The importance of Factory Acceptance Tests

by Charlotte Atchley
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A Factory Acceptance Test allows bakers to inspect and review new equipment with supplier technicians and members of their own staff before the equipment is installed.

Purchasing and installing new equipment can be risky business. There’s a lot of money on the line. With more and more unique products, standard equipment is getting upgraded with custom features that need to work as promised. In the case of a brand new system, bakers don’t have a lot of time for mistakes or delays. The Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) is quickly becoming a standard final step to make sure installations and startups go off without a hitch, according to Andy Baker, mechanical engineering manager, AMF Bakery Systems.

“FATs serve as one of the last customer-to-supplier feedback methods to help ensure that the customer’s expectations are met for a project prior to shipping, installation and startup,” he said. “The dialogue that goes on during an FAT can be valuable at uncovering potential issues that may not have been discussed or considered earlier in the order process. Once all the variables of shipping, install, startup, training, etc. are all considered, we often realize that some details need to be clarified.”

By verifying these details before shipping the equipment, the supplier can make any necessary corrections or adjustments. “FATs are an opportunity to find discrepancies between a customer’s expectations and what we plan to deliver,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser. “As much as we communicate with our customers, nothing tops seeing the equipment running together.”

FATs often take place at the suppliers’ location before the system is shipped. It’s beneficial to bakers to bring operators and engineers along for the test. “If the customer can bring operators to our facility for the FAT, they can participate in the process. The experience they gain from testing the faults of the machine means they can usually handle any issue that comes up during the startup,” said Rick Rodarte, vice-president of operations, Stewart Systems.

While it often falls to the baker to request an FAT, AMF finds this process so important to successful startups that the company conducts its own internal FAT. “We typically assign a service technician to be ‘the voice of the customer’ for the FAT,” Mr. Baker said “This helps ensure our own quality measures have been attained.”

FATs come in all different depths specific to each project. A successful FAT requires clear communication between customer and supplier before, during and after the order to verify that everyone is on the same page.

Suppliers often offer technology centers where bakers can preemptively test their products on equipment.

Diving into new depths

Not every new machine or system requires the same level of scrutiny before being sent to the bakery. These tests can be as simple as a checklist inspection or as complex as a production simulation. “There are different levels of factory inspections, all dependent upon customer requests,” said Tremaine Hartranft, director of engineering, Reading Bakery Systems. “We can provide something as simple as a pre-delivery equipment inspection and as complex as setting up the full production line and running it similar to how it will be used in the customer’s factory.”

The most basic of FATs is a dry test where bakers inspect the equipment for compliance to drawings, quotes, specifications and standards agreed upon at the time of order. Marc Ferree, sales engineer, Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solution, explained that more complicated orders or orders with multiple pieces of equipment may require a more thorough FAT or a wet FAT. “A dry FAT may take a matter of hours to simply check major dimensions and run the equipment to verify functionality,” Mr. Ferree said. “A high-level FAT could take two to five days and involve multiple product mixing trials to collect performance data and ensure product quality.”

AMF also offers a wide of range of testing protocols for its equipment, anything from customer checklists to simulating actual production conditions complete with dough.

Reiser’s FATs run the gamut from physical inspections to running with playdough or running with real product. “We prefer the latter,” Mr. McIsaac said. “It is a truer test.”

For major production lines, Handtmann works with other vendors so that bakers can test the entire scope of the project together.

At Zeppelin Systems USA, the company can do FATs for some of the individual equipment it sells, but because it sells massive systems such as ingredient handling that cannot be assembled and tested ahead of time, the company will do a software simulation test. This software test imitates the actions of the motors, valves and instruments as if they were truly there. “We do the best we can to simulate what actions we would expect from real equipment and instruments in the field,” said Jack Kilbride, director, systems and automation, Zeppelin. As far as the software is concerned, he said, the equipment and instruments are there.

The novelty of the equipment also can determine the depth of last-minute testing. “If it’s something we’ve had on the market forever, then an FAT, from our standpoint, is not a necessity, but if it’s something new for this particular plant or across their organization, then an FAT never hurts,” said Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford Corp.

The company ordering the equipment could also have its own priorities for testing as well, Mr. Lindsey said, and Burford follows the baker’s lead when it comes to how in-depth he or she wants the final inspection to go.

With a Factory Acceptance Test, bakers can ensure a smoother start-up.

