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A global use case proves how remote FAT saves costs, time, and resources

Working remotely has increased remarkably, but certain tasks are considered hard or impossible to do over the internet. One example is FAT, Factory Acceptance Testing, because it concerns such complex systems. However, remote FAT is not only possible, but it also brings plenty of benefits. We should know, because we have implemented it with stakeholders on different continents and time zones.

At Etteplan, we have experienced benefits of remote FAT firsthand. A recent customer case showcased how even a FAT of demanding automation control systems can be performed globally, without physical presence of participants. The case proved that remote FAT saves money, time and resources.

The purpose of FAT is to ensure that a complete system or its components fulfill design specifications and all functionalities work properly. During the testing, all observed discrepancies are documented, and the programmers need to fix them prior to starting operations. In the context of this article, FAT is typically performed on-site, where the team of specialists gathers to perform testing. Specialists may travel from every part of globe and spend weeks or months at the site.

“Remote FAT produces equally dependable results as a regular FAT, because the tools remain the same. Either way, it is simulation. The only real difference is the need to arrange all communications over the internet,” says Tero Hanhisalo, who is Team Leader, Electrical and Automation Engineering at Etteplan

 

Five countries, five time zones, three continents

In our textbook customer case, the team involved experts in five different countries, five time zones, and on three continents. The automation designers were based in Finland and Sweden, digital control system (DCS) designers were in Brazil, safety system designers in India, and customer representants at the plant in Chile.

“The team gathering was made completely virtual. Each participant used their own PC that was connected to the automation control system over VPN and Windows’ native remote desktop. Communication took place on a Teams video conference. Teams and Skype were the only software everyone had to use,” Tero Hanhisalo says.

Each team member could execute testing from their home office setup with three monitors. One monitor showed the DSC operator screens over Teams, another displayed the DCS programmer’s desktop over Skype, and the third was for control diagrams from which the programming had been made.

“The biggest practical issue was the wide time difference. Some participants had to attend at a less convenient hour,” says Tero Hanhisalo.

Despite everything being digital, paperwork is still important in a remote FAT. Each tester had printed functionality charts to mark observations and to-do notifications as the process proceeds. Using a pen and paper is helpful, and testers prefer using prints for simple notes. It doesn’t obstruct with the test visuals and it gives a hands-on feeling to the process.

 

How does a remote FAT proceed?

As exemplified in this case, the procedure remains basically the same when FAT is done remotely. The automation designers take the lead. Following the functionality chart step by step, they ask programmers to show where to find the controls and alarms displayed on the control diagram.

Several simulations of controls are performed. For instance, activation of a pump may be simulated by entering a numeric value that exceeds the given threshold to the surface measurement controlling the pump. In a similar fashion, the pump’s deactivation threshold can be simulated by entering a lower value.

Additionally, the function of controls is tested or simulated in both manual and automatic modes to ensure that all parameter values are in line with functionality charts. All start and stop sequences are simulated, and the progress of each sequence is observed very closely on the monitor screens.

 

Zero travel costs, zero travel time, zero risk of infection

Everything went smoothly and efficiently. We got convincing evidence that remote FAT is very beneficial to enterprises. The most important benefits are zero travel costs and zero travel time.

It also becomes much easier to arrange the best experts, who would normally be hard to get to the site. It is possible to invite them to participate for a limited period, even for one day only. Additionally, a remote test setup makes it easy and fast to replace any single person, if someone is unable to attend. Only secure access to the systems has to be arranged.

“For team members, remote FAT relieves them from the burden of long-haul flights and staying away from home for a long time. Of course, some people enjoy going overseas, but during a pandemic it is out of a question,” says Tero Hanhisalo.

Benefits of remote FAT:

  1. No travel expenses
  2. No time wasted in traveling
  3. Minimized climate impact
  4. Easier to ensure the best experts can attend
  5. Flexibility to replace a single person on the fly
  6. No infection risk during a pandemic
  7. Own tools can be used

To conclude, we warmly recommend remote FAT. It is useful also to prevent unnecessary travel back and forth before everything is truly ready for final testing of automation before operations begin. Naturally, remote FAT requires some new ways of planning and preparations. In any case, that is quite light in comparison to juggling with flights, accommodation, and visas for everyone.

Arttu Kalliovalkama

Arttu Kalliovalkama

Manager, Service Solutions
+358 10 307 2876
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