Best Practices for Effective Factory Acceptance Testing

Best Practices for Effective Factory Acceptance Testing

When writing code for automated systems, it is necessary to demonstrate that the code is written to the customer’s specifications. At Matrix Technologies, Inc., we begin our projects by listening to the customer’s needs and writing a functional document describing how we will address those needs. Upon client agreement, we code the entire automated process according to those specifications. We then write device and process simulations to facilitate thorough integrated testing of the entire system.  Before we can field test or place a system into service, we must first complete a process called Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT).

Factory Acceptance Testing is the process of validating that our engineers wrote the code in the way that the customer expected it to function. To complete the FAT, the end user will often visit our location for a one- or two-day demonstration of software functionality. During the FAT, we demonstrate the process and isolate problems.

This article briefly describes best practices for preparing for and conducting an effective Factory Acceptance Test.

FAT Test Specifications and Preparation

Accurate simulation conditions for Factory Acceptance Testing are essential when implementing new computer process control and information systems. The FAT will usually follow a test script that is typical of how the operator will use the system, with expected versus actual results logged at each step of the test script.

The testing process begins with the development of a Test Specification, which is a document that lays the groundwork for planning and executing all stages of testing. These specifications include:

  • Scope of Testing. By defining the scope and purpose of the test, all parties understand what is to be tested and the expectations or outcome of the test.
  • Responsibilities, Schedule, and Manpower Requirements. Identify who is responsible for each step of the procedure and set a schedule for the testing. Gantt charts can be very helpful in this regard.
  • Equipment Requirements. Identify the types of equipment needed and who will be responsible for procuring them.
  • Simulation Requirements. Simulation requirements can include special I/O simulation drivers, internal code simulation, or connections into databases for simulation data.
  • Testing Procedures. The procedures should be laid out in a step-by-step fashion to aid the user in performing the test effectively and efficiently. Each step in the test procedure includes a description of how the test is performed, the expected results, an area to record the test results, and a signature or initialization line for the authorized approval that the test was acceptable.

Cost Considerations

Once your test specifications have been defined, the equipment can be set up and configured for testing. Some cost-impact items to consider include the cost of procuring the equipment, labor and material costs relative to any control, power or communications wiring, and the labor and area to stage the equipment. Keep in mind that while small setups may be very inexpensive, as systems increase in size, so does the impact of planning, space, labor, and costs.

There are other cost considerations as well. Often, the equipment has been purchased with project funds; however, sometimes this equipment needs shipped on-site or to a panel shop for fabrication. If so, consider purchasing spares and utilizing them for testing. If testing interfaces to legacy systems, you may want to consider end-user spares. Also, particularly if performing prototyping, consider using vendor-supplied equipment to verify functionality before proceeding.

A demonstration might also require special I/O simulation drivers, internal code simulation, or connections into databases for simulation data. Special HMI test screens can be developed as well to simulate hardwired devices in an office environment as opposed to trying to hardwire I/O within the test setup, which can be time-consuming and costly.

Optimizing the FAT

Optimal Personnel Involvement

We recommend involving plant personnel from varying responsibilities such as the project engineers, operations managers, operators, and the technical personnel responsible for long-term maintenance of the system. While the presence of multiple roles is helpful to catching any potential problems, there is also the risk of losing focus and getting off-task. As described above, the Test Specification can help keep the FAT on schedule and people on task.

System Update Form

As testing progresses, individuals will find various items they would like changed. To document comments, recommendations, or changes to the system throughout the FAT, we recommend using a System Update Form. Potential notes may include incorrect results, a change in control philosophy, or even something as simple as the color or formatting of an object on the HMI screen. The items on the form can be reviewed at the end of the day to allow the programmers to make the modifications before the next day of testing resumes. Once the changes are made, review the items with the authorized authorities and have them sign off that each item was addressed.

The Final Step: Operator Testing

The FAT should conclude with the user conducting a scripted test of the complete sequence of operations with programmers remaining as hands-off as possible. The script should be run through several times until a sequence can be run from start to finish with no problems encountered. Exception conditions should also be considered and run through to verify the sequence can adjust and continue operations as would be expected in the plant environment. Once the FAT is complete, have the designated authorities sign off that the system is approved for shipment.

