet Run – You are now ready to introduce product. Getting all of the vendor’s engineers, millwrights and assemblers together to dump dough troughs is not the answer. Put a provision in your specification that requires the vendor to supply outside laborers for the task. They are often inexpensive and allow you to watch the proceedings and record data instead of shoveling product. During this run, look at quality of the material handling whether it is conveyance, mixing, packaging or any other function. Often you can recycle product and just watch the machine run.
  4. Final Run – Here, you are asking the machine to complete the process. The test might include a specific time and efficiency component. You will probably be shipping some of the product back to your labs for review. This run is the only part of a FAT that many processors ever consider. As you can see, it is just the end of what might be a long day or even several days. Do not let the machine leave until it is truly running as expected. Vendors can fix machines in their plant much more cheaply and effectively than in yours.

Each test should be assigned specific expectations and performance objectives that a team can verify. We recommend creating a check list that contains the performance objectives the need to be validated. Each objective should be listed for the team to sign off on or note the failure of acceptance.

  • Safety
  • Hygiene
  • Mechanical
  • Electrical
  • Controls
  • Production
  • Maintenance

In conclusion, make sure to bring the appropriate staff: engineers, operations, mechanics and hygienists. This is not a travel week for vice-president and other senior staff. It is a serious engineering and operations test. Stay as long as the testing takes, and if there are modifications to be completed before shipping, it may be a good idea to stay and observe these changes. Paying a fee to change your flight and an extra day or two of expenses is far less costly than unexpected start-up delays and loss of production.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.

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