Allpax Factory Acceptance Tests Lead to Fast, Trouble-Free Start-Ups
Victor Schubert, Lead Project Manager, Allpax (a ProMach brand)
A customer recently said to me, “That was the best factory acceptance test (FAT) I’ve ever been involved in.” Based on his experience at Allpax, this customer saw that the new automated batch retort system (ABRS) was 100% ready for installation and commissioning in the field by the end of the FAT. That level of completion resulted in a much faster and easier startup at his plant. At a time when consumer demand for shelf-stable foods and beverages is exceedingly high and delays are costly, Allpax delivers a solution for new equipment builds that allows its customers to rapidly ramp up from installation and commissioning to production. This level of capability and service sets Allpax apart from every other retort and ABRS supplier in the market today.
The importance of system integration prior to shipment
If all the elements of an ABRS system are not designed and built by a single company, the various modules of the system (retorts, loaders/unloaders, retort delivery system, and controls) are typically only introduced to each other for the first time when they are delivered to the customers plant. The handshaking between the modules must be worked through on site. Problems that arise because of incorrect mechanical or software interfacing can quickly evolve into counter-productive finger pointing between the various parties.
Modifications made at the customer’s facility can require three to four times more time and effort than they would have at the original equipment manufacturer’s plant. Without the support of the OEM shop personnel, materials, and an array of specialized tools and equipment, the pressure is placed on the field technicians to perform modifications or repairs with parts and tools air freighted in by their respective manufacturing facilities. All of these steps delay the installation and start-up of the system and threaten to derail the customer’s anticipated production schedule. Training is also postponed, which is an additional impediment to reaching full production quickly and efficiently.
Allpax is arguably the only batch retort and ABRS manufacturer in the world, certainly within North America, that designs and manufactures all equipment required for the retort room. As a single source supplier, Allpax is in the perfect position to perform full functional testing of ABRS systems, and every piece of equipment it sells before the equipment leaves the Allpax facility.
One of the most crucial facts about the Allpax FAT is that the software is as ready to ship as the hardware. This emphasis on hardware and software both being ready at the FAT is a distinguishing characteristic and value-adding benefit of choosing Allpax as the retort room equipment supplier. The company sets exacting standards and will not ship systems before the software is ready. With its emphasis on hardware and software readiness at time of shipment, Allpax can protect its customers from the costly and time-consuming pitfalls of poor in-field integration.
Key attributes of the Allpax FAT
At Allpax, planning for the FAT begins when the contract is signed. This ensures that the thousands of individual pieces of the system come together in one place at the right time. Every customer has an assigned project manager. Project managers serve as the point of contact between Allpax subject matter experts (SMEs), customer SMEs, and outside vendors. Project managers plan and orchestrate the FAT and then coordinate shipping, sitework for installation, and training. Frequent visual and verbal communication, along with the efficient transfer of technical drawings, ensures that everyone is on the same page during manufacturing of the equipment.
About 25,000 square-feet of the Allpax manufacturing floor space is dedicated to staging FATs. Having a large, dedicated, and specially outfitted FAT area ensures that Allpax can plan the layout of a system to match the intended configuration at the customer’s plant. The customer sees exactly how the system will look and operate once installed.
Once the customer’s equipment is moved into the FAT area and fully assembled and integrated, Allpax personnel exercise the system by running a comprehensive series of operational and performance tests. Performance testing prior to FAT helps to uncover any integration issues and allows time for fixing problems and bringing the system up to performance speed before the customer’s team arrives. Allpax SMEs also review the new system’s documentation for completeness and accuracy.
The Project Manager prepares an agenda and checklist for the FAT prior to the event to ensure that every key aspect of engineering, operation, maintenance, and construction have adequate time and personnel allocated. In addition to testing all the modules of the retort and ABRS, teams review installation and start-up plans. This gives both parties valuable input that makes for a successful fast-track startup, as does an installation scope meeting to review the critical parameters and tolerances regarding equipment set-up. The FAT provides a forum for review of the bill of materials and for discussions of spare parts required for startup and the first year of operation. And a complete documentation review gives the plant personnel the details they need regarding the required regular maintenance procedures.
The Allpax approach to FATs ensures the optimal solution for a fast and trouble-free ramp up to production. Allpax has invested in significant human and physical capital to factory acceptance testing. The company believes there is no other retort and ABRS manufacturer that provides such a comprehensive effort to pre-shipment equipment testing, and one that offers such a high level of value.
Victor Schubert has more than 25 years of manufacturing and field service experience, including plant management and project management. He’s been with Allpax for five years.
Go to this link on YouTube to watch a short flyover video of the main assembly bay at Allpax where a complete Automated Batch Retort System is being tested. https://youtu.be/0_0S3KWOdMw