 Factory Acceptance Testing: Efficient and Cost-Effective

With today’s emphasis on seamless integration and trouble-free startups, thorough software testing is essential for minimizing production downtime at startup. Factory Acceptance Testing provides an efficient and cost-effective way to debug code before placing equipment in field commissioning, where any changes to code would increase costs and delay production. By carefully planning and scheduling the process, identifying the required equipment and simulation methods, and following procedures, the FAT will utilize an accurate simulation, which is essential for implementing new computer process control and information systems.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation services and factory acceptance testing, contact Ronald England, Vice President and Director of Project Management.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

How a Multidiscipline Engineering Approach to Batch Retort Design Saves Time, Cuts Costs, and Reduces Waste

How a Multidiscipline Engineering Approach to Batch Retort Design Saves Time, Cuts Costs, and Reduces Waste

Multidiscipline Engineering

At Matrix Technologies, we do more than simply provide the services our clients request—we also look for ways to save our clients time and money. One of the ways in which we are able provide time and cost savings is through our ability to offer multidiscipline engineering services. As a single-source supplier of mechanical, process, civil, structural, architectural, and electrical engineering services, Matrix acts as a one-stop shop for the varied needs of large-scale industrial manufacturers.

These coordinated services are particularly helpful for companies in the food and beverage industry with complex problems to solve. Recently, one of the largest retail private-label soup manufacturers in the United States approached Matrix to create an Automated Batch Retort (ABR) cook room using industrial cookers they had already purchased. Matrix engineers were responsible for process design, including material flow diagrams, Process & Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs), and equipment specifications for the retort cooling system. The engineers designed foundations for the nine retorts, shuttle rail, unloading lifting device, sump structure, cooling tower, storage tank foundations, HVAC, and all necessary support structures.

Though completing these tasks required engineers from our civil, process, electrical, and industrial solutions groups, Matrix was able to keep costs low by providing an onsite construction manager to supervise all contractors and coordinate services between the different groups. In addition to keeping the process running smoothly, the presence of a single contact saved the client time by eliminating the need to contact multiple contractors and ensuring smooth communications between all the engineers.

Batch Retort Design

During the process of designing the ABR for this soup manufacturer, Matrix engineers saved time and money by applying novel approaches to two design challenges: optimizing user control and communication between devices, and creating a method for cooling the soup cans to an acceptable temperature.

Using Existing Infrastructure to Optimize Communications and Save Money

Part of the process for building the ABR included developing programming and configuration of PLC, HMI, and VFDs for the retort cooling tower system and conveyors. Matrix engineers used the existing ethernet network, which allowed our team to put the controllers and devices out at the cookers and use the existing plant network to communicate. In addition, our engineers piggybacked off of the manufacturer’s existing HMI server system and added more operator stations to their Rockwell platform. By using the infrastructure the manufacturer already had in place, we were able to not only make the process easier but also save the client the time and expense of developing new systems.

Leveraging Design Innovation to Cut Costs and Conserve Water

Though all elements to the batch retort design were important, the key to ensuring the safety and integrity of the product and facility was the cooling towers. To remain compliant with all safety regulations and produce a safe, quality product for consumers, soup manufacturers use industrial cookers to guarantee their product is sealed properly, heated to the correct temperature, and cooked efficiently. To do so, the cooker, once loaded with cans, is filled with water heated to around 285-300°F, pressurized, and cooked. However, when cooking is completed, these cans must be immediately cooled without releasing pressure too quickly (otherwise, the cans might burst).

To address this problem, Matrix engineers designed the automation of the cooling system that releases cool water (68°F) kept at the same pressure as the hot water being drained. While designing this process, our team recognized an opportunity to also cut costs for the client by reusing the water already going through the system. The client is charged by the city for the water coming in and going out of the plant, and in the past, the water in the system was constantly being pulled from the city’s supply, used to cool the cans, and released to the drain that feeds into the city’s waste water facility. Our team designed a system that captures the water used in the cooling  process and runs it through the cooling towers (rather than pulling new water in), creating a closed loop for reusing the water. The reuse of the water helps reduce the cost the client pays for water from the city. In addition, the cooling water absorbs the heat energy from the cans increasing its temperature. By using a series of heat exchangers, we designed a system to pull the energy from that water and use it to heat other water sources that are part of the manufacturing process. This has the added benefit of reducing the client’s natural gas bills as well. The overall result is not only a significant cost savings but also a substantial amount of water conservation.

The Result: A Showcase-Worthy System

For this soup manufacturer, our multidiscipline engineering services provided effective solutions to a large-scale project, eliminated hassle, and reduced costs. The result was a finished system the client now uses as a showcase system to show the level of sophistication and quality in their operations to their customers.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation services, contact Daniel Crisman, Department Manager.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.