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Designing A Custom Pilot Plant: What Do I Need to Know?

Pro Tips On Custom Pilot Plant Design

If you are considering designing a custom pilot plant, you probably have a lot of questions.

Most initial questions are around how to determine technical scope and cost. This often requires contacting a pilot plant design company or other resources to fully determine both technical and commercial scope and price. Before you start reaching out though, what information should you already have?

What basic project information do you need to have when designing a custom pilot plant?

Engineering design teams will want to know as much about your project as possible in order to give you an accurate scope. The three basic types of technical information you should have are commercial information, process operating parameters, and any additional process add-ons you are considering. Below are some examples of each of these:

  • Commercial Information: Timeline, budget, desired ROI, Materials of Construction (MOC) (if known), dimensions of available space, seismic zone, wind loads, industry standards, accessibility requirements, etc.
  • Process operating parameters: Process objective, major unit ops, operating ranges (heating, separation, cooling, etc., target operating pressure range, raw material composition, etc.
  • Process Add-Ons: Desired level of automation, special instrumentation, HVAC requirements, availability of utilities (steam, water, nitrogen, etc)

What should you know about your process technology?

When contacting a designer about a Pilot Plant, it is necessary to understand what your base process technology is. This includes having a basic version of your:

  • Process Flow Diagram (PFD)
  • Licensed or finalized technology
  • Mass/energy balance

Once this information is obtained, it is time to contact a process scale-up expert. Things to consider when choosing the right expert include:

  • Their in-house capabilities
  • If they have relevant examples of similar projects
  • Their individual process for developing your pilot skid

After finding a process scale-up expert to guide you, you may want to consider using an NDA before disclosing specifics about your process technology.

Determining Costs

What will my pilot plant cost is the number one question you probably want to be answered. While some companies are willing to provide quick quotes in this area, be wary of fast estimates with little effort. These are often based on broad assumptions not specific to your project and are often not an accurate way to budget for the final project. (See related reading on hidden assumptions in process system cost estimates and why you shouldn’t trust quick quotes.)

Instead, look for a firm willing to-do some front-end engineering design (FEED) or up-front engineering design effort to determine a final, accurate cost. FEED is usually a fraction of the cost of the overall pilot module and is engineering work that will need to be completed anyway.

How is custom pilot plant design cost determined?

Depending on the scale of the project, a custom pilot plant design can cost between hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. There are several factors that will lead to the overall cost.

The main determinate will be how large and complicated the process design is: the more process steps involved, the more equipment, design work and fabrication time required.

When considering the different factors, there are several specific cost factors to keep in mind:

  • How harsh are your operating conditions? Extreme pressures or temperatures will end up driving up costs due to the more specialized equipment
  • Will highly corrosive chemicals be involved or unusual materials of construction required? Highly destructive chemicals will mean special materials of construction must be used (alloys, titanium) to avoid pipe, tank, and system corrosion which can double or triple the price of equipment.
  • How precisely do you want to measure data and/or control specific parameters? Common measurements taken inside pilot systems include temperature, pressure, and flow. The more micro you want your data or the more control you want to have over system factors, the more expensive the instrumentation and control system will be.
  • How big is the production capacity? The larger the system has to be, and the more end product you want to produce the more expensive it will be.
  • How heavy will the utility usage be? The amounts of required cooling water, nitrogen, air, electricity, steam, etc., and how much at a time needs to be pulled into the system, is another major cost determinant.

If you are designing a custom pilot plant and feel as if you need a little help determining the answer to some of these questions, below is a pilot plant specification sheet that can guide you. You don’t need to fill out everything in the planner before contacting a designer (they are often helpful in filling in the gaps). Focus on gathering the information you do have, and contact a pilot plant expert to help with the rest.

Related reading:





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EPIC Pilot Plants
4134 Meramec Bottom Rd
St. Louis, MO 63129, US