Factory Acceptance Tests: What They are and Why They’re Important
The hassle of dealing with issues when equipment is built and operated the first time around can be a huge headache if you are the one with the task of installation and start-up. Wouldn’t it be nice to get some reassurance prior to receiving your equipment? That’s what Factory Acceptance Tests, or FATs, are for. Conducted at the manufacturer’s site prior to delivery and installation, these tests help to identify any issues and correct them prior to shipment. Basically, an FAT is a “factory debug” to assure that when the system arrives on site, it should be able to be installed and get up and running quickly and smoothly. If you’ve been wondering what exactly an FAT entails and why should get one, we’ve got some answers for you in this post.
What does an FAT consist of?
While there are standard tests that are routinely conducted, there is no set checklist during an FAT; it can consist of a variety of inspection points and tests per the request of the customer, based on your requirements and unique equipment specifications. In general, the following things are covered during an FAT:
Comprehensive inspection – this is typically customized based on the equipment and the requests of the customer but can include a range of conformity checks and verifications (e.g. does the actual equipment match up to the drawings and name plate data).
Contract audit – this consists of a review of the original agreement to make sure all contractual obligations are met.
Water test – this procedure simulates the system in operation to provide proof of functionality. These tests usually include verification of relevant documents, including user manuals, P&IDs and any type of instructions that come with the equipment to make sure they are accurate.
It’s important to note here that there are varying levels of an FAT. They can be performed at a very basic level, such as setting up the main pieces of the system with temporary wiring and making sure everything moves as it is supposed to, or a more complete FAT can be conducted where the manufacturer physically builds the whole system in their shop to test it fully. In the latter example, the system is then taken apart, moved to the customer’s site, and put back together again.
Why is it important to have an FAT?
FATs are beneficial not just for the buyer and end users but for the manufacturer as well. Both parties can be assured that the equipment meets all the contractual specifications and any issues can be addressed before arriving at the customer’s site. Rectifying issues while the system is still in the possession of the manufacturer helps to keep the project on track and within budget. FATs almost always save time and money over fixing issues in the field.
The safety of your employees is always a top concern so the quality assurance gives you the peace of mind that all components of your system are functioning the way they should, and within the full range of operating specifications.
Additionally, FATs help to determine who is responsible for the problems that are identified. Sometimes the issues are the manufacturer’s responsibility, e.g. an instrument doesn’t work properly, and other times they are the customer’s responsibility (for example, if a customer decides after seeing the physical layout they want to reconfigure the design, the manufacturer can move things around prior to shipping it to site).
Where is an FAT performed?
All inspections and testing are done at the vendor’s location, usually on the shop floor so that when/if issues arise they are in an area that is convenient for modifications to be made to the equipment. Since the purpose of an FAT is to qualify the equipment prior to shipment, it should never be conducted at the customer’s facility.
Who should be present during an FAT?
The manufacturer and customer can choose whomever they would like from their companies to be present during the Factory Acceptance Test. It’s a good idea to have any/all of the following on location:
- Project Managers
- Plant Engineers
- Maintenance Personnel
The more valuable input that is received from both parties, the more successful the test will be, which will help to facilitate a fast-track start up.
What are the benefits of an FAT?
There are numerous advantages to having an FAT, for both parties involved. The seller can ensure that the system is operational and it helps the project stay on track to be delivered on time. The buyer can qualify the equipment against the contractual agreement as per the order specifications.
Here’s the thing with new systems, especially give the level of complexity you’ll find with CPI equipment – it’s not uncommon for there to be minor glitches the first time they are powered up. The benefit of conducting an FAT is that the manufacturer can take care of typical first-run issues, sometimes even prior to the customer arriving.
There are numerous additional benefits, some of which are:
- Customers can “touch and feel” the equipment while it is in operational mode before it ships.
- The manufacturer can provide some initial hands on training to the customer, giving operating personnel more confidence when running the machinery for the first time in real-world settings.
- Key project people from both sides are together, making it an ideal time to review the bill of materials, discuss required and recommended spare parts (for start-up and first year of operation) and review maintenance procedures and equipment limitations.
- The thorough FAT documentation can be used as a template for the Installation Qualification portion of the validated process/installation.
Based on the results of the FAT, both parties can create a punch list of additional items that need to be addressed prior to shipment.
When is the best time to schedule an FAT?
