Frequently asked questions for pilot plants encompass a range of topics from “what is a pilot plant” to “what does a pilot plant cost?” We address most common questions below. Further design, process, project management, fabrication, safety and commissioning questions can be answered by a pilot plant specialist: (314) 845-0077
What does a pilot plant cost?
Pilot plant price varies with every application. The main cost determinate involves how large and complicated the process design is. The more process steps involved, the more equipment, design work and fabrication time required. Some factors that may have major price effects are:
- The operating conditions required for your process. Extreme highs or lows in pressure, temperature or flow rates require specialized equipment and more complicated systems to keep under control. This inevitably increases costs.
- The chemicals and materials of construction involved. Unusual materials of construction are expensive and may be required to avoid equipment corrosion for highly hazardous chemicals.
- Data collection and process control. Pilot plants offer a great opportunity to collect process data and experiment with your process controls. However, the more you measure, and the more precisely you control the process, the more expensive the system becomes.
- Production levels. Your planned level of output affects system size, complexity and cost. Though not a linear equation, larger required output is often more expensive.
- Required Utilities. Are the required utilities (electricity, nitrogen, steam, etc.) available at levels that can accommodate the new system? If not, on-site modifications may be required or additional equipment may need to be integrated, which can add costs.
What is a pilot plant used for?
Jumping from lab scale straight to full production can result in problematic mixing, product output and slow or hard-to-control reactions. Chemical processes do not scale linearly, and this can make it difficult to predict how a full-scale commercial process will actually behave. While some issues can be addressed in simulations, the physical version that runs in the real world will often still behave differently than the simulations predict. Modeling every factor takes time and may be too complex. The realities of physical system layout and equipment constraints also play a large role in pilot plant design. Non-uniform concentration gradients can cause less than ideal behavior and invalidate some assumptions.
A pilot plant allows you to collect real data that can help to ensures your full-scale production plant runs properly. It allows you to experiment with inputs, outputs, processing time, etc. to streamline your process. Pilot plants can be used to: produce usable product, start building a market, and convince investors of long-term viability.
In some cases, a pilot plant may be the optimal size to produce specialty products in low quantities. You can stop at the pilot plant scale, produce plenty of product, and forgo a larger financial undertaking until the market demand increases.
How is a custom pilot skid developed?
Pilot plant development begins with a collaboration between you, the expert in your process, and a professional pilot plant design and fabrication firm. An experienced scale-up team will bring knowledge and methods of process scale-up with commercial level process equipment.
You bring details of your specific process and the project manager will team with you through start-up and commissioning. From basic concept discussions, you will progress through the following:
- Front-end engineering design (FEED) – FEED is completed to provide a fixed bid quotation and an accurate engineering package. Finished process flow diagrams (PFD’s), piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID’s), and other basic system requirements are mapped out and primary equipment selection completed. Project timeline, cost and system layout are also developed during the project. Pilot plant price is established at the end of FEED.
- Detailed design – Once your FEED package has been presented and accepted, detailed system design progresses. P&ID’s are finalized, equipment is finalized and ordered, and a 2D design is developed. The conversations started in front-end engineering are outlined and continue to evolve. 3D modeling and process simulation are also completed during this stage, resulting in optimized system design and finalized material balances.
- Construction, assembly, and testing – Your pilot plant is assembled and fabricated in EPIC’s shop by our skilled craftsmen. Fabrication in the controlled environment of a fabrication facility ensures higher quality construction, a shorter overall project timeline, a safer working environment and lower risk for you. Completed modules are fully tested, with open door testing participation with the client at EPIC.
- Shipment – Modules are safely loaded at EPIC and shipped to your site. We arrive with the module to oversee unloading, installation and start-up.
- Installation and Startup – Once we complete installation at your facility, full punch list resolution and complete system check-out is completed. Operator and maintenance training are performed onsite, and all project documentation is given with hands-on instruction and walkthroughs.
- Support – After we turn the system over to you, we can be counted on to be there when you need us. Call EPIC: (314) 845-0077 or email us at: [email protected].
See our complete turnkey design-build method for more details.
What should I know about my process technology before contacting a module designer for my pilot plant?
You must bring your base process technology to a pilot plant designer. You should know or have basic versions of the following:
- A basic mass and energy balance
- A licensed or finalized technology with clear processing steps
- A basic process flow diagram
How long will it take to get a completed pilot plant?
What documents and deliverable come with a pilot plant?
Standard documentation and deliverables are listed below. Special deliverables may apply with specific situations and processes (such as validation documentation).
At the end of front-end engineering:
- Fixed bid quote
- Base P&ID’s
- Description of scope and boundary limits
- Equipment, instrument and valve list based on budgetary quotes
- Complete PFD’s
- Project timeline
- Quotation peer review
- Technical peer review
At project completion:
- A fully tested and operational process system, running at or above specifications
- 2D & 3D models and drawing sets
- Complete process simulation as required
- Electrical schematics
- Full operations manuals
- General arrangement drawings
- Mass and energy balances
- Full P&ID’s
- Safety and QA logs
- Scale-up data from process simulation
What is a modular pilot plant vs. a regular pilot plant?
Modular design means that your pilot plant is built as a contained unit on a frame that allows the system to be easily transported. Pilot plants may consist of a single skid (one contained system) or have multiple skids that work together to form a complete process system.
Modular design has many distinct advantages for most pilot plants, including:
- Pilot modules are constructed in ideal shop conditions, indoors, which leads to better quality and faster completion times.
- Fabrication, assembly and testing of the new system will not disrupt any current operations since it is built off-site in our shop. This also provides a layer of discretion.
- Off-site construction is also a great advantage when plant upgrades are simultaneously occurring. On-site improvements can be made in parallel with system construction, speeding up the entire project timeline.
- Components, layout and system arrangement are simplified and organized by pilot plant design experts, reducing overall construction costs, space requirements, and required plant upgrades.
- Explore further advantages on our Advantages to Modular page.
Do you have experience in my specific process?
Chances are good that we have worked in your industry or one that is similar. Discuss your project with a pilot plant specialist (314) 845-0077 to find similar examples. We have a wide range of experience across many industries and applications. Our process experts still bring over twenty years of pilot plant design and fabrication experience and can help you find a company that is right for you. You can view a sample of case studies on the site or contact us to get specific examples.
Can you work all over the world?
Yes, we will travel! Check out the map below of places we have already completed work. Interested in visiting Antarctica? It’s the only continent we haven’t been installed a system. We’re looking for brave project partners!
How big can a module be?
It depends on how we plan to ship the pilot plant to your location. Most modules that travel by truck are constrained to a width of 14 feet and a height of 12 to 14 feet. Shipping containers, boats, and cargo planes have different dimensions that we would explore during the design phase.