by Giuliana Miglierini
There are two key moments to be faced to introduce a new piece of equipment in a pharmaceutical plant: a factory acceptance testing (FAT), usually performed by its manufacturer to verify the new equipment meets its intended purpose, prior to approve it for delivery and once arrived at its final destination and installed, a site acceptance testing (SAT) run by the purchasing company and is part of the commissioning activity.
According to an article published in Outsourced Pharma, the commissioning of a new piece of equipment poses many challenges, and criticalities needs to be considered both from the business and regulatory point of view. Pharmaceutical plants are very complex and often customised upon the specific business needs, and the delivery of a new equipment requires the interaction of many different parties, both internal and external to the purchasing company. FAT, SAT and commissioning activities require a careful planning and detailed responsibilities for all participating parties to be included within the Commissioning and Qualification Plan (CQV plan). A possible responsibility matrix is suggested by the authors to provide clarity and ensures ownership of activities.
FAT, assessing the equipment at the manufacturer site
FAT and SAT testing involve the visual inspection of the equipment and the verification of its static and/or dynamic functioning, in order to assess the actual correspondence to the user requirement specifications (URS). While FATs are usually based on simulations of the equipment’s operating environment, SAT testing occurs at the final site after installation, thus it reflects the real operating conditions and environment in order to support qualification.
There are many different elements to be considered during FAT testing, including for example verification of the existing site drainage, piping, or room dimensions, or the position of the handle for accessibility, as well as software design specification, interface, and device integration.
The FAT exercise is always highly recommended, as it is essential to solve in advance (before shipment to the final destination) any error or malfunctioning of the equipment, that otherwise might occur at the purchasing company’s site. This results in the optimisation of the delivery and commissioning process, with important savings in terms of both time and costs for the purchasing company. To ensure for the transparency of FAT testing, the entire procedure (that requires usually 1-3 days, depending on the complexity of the equipment to be verified) is usually performed in the presence of a third party inspector and customer representative.
A comprehensive set of documentation should be always available to support FAT, including URS, drawings, checklists and procedures, calibrations and certifications, data sheets, references, etc. Raw data acquired during FAT are transmitted to the customer for analysis and validation. FAT should take into consideration all aspects relevant to the evaluation of the safety and functionality of the equipment and its compliance to URS, GMPs and data integrity. To this regard, it is also important for the engineering team called to run the new equipment at its final location to learn and share knowledge with the manufacturer along the entire commissioning process, so to increase the first-hand direct experience. According to the article, this is also critical to authorise the shipment of the equipment to the final destination, a step that should always be performed by an authorised, trained, and approved subject matter expert.
SAT acceptance testing
All criticalities emerged during the FAT exercise are then checked again at the final site, after installation and verification; additional test cases may also be added to the SAT protocol to check for potential failure modes. SAT testing is performed once all connections between the new equipment and other machines/softwares are in place, under the real operating parameters, and may be witnessed by a representative of the equipment’s manufacturer.
Results from SATs may thus differ from those obtained from the FAT previously run by the manufacturer. From the regulatory point of view, SAT testing is a key element to demonstrate the compliance of the equipment to GMP requirements and to support the overall quality and safety of pharmaceutical productions. In this case too, many are the possible elements to be inspected and verified, including interlocks, ventilation, internal box pressure, electrical/hydraulic connections and safety systems, visual checks of components, training of the operators, etc.
A plan for each testing phase
FAT planning begins at the very moment of the purchasing company placing the order for the new equipment, and it has to reflect all URS to be checked for acceptability of the manufactured apparatus. This step in the design is critical and calls for a strict and positive communication between the manufacturer and its customers, a key point to take into consideration all elements that should enter the project.
All identified items and procedures to be challenged during FAT and SAT testing are usually addressed within the CQV plan, that connects the design phase to user requirements specifications and the other elements impacting the commissioning and qualification processes (i.e. system impact assessment, design specification, functional risk assessment, hardware / software specifications, Installation / Operational / Performance Qualification), including deviations and change management. The plan specific to SAT testing should include the scope, test specifications and logs, a test summary, the Commissioning report and the final Certificate of Acceptance.
Transparency and a robust statistical approach should represent main targets along the entire commissioning and validation procedure, that may be run with the assistance of external consultants. All activities that shall enter the regulatory dossiers should always be justified and documented, also under the perspective of data integrity. The Outsourced Pharma’s article also suggests paying a particular attention to controls on data provided by the manufacturer in the case a risk-based leveraging is applied.