Project Managers of the Food and Pharmaceutical industry have been through the same scenario time and time again: A Factory Acceptance Test (better known as a FAT) is scheduled at the fabrication plant in which all purchased equipment will be demonstrated as per specified line speeds. A contingent of the appropriate personnel is planned to witness the test complete with airline tickets, hotels, rental cars, and low expectations based on prior FAT trip experiences. Upon arriving at the fabrication plant, and after the smoke and mirrors are cleared out, the customer figures out that the equipment is far from ready to ship. Since the ship dates are at hand, a compromise is negotiated, the equipment is released, and the start-up is plagued with in plant modifications, massive delays, and a discontented customer that is far behind on production before the start button is pressed for the first time to release commercial product.
The main reason the above performance is continuously repeated relates to the set goal of most fabrication plants to get a release on shipment by spending minimal time and effort on the FAT. Setting up a proper FAT is expensive and costs production capacity. Utilities have to be run, the equipment has to be set accurately, the software has to be modified to operate in a simulated state while handshaking with its equipment partners, and the system has to be exercised several days in advance of the customer visit to insure line speeds. In short, a mini plant has to be set up and running in a format which proves that the equipment is performing as per the standards called out in the purchase order. Why would Retort equipment manufacturers go through all this trouble when they can gain shipping acceptance by the skin of their teeth at about 10% of the effort and cost? The answer to this question is quite simple. A thorough FAT is the least expensive “big picture” investment that an equipment manufacturer can make. It all starts with owning up to your Quality Policy.
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