Factory acceptance tests without the factory

Issue Date:

From Simos Michaels, Alderley Controls Engineer

A critical stage of any project delivery is the factory acceptance test, or FAT.  Occurring after all the internal development and testing is complete, the FAT is the final gateway prior to dispatch of the system. 

FATs typically involve a team of assessors – including representatives from the end user client, the engineering and procurement contractor, and any third party / independent bodies – visiting our facilities for multiple days of operation simulation and detailed assessment to ensure the system meets the required standards. 

However, due to Covid-19, travel restrictions, social distancing, etc., traditional FATs are no longer possible.  So, how do you still deliver the project critical FAT without access to the factory? 

Metering system upgrade

Over the last few months, I have worked on a metering system software upgrade for a client based in Aberdeen with operations in the North Sea – a location which is not within ‘appropriate’ reach of our facility in Wickwar given the current situation. 

Before the lockdown in the UK occurred, a normal test rig was set up with the S600+ flow computer.  This was connected to the panel shop network and configurated to communicate with the onsite metering supervisory SCADA to simulate values – as you would need for a normal FAT.

As the FAT date approached, the UK hit lockdown.  With much of the world grinding to a halt, we had to find a safe way to deliver this production essential package and progress with the FAT: remotely.

Remote completion and testing

With everyone starting to work from home, we quickly configured an additional on-site computer.  The speed of thought and expert configuration of this set-up were essential to allow remote access to the system and test rig from outside the Wickwar factory.

Using this remote setup, all upgrades were successfully completed with the client continually informed of the process and progress throughout. 

Due to the success of this setup and strong two-way communication, the client agreed we could use the same approach to perform the FAT.   

The FAT was scheduled for three days, with an additional day as contingency.  In moving to a remote FAT, it was key to retain as much of the existing schedule as possible, including the upfront planning on how to perform the tests and recording of the evidence to preserve the full integrity of the test.  However, unlike a normal FAT session, the schedules had to be adjusted to consider the various geographical locations and varied home working scenarios of participants.  Accordingly, test start times, break times, end times, reviews and action plan meetings were all chosen carefully to accommodate the group and to prevent ‘screen fatigue’.

To conduct the test, the Alderley lead engineer accessed the system on their laptop and then shared his screen with the clients via Microsoft Teams.  The rest proceeded exactly as planned and as per a normal FAT, with screenshots taken of the displays to fully document the steps and performance. 

Remote FATs – the new norm?

Overall, the remote FAT worked/works excellently.  Aside from the original set-up, the only obstacle for the software test is when pulses were needed to be injected into the simulation.  We had an Alderley engineer safely positioned on site to manually press the button for this step, so this hurdle was easily overcome with a quick phone call or message over Microsoft Teams.  But with more time and ‘smart’ simulation equipment, this hurdle would disappear – something we are working on now.

The client commented that the remote FAT “was a success” and despite some original hesitation, it “exceeded expectations”.

In conclusion, remote FAT could become the new norm – especially with advancements in software solutions and for software testing as it can be accessed from anywhere around the world.

On a related subject, the Wickwar team has been able to successfully deploy software upgrades and patches on live installations on multiple offshore installations in recent months.  Perhaps Factory Acceptance Test needs a new name…