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Virtual witness testing amid COVID-19

Published by , Editor
Global Mining Review,

With social distancing and travel still at a near standstill, traditional in-person factory acceptance testing (otherwise known as witness testing) is a challenge. To keep projects moving, power management company Eaton has developed a virtual method to help customers verify the capabilities of their complex equipment before it arrives onsite.

This virtual solution can provide important advantages compared to traditional witness testing, including: allowing more people to participate, utilising modern camera technology to provide up-close equipment insights, and saving time and money due to the elimination of travel. To learn more, Eaton’s Adams Baker and Marc Elliott provided answers on how the company is using this virtual platform to help customers finalise complex equipment orders with confidence.

Why is witness testing important? When should factory witness testing be used?

Marc Elliott: Witness testing, also known as a factory acceptance test (FAT), can provide customers with peace of mind and an opportunity to get familiar with electrical equipment before it arrives onsite. Typically, it is reserved for a small subset of complex equipment like low-voltage switchgear, substation switchgear and motor control centres.

Figure 1. These cameras can zoom in to clearly show nameplate data, trip unit configurations, relay function and other details, as well as a wide-angle view of the entire equipment during a virtual witness test.

Much like test driving a car, witness testing gives customers added confidence for highly complicated equipment. It shows that devices communicate correctly, dashboard information displays as expected, and more. It also provides an extra opportunity to talk through the safety protocols and maintenance features related to highly accessed equipment.

It can also be worthwhile to utilise witness testing to emulate how equipment will act in its installed environment before it gets there, especially when assemblies are designed for multiple power sources, complicated transfer schemes or communications, or equipment that personnel access regularly.

Figure 2. Multiple cameras can be positioned so customers can see a variety of testing aspects at one time, saving time and money by eliminating travel costs and compressing testing schedules. 

How does factory witness testing work amid social distancing requirements?

Adams Baker: Traditionally, when a customer has decided that a factory witness test is desired, they will specify attendees and coordinate travel. With social distancing being a relatively new reality, the traditional factory acceptance or witness test is a challenge.

In response, we developed a virtual model to help customers verify the capabilities of their equipment without leaving their homes or offices. Our virtual witness testing process works much like a traditional, in-person test. The difference is that customers are not physically on the factory floor. Equipment is energised and operational, our experts are on hand to answer questions and customers can see their equipment working. Testing occurs in real time through multiple cameras, complete with two-way audio, which can zoom in to clearly show nameplate data, trip unit configurations, relay function and more. It is basically like joining a web-based video conference, but with multiple high-definition, pan-tilt-zoom cameras that can be precisely aimed and controlled by the Eaton engineer leading the test.

Figure 3. Customers can go beyond what was previously capable by viewing testing activities in real-time.

Additionally, virtual testing opens the door for more attendees to participate because there is no travel required. This can include representatives from:

  • Customer engineering and/or management.
  • Customer maintenance teams.
  • Consulting firms.
  • Electrical contractors.
  • Manufacturer project management.
  • Electrical utility representative.

Is factory witness testing required?

Marc Elliott: Factory witness testing is optional and the prerogative of the customer. It is not meant to ensure that the equipment works.

Before a factory witness test, our equipment is fully tested. At Eaton, we have standard testing protocols that are product-specific and conducted prior to and irrespective of customer-attended factory acceptance testing.

What does a factory witness test typically include? Is there a ‘standard’ factory witness test?

Adams Baker: While the testing protocol for a factory acceptance test is product-specific, these tests provide an opportunity to see how equipment will perform in its application environment. Eaton’s testing procedure for low-voltage switchgear follows a four-pronged approach:

  1. Visual: the first aspect of a factory acceptance test is a visual inspection of nameplate information, circuit breaker ratings, UL and ANSI testing labels, wiring, and more to verify everything meets the customer’s design intent.
  2. Mechanical operation: this aspect of the testing protocol verifies applicable key interlock systems, circuit breaker racking mechanisms and the mechanical operation of circuit breakers.
  3. Electrical function: the electrical circuit breaker operation is verified as well as the function of any meters and relays that may be included in the switchgear.
  4. Operational controls: this involves testing applicable automatic transfer systems and other operational tests to demonstrate proper sequential functions.

A factory acceptance test gives customers an opportunity to get their eyes on equipment before it makes it to their facility. In my experience, customers typically have specific operations that they would like to verify during the test, like transferring from one power source to another or fault response.

Figure 4. Witness testing helps ensure proper configuration and equipment operation and is an opportunity to connect with expert engineers.

How does a virtual witness test differ from the traditional approach?

Marc Elliott: A factory witness test follows the same testing protocols and procedures whether in person or virtually. There are some benefits to a virtual test. It can include more people, does not require travel to the manufacturing plant, takes less time and enables customers to get closer to energised equipment than they could otherwise.

However, some customers appreciate the opportunity to touch and feel the equipment (in a safe, non-energised state) to gain additional confidence on quality and craftmanship. Additionally, customers may be interested in touring our facility and observing the manufacturing process. We recognise that customers will want to come into the factory to perform in-person witness testing when social distancing requirements are lifted. In the meantime, virtual testing provides an alternative to keep critical infrastructure projects on schedule.

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