Times can vary depending on the complexity of the system and the corresponding FAT, but they are typically scheduled 2-4 weeks prior to the ship date to help maintain on-time delivery. The duration of the FAT can be anywhere from one day up to a couple of weeks.
What is the cost of an FAT?
There is no “extra cost” for the customer to have an FAT performed on their system as it is generally included in the scope of the project. That being said, the expense that is factored into the project for FAT is dependent on the customer’s requirements. It is very important for you to communicate early in the project exactly what your testing needs are so the criteria can be outlined and agreed upon by both parties. This helps sets your expectations to the manufacturer and they will be sure to include the relevant tests in your checklist.
While FATs can be costly for the manufacturer with respect to the time and labor involved in performing them, the risk of not doing an FAT or doing a poor one are usually seen during start-up, and at that point the effort needed to do to rectify the issues takes even more time and labor and often must be done without shop support, so the labor is not as qualified. In short, it’s more time and cost effective to do an FAT and do it right to mitigate any issues prior to delivery.
What items are typically on an FAT checklist?
As we’ve mentioned, it’s hard to outline exactly what a Factory Acceptance Test consists of because each one is unique to the equipment it involves and the specialized requirements of the customer. While keeping in mind that no two are alike, here is an example to give you a better idea of the inspection points and tests that are used to validate the equipment. This example is for an automated reactor system:
- Scope - the tests to be performed by the manufacturer to establish acceptability of the equipment and their conformance with the applicable drawings and specifications.
- Applicable standards and specifications – a list of any relevant safety guidelines published by National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), National Electric Code (NEC), etc.
- Reference documents - a complete set of all relevant documents to be available during the execution of the FAT and marked up as required. These drawings are usually located in an appendix at the back of the protocol.
- Testing equipment - a list of the equipment and instrumentation used during this test: (vacuum gauge, tachometer, etc.)
- P&ID (Piping and instrumentation diagram)/ GAD (General Arrangement drawings) walk-down – verify all lines and components are present and installed as per P&ID/GAD. Check that components are new, anchored sufficiently to frame, and are built in accordance with the specifications outlined in the applicable list.
- System skid and component review – verify equipment is fabricated as per drawings and manufacturing quality meets expectations.
Vessel Nameplate Review:
Verify pressure, temperature and material information on the National Board nameplate to be consistent with specifications/P&ID and confirm presence of ASME “U” stamp.
Motor Data Verification:
Verify motor manufacturer, model, and serial number. Also confirm motor classification meets specified class and division standards.
Verify lines hold pressure when fully assembled, record pressure at start and stop. This test is generally conducted for 60 minutes to ensure the system meets the acceptance criteria.
System Vacuum Tests:
Verify lines hold vacuum when fully assembled, record pressure at start and stop. This test is also conducted for 60 minutes to ensure the system meets the acceptance criteria
Components Functional Tests:
(Note: These tests are performed with water in the system; therefore, they cannot be started until all of the vacuum tests have been completed successfully.)
- Agitator Rotation – verify that agitators rotate as expected (smoothly and with no vibration)
- Pump Tests – verify pumps operate as expected. Pump should be able to recirculate the water from/to the reactor.
Verify that system documentation is complete.
Each test should yield an acceptable result with no issues. Corrective steps will be taken if a test fails and any retesting will be performed if required. Some tests may require additional testing or clarification of the testing methods. Under these conditions, additional comments will be documented in the deviation section of the FAT. Deviations are red-lined to be captured in final as-built drawings.
A list of remaining follow-up items to note any modifications/adjustments or additional tests that need to be made prior to delivery.
Verify panel component checks, permissives, auto mode controls (agitator), manual mode controls (reactor on-off valves, modulating valves), analog displays, sequences (system purge, pressure/vacuum control, system leak test, charge liquids, reflux/solvent strip, exothermic additions interlocks), reactor light operations
By systematically carrying out all items on the checklist, all FAT participants from both sides can gain the assurance needed feel prepared and ready for start-up.
Just like the director of a play would conduct a dress rehearsal prior to opening night of a performance, an FAT gives manufacturers and you, the customer, an opportunity to do a trial run and see the equipment in operation before it is installed in your facility. This makes any modifications and adjustments much easier to make and ensures the equipment will run with full operational efficiency. It is proven that when verifying, inspecting, and testing is performed prior to shipment it greatly reduces start-up issues once the equipment arrives at your site. With a thorough Factory Acceptance Test performed, you can be fully confident in the system you are receiving and be ready to put it into production.