Living with the coronavirus at Krones: Part 8 – Live Remote FATs
Order, buy, keep – or, if it doesn’t look right, fit or work properly, just return it. What we might do without thinking when shopping online is impossible for our customers when they buy a new machine. Admittedly, not looking right or not fitting are out of the question, since the specifications have been discussed down to the tiniest detail when clarifying the order in the first place and the machine is configured exactly to the customer’s requirements. Even so, many naturally want to assure themselves before delivery that the machine will be and do exactly what was previously agreed. And that’s precisely why there are Factory Acceptance Tests, for which our customers come to the Krones plant and inspect “their” machine close up before the colossus – which may weigh several tons – embarks on its journey.
“Get something up and running quickly and easily”
But then came the bolt from the blue in early 2020, when global travel bans made visits to plants almost impossible and our internal protective measures against coronavirus prevented small groups from gathering in our buildings. Fortunately, an alternative was not long in coming: My colleagues Markus Müller, Oliver Riedhammer, Martin Heimerl and Michael Schuster worked eagerly out a concept within just a few weeks for performing an FAT for block lines without the need to be physically present on site. In the meantime, these live remote FATs based on this model are also carried out for fillers, blow-moulding machines, labellers, packers, cleaning machines or process technology systems.
How this works is easy to explain: For recording, the colleagues on site use a mobile phone and a gimbal that stabilises the mobile phone. The client, in turn, is connected live to the hall via Microsoft Teams.
The FAT specialist from the engineering department is accompanied by the relevant project manager, who takes on the role of moderator and explains to the customer what is being shown. Both of them do so using commercially available headsets – with a noise-cancelling function, depending on the loudness of the machine. They are supported by colleagues who operate the machine and, for instance, ensure replenishment with preforms, bottles or labels.
Full two-hour programme
The local colleagues are fully employed during such a live remote FAT because filming, explaining and operating the machine have to be done in parallel. Meanwhile, the customers sit in front of their computer and observe everything via the monitor. It goes without saying that questions can also be answered and special details shown on request.
To prevent concentration dipping as time goes on, there is a clear agenda for the duration of about two hours, with an upper limit of three hours per live remote FAT.
Good preparation is important as well: To make the remote FAT as efficient as possible and enable us to do it without interruptions, an agenda with the key points was worked out for each machine type. “Obviously the focus is very much on the machine: We present a variety of production processes, type change-overs and important safety devices such as the emergency stop or what to do in the event of a power failure,” explains Martin Heimerl. The responsible project manager clarifies with the customer in advance what the key issues are. If, for instance, the customer wants to see certain changeover processes that take a long time, this will be recorded by video beforehand and then presented.
Cooperation at all levels
Ultimately, the key to the success of a live remote FAT is good teamwork: From the idea through the concept and initial testing to performance on the day itself, everyone involved cooperates closely with each other and regularly swaps ideas for identifying and exploiting potential improvements. Markus Müller and Oliver Riedhammer have already conducted more than 60 live remote FATs since mid-June. “Feedback from customers has been absolutely positive, and the virtual variant has also been very well received by colleagues,” says a delighted Oliver Riedhammer. As Martin Heimerl adds, “Naturally there will always be customers who will come to us in the plant – once the possibility is available again – to see their machine. But I definitely think that this live remote version of the FAT will establish itself as a genuine alternative going forward.”
By the way, such a live remote FAT also took place at Refresco in North America last summer. You can read more about it and other digital alternatives here.