In the wake of a pandemic, Austin Fritsch, Director of Research Operations at Marquette University, and Alecia Bjerke, Animal Facility Manager, talk about their experience attending their first virtual FAT, broadcast from Tecniplast Italy into their living rooms in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Marquette’s Research and Biosafety Center, located in the BioDiscovery District, is a 5,000-cage rodent facility. The project included building renovations and installation of a custom-built rack washer, a cabinet washer, bedding dispensers, IVC caging housing systems for mice and rats, and changing stations.
All the products had to be installed and operational by late 2020 to early 2021. By mid-March, all had been sorted out, and the rack washer was ready to undergo Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT). Tecniplast FATs are done at the factory in Italy.
Due to the pandemic, the borders in Europe were shut down, meetings were prohibited but Tecniplast/IWT had a deadline and customer expectations to meet. Tecniplast brought the Atlantis washer FAT Livestream to the customers living rooms. Tecniplast broadcast live the Factory Acceptance Test of the Atlantis customized rack washer from Italy to multiple cities in the USA where the customer, architects, design team, and project managers were located. The virtual meeting lasted approximately three hours.
How Was This Made Possible?
Tecniplast used three video cameras. One was stationary to capture an overview of the complete installation; a second camera was on the operator who was conducting the FAT; a third camera was mobile to capture other aspects of the process as needed. The IWT project manager joined remotely to direct the process. Three people were at the factory conducting the testing. The audio-visual format and platform allowed interaction between the parties. The Marquette team, the architects and the contractor joined the virtual FAT (eFAT) and were able to ask questions during the process. Having multiple cameras that gave us many angles and allowed us to see things as a whole. You have a fixed camera while another was moving around that almost allowed us to view it as being there physically. Another positive thing was that this modality gave the architects and the contractors the possibility to join us and ask questions as they needed. Having the architects and the builder with us was also beneficial.
What did you hope to accomplish with the FAT for the Atlantis rack washer, and did the virtual FAT help you reach that goal?
Austin - Yes. It did.
Our washer was not one out of the box and the scope of the project was challenging. Tecniplast and IWT went above and beyond to make sure we were confident about this process.
From the operational point of view, the virtual FAT met our expectations at 100%.
It helped us reach the goal of seeing it working, how it operates, running through cycles, how it loads and unloads, check alarms out, etc.
Alecia - To me, the eFAT did exactly what a standard FAT would do. In this case, it was the Atlantis, but it could be done for any other product.
The project managers can be present; the operator is right there in case customers want to ask questions while the machine is operating. During our session, we were able to do some of the troubleshooting, which was beneficial. When we experienced some lag, we had to remind ourselves that we were afar.
I had to take a step back and say, “Wait a minute, this is happening in Italy right now, and we are in our living room. There was the ocean in between, and yet, we were seeing it in real-time!” - I think it was really neat.
What would you say to someone else that was considering an eFAT?
Alecia - The e-Fat is a good alternative to consider when you cannot be in person. For us, because of the way it was conducted, it gave us that level of comfortability we needed before the machine was shipped.
Austin - We valued the fact that the participation was not just limited to us, but the other team members such as the architects and the contractor were able to be present and ask questions during the process. It is definitely a good alternative.
Is there anything else that you would like to say to the team at Tecniplast/IWT?
Alecia - Sure! I think we were all very appreciative. We even heard how beneficial this was to our entire team after the eFAT, the contractor, the architect, and the design team; they felt that they were all on the same page. I think everybody is very appreciative of what Tecniplast/IWT did. COVID19 added a lot of stress to the project. We were worried about deadlines, we didn’t know how this was going to work, and you were able to pull together a solution within a short amount of time, making sure that our entire team would be comfortable with it. We greatly appreciate it.
Austin - I would say what a way to go! I want to say thank you to all of you, but especially to the people who were in Italy. We were in different time zones, and it was probably 6:00 or 7:00 PM here when we wrapped up, so we realized that they worked extended hours to get this done. I want to say thank you all for being able to do that for us. From a consumer point of view, this was amazing!
Coronavirus Positive Side Effects
This pandemic challenge accelerated the need for Tecniplast/IWT to adopt a virtual mode of conducting a FAT. This technology and experience opened up an array of opportunities for our customers.
- eFATs can widen the circle of attendance. Not just the client, but the entire team who participates in a project could have the possibility to attend a FAT. For example, even if a customer travels to the factory in Italy, a hybrid version of the FAT will allow architects, contractors, and other team members to participate. This is particularly beneficial when schedules are busy, or there are budget limitations.
- eFATs offer flexibility. Even though in-person, hands on sessions are recommended, it is not always easy to accommodate work schedules. This eFat showed that remote hands-on training sessions or informative training sessions are not only do-able but are helpful as well.
- eFATs offer efficiency for the customer. They cut time and costs associated with travel as well as offering opportunities for an entire Service Team to be instructed at once.
- eFATs facilitate access to experts. Sophisticated products require the expert input of product specialists and engineers. FATs allow access to the exchange of information with those experts, when it matters the most.
The Tecniplast/IWT goal was to construct the eFat to make the clients feel as if they were present and allow interaction with our team, as if we were all together in the same location. We delivered, and we learned. The eFAT proved successful for both the Marquette and Tecniplast/IWT teams. As with our products, we continue to tweak, problem-solve and innovate, to provide outstanding and current solutions for our customers, even in the wake of a pandemic.
PAULINA MICHAUD - COMMUNICATIONS & EVENT MANAGER TECNIPLAST NORTH AMERICA