Seco/Warwick, headquartered in Swiebodzin, Poland, and its wholly-owned subsidiary Retech Systems LLC, Buffalo, New York, USA, have implemented a comprehensive remote Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) programme to combat the difficulties posed to supplier-customer compliance verification by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Because travel is severely restricted by COVID-19 and many engineers are currently working from home, new methods of operation must be adopted in order to carry out acceptance testing of furnaces, in which compliance is verified by testing the existing procedures and system performance.
Seco/Warwick and Retech’s remote FAT programme has so far been used to test furnaces for vacuum metallurgy using Vacuum Induction Melting (VIM) technology. In accordance with the Seco/Warwick Group standard, this type of equipment is normally verified in the presence of the customer in the field by performing cold and hot tests.
Now, the group states that it has applied its experience, knowledge and solutions used for several years in the field of monitoring and remote operation of its systems in real-time mode to develop its remote testing solution. These technologies are widely known, and used in various configurations, but it is rare to engage them at the commissioning stage with the customer.
The first four remote tests were carried out for two Chinese customers, a customer in Mexico and a customer in South Korea. No customer engineers were required to be involved. Instead, recordings from individual cameras, sensors and viewfinders were downloaded to secured servers and made available to customers. The tests were successful, with the adopted procedures having guaranteed the reliability and completeness of the data provided. Now, the group believes these methods can be used for other customers.
“We are ready to carry out comprehensive tests of our furnaces prior to shipment. The technical infrastructure at hand enables the performance of hot tests covering most metals used in industry,” explained Jacek Trzpil, Deputy Director of Operations Vacuum Melting at Seco/Warwick.
“The exception is titanium, which is a metal that reacts strongly with water and has special safety procedures, including the use of a technological bunker,” he added. “We verify in practice all the operating parameters of the furnace and the associated peripheral devices, such as loading systems or closed cooling circuits, in full production cycles.”
Robert Szadkowski, VP Aftermarket of Seco/Warwick Group, stated, “Remote acceptance testing is a highly requested service today. I could say that the financial rationale for such action has always existed, while the epidemiological threat has been the catalyst for change. It is a win-win action.”
“Time-consuming and costly journeys can be avoided by maintaining a comprehensive testing procedure, supplementing reports with videos of activities and process flow, and the ability to analyse data online,” he noted. “For the first time, we did not send a team of engineers and technicians from the USA to Poland for testing. This is a huge time savings for specialists who could stay in their locations and successfully analyse test runs from remote offices or home.”
“Currently, there is no problem with setting up a fast, encrypted link, after which the customer, service technician or external auditor can fully participate in the research,” he added. “This can be done in many different ways. We are supported in this by the IoT trend, and in our systems, the standard of equipment and network communication at the PLC and HMI & SCADA level.”
Earl Good, Managing Director of Retech, commented, “Innovation is inscribed in the DNA of the Seco/Warwick Group, regardless of the area of operation. Customer service support, equipment and system diagnostics are pieces of a larger puzzle. The ultimate goal is the smooth, trouble-free operation of the equipment.”
“At Retech, we create new technologies of vacuum metallurgy, and at the same time we adapt the innovations of other fields, including communication, both human and with devices, mobile access, control and diagnostics… Remote commissioning of furnaces is the materialisation of development activities,” he concluded.