4 Steps to a Successful Factory Acceptance Test (FAT)
Executing a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), is a major milestone in any project, well, at least it should be. It’s part of the project that can sometimes be overlooked. It’s also the part of the project that, if done incorrectly, is going to come back and cost you tenfold down the line.
The FAT is the test before you install the system, the test that (hopefully) gives you the green light to say the system is ready to be commissioned. This process of validating all of the pre-work, design and development is vital to ensure the developed system actually works according to design specifications. Without properly executing an FAT, how can you confidently move forward on to site, knowing an issue could potentially be waiting just around the corner? In short, you can’t, and that error will likely cost you not only money, but a lengthy time delay later on in the project.
So how do you execute a FAT properly? I’m glad you asked…
Again, it all comes down to a competent team and a well-managed project. There is no simple way to execute an FAT, and there can be no shortcuts. All steps must be followed to the letter if you’re going to successfully capture any errors before the system is installed.
Step 1: The Plan
Preparation is key, and completing a comprehensive FAT plan is your first and potentially most important step. This plan acts as your roadmap throughout the testing process. The FAT plan, or ITP (Inspection & Test Plan), lays out all of the preparation you need to do prior to the test and outlines the procedures you’re going to use to actually perform the testing. This plan should act as your bible, and if followed correctly, should help uncover any errors that haven’t been picked up during the project design phase.
Don’t just give it a once over, do it properly. Falling into the trap of thinking some things are too hard to test is a disaster waiting to happen. If it seems hard to test during the FAT phase, imagine how hard (and costly) it’s going to be to rectify once on site.
Step 2: Risk Assessment & Team Input/Review
Risk assessments are important not only to identify safety risks but technical risks as well. Too often systems are not robustly tested to ensure they will perform as required. For example, IEC 61850 communication networks are easily overloaded with GOOSE messaging, a problem that can take significant site time to rectify. Don’t shy away from testing key critical risk areas such as communication interfaces, speed or version 1.0 of new software (which you hopefully identified as key areas in your risk assessment).
During this step, always remember to keep the lines of communication open. There are a number of parties involved in this phase and the coordination of everyone’s involvement is vital. Define exactly what areas are going to be tested, who is testing them, and how it’s going to be executed before you begin. Validating and ensuring the system is built in line with the design and objectives isn’t sufficient enough on it’s own if everyone involved hasn’t had their input. Something can easily be missed if everyone involved hasn’t had their say.
Step 3: The Test Procedures
The most difficult part of an FAT is identifying how to test the systems robustly to ensure the site commissioning is a success. This is where many FAT’s fall down. The tests get put into the ‘too hard basket’ or pushed back as a potential future problem. Don’t ever let yourself say “we’ll sort that one out on site”, because you’re going to live to regret it. Creating detailed test procedures to test both hardware and software is critical to ensure you are actually testing the system properly and not just giving it a ‘once over’. It can be painful, and a stretch of patience, but it pays off greatly at when you reach site and it’s time to commission the system.
Step 4: Rectifications
The fun doesn’t stop once the test is carried out. The post-test work, the Inspection Test Records (ITR’s), are an equally as important part of the testing process. ITR’s are test sheets used to record the specific tests performed and their associated outcomes according to the FAT plan. This validation process may seem less important, but this recording and accountability will save you down the track if an issue appears. Again, communication is very important in this stage. Make sure the completed document is circulated and signed off by all involved parties.
It may seem like a laborious process, but comprehensive planning and execution is going to be what saves you time and money as the project comes to completion. It’s so important to consider your cost and risk. How much could an issue, that wasn’t tested properly during the FAT, cost you down the line after the system is installed? Commissioning is the last place you want to be making any significant changes or finding problems for the first time. There is nothing worse than waiting for a supplier’s tech support to help you rectify a ‘system feature’ (aka BUG).
It’s also important to take into consideration the ongoing impacts on the wider facility. The project might not be for a brand new site, but a modification or upgrade to an existing one. Having a system error not only hold up your project, but affect the ongoing process of a running facility can cause a huge problem, not only financially but from a safety perspective as well. Always look at the total cost of a project, not just the initial outlay, it could save you millions.
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