3 Distillation Equipment Integration Questions That Will Change Your Vendor

by | EPIC Modular Process

When it comes to integrating distillation equipment into a larger process, there are many possible design, integration, and fabrication vendors you could use. The vast array of distillation system applications is exceeded only by the methods through which you can attain them: distillation specialists, engineering design firms, turnkey solution providers, process specialists, Alibaba, etc.

Before selecting an integration partner or buying the equipment yourself, ask the following three questions. They will inform who you need to hire to successfully complete your project:

Do I have multiple unit operations to integrate?

If your process requires more than just distillation, don’t hire distillation equipment integration specialists. Hiring a vendor that can only provide the distillation part of the process means you will have to hire other design/build firms for the rest of the unit operations. This leads to unnecessary costs associated with hiring multiple fabricators and puts the onus on you to ensure that all of the pieces are going to play nicely together. Save yourself a headache.

A pilot scale distillation system with multiple unit ops is fabricated in EPIC’s shopInstead, contract a multi-discipline process design and fabrication company to design, fabricate and integrate your distillation, batch reaction, heat transfer or whatever other unit operations your process requires concurrently. A multi-unit op system created under one roof with a single point of contact as the project manager eliminates extra coordination costs, ensures the system will function properly as one unit, and is the most efficient spend of both your time and money.

One specific example of the efficiency created for multi-op systems designed under one roof: Controls will be developed for the entire system at once, ensuring that all unit operations are communicating appropriately with the programmable logic controller (PLC) and functioning cohesively as a system instead of having to integrate and troubleshoot various control systems created in isolation. A process design and fabrication company with strong power and controls engineering capabilities is your best bet for multi-operational units.

Would my distillation equipment integration project benefit from a modular design?

Are floor space, time-to-market or total capital cost important factors in your distillation equipment integration project? If so, modular process design – having your distillation system designed off-site as a self-contained system mounted on a frame – is an alluring option, especially if you have multiple unit operations to integrate.

Modular distillation equipment integration allows your fabricator to test your system offsite, disassemble, ship and re-assemble all unit operations onsite quickly and cost-efficiently, while adhering to the specific space limitations of your commercial processing plant.

But not every project can be modularized. Very tall columns may not reap the same benefits from modular design as pilot scale distillation systems, but it never hurts to inquire. Some larger systems can still be modularized with several modules working together to build a complete distillation system while reaping the benefits of off-site fabrication and pre-testing.

The modular approach has several additional advantages including lower labor and operational costs, fewer OSHA exposure hours, higher quality fabrication and a myriad of others.

Is my recycle stream vulnerable to contaminates during scale up?

You may be thinking that a full-scale distillation column is a go, but making the leap directly from lab scale to production might not be the wisest or safest choice. When you’re testing distillation on a very small scale (like in a lab) you probably won’t notice any harmful buildup in your recovered solvent. So, it’s probably safe to scale up for production, right? Not necessarily.

A member of the EPIC QA team inspects distillation equipment ready for shipmentOn such a tiny scale, contaminants can be impossible to detect. Often, it’s not until after you’ve scaled up for production and integrated a recycle stream that you start to notice the presence of a scary byproduct. That’s because what started as a miniscule contaminant – through multiple recycles over time – has now become a substantial buildup that could result in product quality failure.

To avoid costly engineering and mechanical (and possibly legal) fixes on during full-scale production, it behooves you to consider an intermediate option first, like a pilot or demonstration column. Integrating your distillation equipment on a pilot scale allows you to monitor your process and correct unforeseen risks, while also achieving some production. This is a safer (and potentially cheaper) long-term approach to scaling up and integrating your distillation unit operations.

In this case, you should look for design/build partners experienced at pilot and demonstration scale distillation systems. These vendors should have specific knowledge about the types of instrumentation and design techniques that can prove out your distillation method through strategic data collection and sampling. They can also provide iterative column modeling, recommendations on how to test production style equipment at pilot scale, and assistance creating cost and investment return models for demonstration units.

Again, there’s no such thing as a road map for distillation projects. The trick is to know the right questions to ask yourself. For more information distillation equipment integration solutions, call an EPIC engineer today at 314-806-1678.

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