As we move slowly and steadily out of lockdown, our Head of Sensor Technologies, Neil Gordon, reflects on the ways in which we’ve adapted and created pioneering ways to keep our projects moving, the challenges of meeting customer needs virtually, and keeping R&D on track.
Like most businesses, over the last year Synaptec has had to adapt its operating procedures to comply with Coronavirus regulations and ensure the safety of its team and customers, while continuing to deliver on crucial infrastructure monitoring projects. The new flexibility around working from home and varying the times we visit our laboratory and production facilities is something we will be maintaining as restrictions ease, but it’s in our labs where the most significant change took place.
Enabling high confidence in remote testing
The FAT (Factory Acceptance Test) is a critical part of the project pipeline. Prior to the pandemic these were carried out in person with the client present. However, when safety restrictions meant that this was no longer possible, Synaptec’s engineering team quickly developed facilities for carrying out remote FATs and demonstrations of our equipment and services. With our high-quality video conferencing facilities, our laboratory team were able to implement these processes quickly, right at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020, enabling FATs to be completed with customers participating and observing remotely.
Carrying out a virtual FAT requires a combination of video, audio and screen sharing; all the information required by customers for approval of systems is made visible and then recorded for future analysis and reporting. And because we are helping utilities with adoption of new global standards like IEC 61850, we have also been able to demonstrate interoperability with multiple relay brands like SEL, GE and ABB to high confidence, without requiring our clients to be in the room. The result is high confidence of compatibility, so that installation and commissioning are completed smoothly and efficiently in the real world.
Progressing with field work
Despite this progress, there are some activities for which there is no remote substitute. Fortunately, strict adherence to the new regulations allows site visits for pre-deployment inspection or for commissioning of installed hardware to continue to go ahead, albeit with reduced numbers and additional PPE requirements. Now, before we go to our live field projects, like our recent installation at the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, we work closely with the client and contractors to ensure compliance with the Coronavirus risk-mitigation procedures of all parties.
By implementing these simple changes to our working environment and procedures, Synaptec has been able to maintain production throughput and deliver hardware to projects throughout the pandemic while ensuring the safety of our staff. We have continued to work with partners and clients from around the world, and at a time when many businesses are suffering, we are fortunate to have been able to secure multiple new projects despite the restrictions under which we are all learning to work.