Testing at the top

Working with other vendors and bringing in bakery personnel to participate in the FAT mean these final tests can come with a cost. There are things ­bakers can do at the start of ordering to have a cost-effective, efficient and successful FAT.

“Customers should be asking for FATs during the quoting process to ensure time and manpower can be dedicated to their visit and that a sufficient test can be run,” Mr. Rodarte said. “It is difficult to perform large system tests due to the amount of floor space some systems require, so consideration should be given to what types of testing can be performed.”

Bakers should also realize that the function of an FAT is a last-minute inspection to ensure all specifications have been met. “At an FAT, equipment is usually 100% done, so that is not the ideal time for changes,” Mr. Baker said. “The earlier in the process a customer can submit their list of FAT objectives, the better the manufacturer can be able to achieve them.”

Asking questions and communicating needs upfront can go a long way to making sure the bakery gets exactly what it needs from its new equipment and system and that there are no surprises. Burford has addressed this with its technical data sheet (TDS). This form requests all the information Burford needs to make sure the machine fits the bakery’s criteria. With the TDS in place, Mr. Lindsey said, the FAT becomes more about peace of mind than a necessity.

Mr. Zelaya suggested a pre-FAT in which the baker does not need to be onsite but can provide the equipment vendor with necessary information to fine tune the process. The supplier will need to know information such as ingredient specifications and processing parameters such as times, temperatures and conditions.

Reading Bakery Systems’ Science and Innovation Center allows bakers to test their products on Reading’s equipment early on. “Once the product is proven on our equipment, it greatly minimizes the risk at startup for the newly designed equipment,” Mr. Hartranft said. By testing the equipment in such a facility, bakers can then decide if they need to see the full line set up in the factory.

When testing large systems that may not be able to be assembled until installation, a software test can shed light on any hiccups that could occur as equipment communicates throughout production.

Testing the game plan

An FAT is an effective way to check in advance that things will go smoothly when the equipment is installed. It’s a last opportunity for a baker to check to make sure everything is as it should be and anticipate any issues that may come up once the equipment is in place. To get the most out of these tests, there are a few things bakers can consider. The first is having realistic expectations for the FAT.

“Bakers need a game plan as to what they want to attain via an FAT,” Mr. Baker explained. “They should be asking suppliers what can or cannot be evaluated or tested, based on their own FAT checklist criteria, as well as considering things like who should attend, schedule/timing, etc.”

This game plan should include what is crucial to the baker to take away from the testing, whether that’s verifying specifications, dimensions or operation. “Bakers must establish the value in each FAT step,” Mr. Ferree said.

Having a game plan and communicating it are important to making sure everyone is on the same page. “Shaffer places communication with the customer as the No. 1 way to ensure that each FAT procedure is customized to ensure a successful startup,” he said. This communication takes place before, during and after the testing.

Bakers should ask about amenities such as a loading dock to receive ancillary equipment for the FAT, existing ingredient handling and storing capabilities, and what ancillary equipment the supplier already has onsite available to customers to use as part of the test. It’s also important to note who will be on hand to assist throughout the testing.

“The closer we can plan the FAT to replicate the customer process at the plant level, the smoother the commissioning and the startup would be,” Mr. Zelaya said. “Using the same ingredients, similar equipment technology and following the overall process conditions at the customer bakery during the FAT will ensure a smooth and successful startup.”

When planning an FAT, bakers should also factor this into their overall timeline for commissioning and installation. Everything can slow down the time to install.

“With fewer pieces of equipment, an FAT can go rather quickly,” Mr. Hartranft said. “With a larger production line, it can take several weeks to set up the equipment to have it ready to operate and then disassemble it.”

Once the FAT is complete, however, any changes could impact the ship date, too, Mr. Lindsey said. Typically major changes aren’t made after an FAT, but minor changes can still alter when bakers can expect to receive their finished machines. “That’s something they need to keep in mind when performing the FAT,” he said.

With a successful FAT in place, bakers are taking steps to validate that the equipment and systems they are investing in will be everything they need them to be. “Let’s face it: A good FAT takes a lot of resources and time for both supplier and customer,” Mr. McIsaac said. “The customer payback is easier installs, shortened learning curve and an understanding of where to get answers when they need them.”

With this level of perks, FATs are solidifying themselves as standard practice for successful installs.

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