Prompted by the pandemic’s “new normal,” South Holland IL-based Ability Engineering Technology (AET, CSA CSM) has adopted a remote commissioning procedure in response to the pandemic’s continuously changing directives. AET, specializing in the design and fabrication of custom process equipment used in a variety of cryogenic—and non-cryogenic—applications, has adopted a remote, data-based training approach to improve their commissioning abilities and product line.
COVID-19’s impact has affected nearly all OEMs, suppliers and service providers’ business models; some companies have adapted to not only sustain but improve models. In the wake of social distancing and travel restrictions, a new AET has emerged. The company’s new remote commissioning option—featuring a network-compatible module, remote control, shared customer/supplier data logs and analysis—utilizes modern technology to improve efficiency and reliability. Once limited hydrogen and helium purification, new engineering updates, namely a proprietary membrane capable of separating varying gas species with different molecular sizes, have also added argon to the list of AET’s “abilities”— even in large volumes.
In January, Cold Facts spoke with AETs Cody Wilson, engineer, and Matt Resler, sales director, about the changes. “It was really a COVID-related pivot to provide remote projects. Commissions used to take one to two weeks of in-person work,” began Wilson. Chuckling, he adds, “An engineer—usually me—would travel to a delivery site after a shipped unit arrived and a list of ‘Customer Action Items’ was completed by the receiver. We’d have to assess the completed customer checklist, preform an ability integrity checklist including circuit, equipment operation and data logging tests and bring the unit online. We’d run a few cycles and then host a multiday training course in a traditional classroom format.”
As social distancing and travel restrictions became necessary, AET’s existing commissioning process was suddenly both dangerous and unreasonable. Having to continue providing commissioning services for both US and Asian customers, a remote option was devised. “The new process begins the same way,” Wilson explained. “Instead of sending an engineer after the customer completed the list of action items, a network module installed before the unit was sent is activated, allowing remote connection at AET from anywhere in the world. Even if a unit were needed somewhere without WiFi or a hard line, a SIM card can be installed for cellular use.”
After the customer brings the unit online, AET connects via the module. “We start with an assessment of the customer’s action item list, including mechanical functions. We can turn valves, flow gas and liquids and generally confirm a successful installation,” said Wilson. “At that point, we can establish a point of contact with the customer’s in-house technician. We then lead them through the AET integrity checklist with remote supervision and support.”
Wilson continued “After the installation checklists have been confirmed, we remotely bring the unit online and run two cycles.” The service module records the unit’s data including pressure, temperature and flow rate, sending the information to AET for analysis.
Now, customers are ready to train their point of contact. “We remotely lead the designated technician through the checklist that we would normally complete in person via video conference. An integrity test that comprises circuits, sensors and the like is complete with our supervision.” AET prepares to remotely bring the module fully online and complete two cycles. “It’s important that we log relevant data including pressure, temperature and flow rates to ensure the installation was correctly preformed.”
The classroom training was the procedure least effected by the pandemic. “We can still teach the same virtual classes, just via video conferences. Over a few days, we train the team of engineers and technicians on both unit operation and theories behind the process. We have units across both the US and Asia; we’ve been able to maintain support relationships with our remote adaptations.”
Along with the introduction of remote commissioning capabilities, AET has also improved the efficiency and abilities of their purifiers. Once limited to helium and hydrogen purification, recently included argon purification abilities and an improved proprietary membrane has increased the separation of carrying gas species with varying molecular sizes in high quantities. “We’ve seen not only improvements in unit efficiency, performance and reliability, but customer feedback has greatly improved as well.”
Wilson thinks that this “new normal” will be an important part of AETs continued development. “We’ve adapted to this situation and have realized that can improve our backend and support systems. Since late September—when our first remote commissioning occurred—we’ve been able to continually improve and better support our customers. I see this newly adopted process continuing to be an integral part of AET.” www.abilityengineering.com ■