Virtual technology makes factory equipment acceptance tests effortless at EMS Group USA
COVID-19 changed many things about the way wineries do business. Staff shortages jeopardized production, and tourism restrictions threatened sales. Wineries rushed to implement worker safety and leaned into technology solutions like automated equipment, mobile field software, e-commerce, and virtual tasting rooms.
Winery suppliers also felt the impact and likewise turned to technology. One ingenious solution is the virtual factory acceptance test (FAT) implemented by EMS Group USA, a division EMS Group, SpA.
In the pre-COVID world, when a winery purchased container and handling equipment from EMS Group, two or three people would travel to the manufacturing factory in Italy to validate that equipment was built to their specifications and ensure everything worked as expected. But in a COVID world, traveling internationally came to a halt.
Customer demand is paramount at EMS Group, and rapid, efficient response is the organization’s motto. As technology is the heart of all EMS Group equipment, it was natural that they turned to their internal high-tech team to develop an alternative to the essential FAT process when the pandemic struck.
“We want to ensure that people purchasing equipment have confidence their machine is as they ordered it,” says Beth Zarnick-Duffy, EMS Group USA Executive Sales Director. “We want them to know everything is ready to roll after the final fine-tuning at the factory. Since EMS is the leader in automated packaging equipment, it was natural for us to use technology to conduct a virtual FAT to show that the equipment is operational and ready to be delivered to our clients’ facilities.”
Much like wineries, the EMS technology team turned an in-person experience into a virtual one. Through the use of multiple cameras clients can easily examine the motors, electrical wiring, check connections, and all other aspects of the static verification process of the FAT. From cell phones, to body-worn 360° view cameras, to mounted DSLR cameras, operators on-site in Italy put the equipment through its paces in real-time interface with stateside customers. These static and dynamic reviews of the equipment allow the customer to see in detail any aspect of the machine they want, from electrical cabinets to safety tests – EMS Group takes the time to clearly go through every aspect the customer wants, with time for questions and clarification along the way.
As part of the virtual FAT, wineries ship raw materials to Italy in advance. These are used in all aspects of testing the equipment during the dynamic testing. They will see their products being used in order to validate specific production cycles. The on-site team runs through safety tests, such as ensuring the machine’s e-stops work, lock-out-tag out and any other safety operations the client would like to see. The customer virtually walks through their punch list and checks off each item.
“One benefit of virtual FATs is that the customer can have 12 or 13 people attend,” says Beth, “including technical experts who wouldn’t normally travel. Everyone can interact, ask questions, and share documents, drawings and schematics to confirm it matches what they ordered. EMS also records the FAT so that the customer can share with other team members that were not present, or if they simply want to go back and see a particular point again, they have it.”
Vimal Narayan, Operations Manager at Bogle Vineyards, says that “2020 has been a challenging year. Living in a virtual platform makes it difficult to do traditional FATs on new equipment acquisitions. However, the EMS team made this process run effortlessly. They were very responsive to our requests and questions during the qualification. EMS has been a great partner and will play a critical role in supporting our growth here at Bogle Family Vineyards.”
Technology introduced a new dimension of real-time troubleshooting to the FAT process — the ability to increase the eyes on these enormous pieces of equipment from a world away. While nothing replaces being hosted by the EMS Group in Italy and being immersed in Italian culture, food and wines, EMS Group USA anticipates using a hybrid of virtual and on-site FATs in the post-COVID world and wouldn’t be surprised to have their clients requesting both.