Designing custom process equipment for your plant is a major undertaking. Stringent industry regulations, production requirements, and dozens of little process nuances will change how you tackle this challenge. Determining how to kick off your project can be overwhelming, to say the least. But don’t worry, we’re going to take this step-by-step.
In this post, we’ll go over the pros and cons of custom designing equipment for your process, examples of successful projects by industry, and the critical design/build steps to consider when choosing a custom process equipment manufacturer. Let’s begin with the basics.
What is Custom Process Equipment and Why Does it Matter?
Custom process equipment (CPE) is any unit operation that has been custom designed by an industrial process engineer to complete a particular processing task for either a chemical or non-chemical product. CPE can be designed for a number of process applications including batch mixing and blending systems, continuous and inline blending skids, industrial distillation equipment, and a number of other custom processes.
Custom equipment, as opposed to off-shelf applications, can offer a higher level of compatibility with manufacturers’ existing process plants because they are specifically engineered for a particular process. CPE is commonly used when fabricating pilot plants, one-off process skids, and full-scale production plants.
The Pros and Cons of Custom Process Equipment
Developing custom equipment for your process requires a collaborative approach between you and the equipment manufacturer. Depending on the manufacturer you choose, this collaboration can result in several benefits, and potentially a couple of drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons that come with designing custom equipment.
- Greater Quality Assurance (QA) – Building process equipment from scratch allows you to eliminate the risk of incompatibility between your existing plant and new process skids. By hand-picking the equipment for your process and conducting offsite factory acceptance testing (FAT) with your process equipment manufacturer, you can also ensure a particular product output prior to startup.
- Less Field Service Required – A custom piece of equipment is less likely to require troubleshooting and configuration down the road since it has been designed with your plant environment in mind.
- Repeatability – After the initial process skid is designed, it’s relatively simple to leverage that design and roll out multiple replica skids at a reduced cost.
- Modular Flexibility – By applying a modular design to your process skid, you can pick up and move unit operations around your plant or to an entirely different geographic location as business needs change.
- Engineering Costs – Building a system from scratch requires a greater investment in process engineering on the front end. Your engineer will want to gather as much information as possible to ensure that your chemical process equipment is compatible with existing operations and that it meets your production requirements. Existing standard process equipment does not typically come with engineering fees.
- Longer Lead Times – Because there are more decisions to be made when designing custom equipment, it can take longer to get the equipment installed.
When comparing the pros and cons of CPE, ask yourself the following. Is there a standard product readily available for my application? If not, your decision to pursue custom process equipment is simple. If the is a standard product on the market, also take into consideration whether your production requirements are likely to change in the next 5-10 years. In most cases, CPE offers greater scale-up flexibility over standard products.
4 Real-World Examples of Custom Process Equipment
As the name suggests, there is no “one size fits all” solution when designing custom process equipment. The regulations for a pharmaceutical process system, for example, are vastly different than one built for biofuels. Below is a list of industry-specific examples of how custom process equipment can be implemented successfully.
Pharmaceutical and Sanitary Process Equipment
In a case study recently published by Process Industry Informer, a multinational pharmaceutical company secured several bids from custom process equipment manufacturers after announcing a $2-billion expansion of their medicine-manufacturing operations. The successful bidder provided design-build services for two solvent recovery hygienic process systems and eight mixing sanitary process systems, which were designed, fabricated, inspected and Factory Acceptance Tested (FAT) in an isolated sanitary fabrication shop.
Custom Food Processing Equipment
In another case study published by Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, International Food Products, a food flavor and ingredient manufacturer, used custom process equipment to meet growing market demand for their liquid and powder food product line. This modular process equipment fabricated and tested offsite before being installed in a newly purchased site in St. Louis, Mo. As a part of a $20-million corporate expansion.
Agricultural Chemical Process Equipment
In this case study, EPIC systems delivered a turnkey process skid to a Fortune 500 agrochemical within a very tight deadline. To meet a tight installation window, EPIC Process Systems designed and fabricated a process system to feed a customer’s plant production lines. Design, engineering and fabrication occurred simultaneously with site and facilities construction.
Additional custom process examples can be found on EPIC’s case studies page.
Key Steps in Designing Process Equipment
Designing custom process equipment can be an iterative process in the beginning. As you begin to compare custom process equipment design companies, be sure to evaluate how they handle the following design steps, which are crucial for any custom design/build project.
Front End Loading (FEL)
Front end loading, also known as front end engineering design (FEED) or pre-project planning, is the process for planning and developing technical information to help define the scope, approach, and cost designing a custom piece of process equipment. FEL is one of the earliest steps in the project planning process and is necessary for securing complete and accurate bids from vendors.
Once you’ve completed FEL, the next step is to provide the resulting P&IDs and PFDs to a process equipment designer. This designer will use your engineering documents to render 2D and 3D models of your equipment so you can simulate how it will fit in your existing manufacturing plant.
Developing proper process control and automation systems concurrently with (or shortly after) the physical design of your process equipment ensures a smoother startup down the road. During the automation design step, it is critical that your custom process equipment manufacturer is willing and able to conform to your existing plant controls including documentation methods, preferred programming style, and nomenclature
With all process, mechanical, power and controls engineering complete, you’re finally ready to build the process equipment. Be sure to choose an equipment manufacturer with a shop environment that is compliant with the regulations of your industry. For example, if your process is for the pharmaceutical, food, beverage, or flavors industry, be choose an isolated stainless steel fabrication shop to fabricate your sanitary process equipment.
Installation & Startup
The final phase of integrating custom process equipment into your plant is installation. This is where due diligence in the first four steps pays off. Careful specification of equipment, controls, and materials of construction during FEL will allow for a smooth startup. Additionally, if you’ve contracted a process equipment fabricator with off-site FAT capabilities, you’ll experience less production downtime during installation.
- Custom process equipment enables greater flexibility and quality assurance
- Industry regulations and production output should be considered in the beginning
- Chooses an equipment manufacturer that is capable of delivering what you need
EPIC is a full-service design/build firm, delivering turnkey process skids for several industrial applications for 20+ years. Click here to learn more about EPIC’s custom process equipment solutions or call 314-714-1580 to speak with an EPIC engineer about your project.