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IV&V Ensures Return on Investment; Both for You and Your Customers

When R&D, Qualification, or Internal Testing are shortened to save development time, the resulting product is likely destined to fail.

A few years ago, I was assigned to independently witness the Factory Acceptance Testing of a new equipment design on behalf of the Equipment Owner (Customer). When the time came to introduce hydraulic pressure to the system in order to verify the hydraulic motors operated as specified, I noticed the test pressure listed on the procedure was half of the supposed rated working pressure of the control system.

When questioned, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) replied that the test pressure stated in the procedure is a common set point in the field. As an independent verifier and with the support of the Customer, we argued that regardless of the set point, the test should validate the system's capability to operate at the rated working pressure of the control system. The OEM hesitated, but ultimately agreed.

What happened next explained the OEM's hesitation. The first operation completed successfully since the hydraulic circuit included a step-down regulator to ensure no more than half the rated working pressure was applied. However, when the motor function was reversed, control fluid began to vent uncontrollably until the operation was completed (first problem). Unsatisfied with the result, the Customer and I requested to repeat the operation; this time, the motors failed to operate entirely (second problem). The OEM's immediate response was that the "motors are equipped with a manual bypass to rotate the motors in case the primary means of control failed", but considering the remote location of the system and the lack of reliability of the mechanism, this was not an acceptable alternative.

After several days spent re-testing and trying to solve the problem internally, the OEM invited the Customer and I to collaborate. The second problem was relatively easy to fix by placing a step-down regulator in the opposite direction, so that the motor receives the same pressure on both sides. The first problem was mitigated by installing adjustable flow restrictors to control the amount of fluid circulating in the motors. Once the modifications to the design were completed, the system was able to pass the test and the Customer accepted the late delivery, not without consequence: the OEM received a much lower final payment as per the purchase agreement.

The story does not end there though. While investigating the failure, we discovered that the internal qualification of the new design was cut short to expedite the release of the product to the market. The OEM also revealed that all four of the prior customers were experiencing similar issues in the field. Despite internal quality control, customer witnessing, and Class Society verification, the systems were repeatedly failing in the field causing significant non-productive time. Moreover, the OEM was aware the design was flawed and did not attempt to fix it prior to attempting to deliver the final product.

Do not underestimate the value of qualifying a deliverable. Even if you are tempted to shorten or skip the verification process, avoid this at all costs. You'll be happy you took the time and allocated resources to this critical activity rather than dealing with lost revenue and unhappy customers.

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