The Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) Challenge

One of the best parts of my job is the many opportunities to visit material handling equipment manufacturers.  I am always amazed at the inventive and powerful new applications being developed employing the latest machine control and automation technologies.  However, it still surprises me that when it comes time for the more mundane task, such as wiring, these rugged and extraordinary machines are not given the proper design focus to achieve a truly modular design that is easy to deploy.  This becomes even more crucial as machines become ever more sophisticated. A higher level of sophistication translates into more I/O connections and, thus, more wires!  The escalating costs and labor become readily evident when I ask how many times the machine gets wired before being commissioned for use.  More often than not, the response is at least once, sometimes twice, during the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) phase of the project, only to undo all the wiring before shipment—and rewire yet again at the customer site.  Have you ever seen a machine ready for FAT?  We see a lot of control panels open, with interlock defeated, and scads of wires coming and going to the devices.  Completing this temporary wiring requires skilled labor at both ends, readying for FAT and at the customer site.  This begs a few questions.  Why wire a machine twice or even three times?  How can we design the wiring systems in the first place to be more modular so that they require wiring only once?

The most effective solution is to use as much of a connectorized control wiring scheme as possible.  The use of well establish industrial M12 and Mini-Change connectors, including prewired junction boxes, allows managing I/O wiring with a quick connect, modular, plug-and-play system.  They did just that at one customer site I visited recently.  The machine builder was able to implement their final wiring of the machine for FAT, after which they disassembled the machine and wiring simply by disconnecting interconnections in order to separate the machine into modules for easy shipment.  Using this approach, they were able to cut their installation time at the customer site from 2-3 weeks down to five days, primarily by eliminating field wiring and the associated troubleshooting and skilled labor that would have been required.  The result was a win-win situation!  The machine builder happily saved on assembly and delivery costs.  Their customer was happy to minimize assembly costs and eliminate a lengthy disruption to their operation.

We want to issue machine builders a ‘FAT Challenge’ to design truly modular machines that minimize re-wiring after FAT.  For cutting edge ideas, you may want to start with the Molex family of Brad Automation interconnectivity products that offer design flexibility and ease of installation, coupled with unsurpassed reliability in an amazing range of industrial machine applications.

*The author of this posting is Jimmy Adjunta a Product manager at Molex. 
Visit the Molex booth# S-7115 at PackExpo 2011 to learn more about Molex Brad® Industrial Automation products.