IMG_2792eThe Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC) is a non-profit, contract research company that offers, among other things, pilot plant construction and operation as one of our core competencies. Building and operating a pilot plant is the natural step between bench top chemistry and commercial operation. It’s an opportunity to prove out the concept with conditions that closely match commercial operations, to study the impact of closing recycle streams, to collect scale-up data, etc. Not only is it valuable in collecting critical design information, it gives you the confidence that your process will work as expected after you’ve invested millions, or hundreds of millions of dollars building a commercial plant.

However, more and more companies are cutting back their funding for basic R&D facilities, and smaller companies often do not have the infrastructure to build and/or operate a pilot plant. Many companies also do not build pilot plants often enough to justify maintaining that as a specific skill set. So it may not make sense for your company to build a pilot plant on your site, including all of the associated infrastructure, only to run it for a limited time. It results in wasted time and money spent on infrastructure that does not bring additional value to your company in the long term.

IMG_2806eAt MATRIC, we have that unique and uncommon infrastructure that allows us to construct pilot plants faster at a lower overall cost. Our primary pilot plant building was built by Union Carbide in the 1950’s. At first pass that may sound like an outdated building that has outlived its purpose, but in reality, it’s one of those, “They don’t build ‘em like that anymore” type of facilities. The building has a 12” thick concrete wall separating the control and office space from the processing areas, and a blowout wall in the back to direct the energy of an explosion or vessel failure from the people operating the facility. Each of our 24 operating areas are also separated by 8” thick concrete walls to prevent such events from impacting adjacent processes. While MATRIC takes many steps to ensure the safe operation of the processes, we do understand that the inherent nature of R&D means that not everything is well understood and that we should be ready to safely deal with the unexpected.

IMG_2797eSince MATRIC took over operation of the building, we have worked to not only restore the basic services in the building, but we continue to upgrade them. The building has basic utilities that you would find in most commercial chemical facilities, such as plant air, steam, 480V 3-phase power, city water, deionized water, and reverse osmosis water, nitrogen, oxygen and natural gas. We have also invested in a state-of-the art Siemens PCS7 control system with full safety system capabilities that you would find in commercial scale operations. The control system writes to an external data historian for efficient data collection and recall. We can give our clients secure access to their plant’s data historian where they can monitor their plant in real time using a graphical interface, giving them the ability to participate in experimental programs from anywhere in the world with an internet connection (if you can’t participate directly on our site).

The operating areas of the building are also enclosed, allowing construction and operation to be completed in a controlled environment. This improves construction and operating efficiency by eliminating weather related delays, allowing us to setup efficient work areas, and minimizing the impact of weather on operations.

IMG_2799eMATRIC also utilizes a work process that eliminates detailed engineering in virtually all cases. Since most of our process lines are constructed of tubing, the lines can be efficiently field routed, so our process technicians construct the plants from a set of P&ID’s and a general layout drawing. Our instrument technicians and control systems engineers also have work processes that allow for efficient wiring terminations and loop configuration while maintaining a good set of working documentation for the plant but without requiring detailed wiring diagrams. This eliminates a large engineering expense and speeds up our overall project schedule (and your time to market).

Our plants are constructed almost exclusively by MATRIC’s in-house operating technicians and instrument/electrical technicians. Several of our technicians and engineering staff have decades of pilot plant and laboratory experience to rely on. This is critical because building a pilot plant involves more than just making it smaller. There are many unique design and construction techniques for pilot plants dealing with process control, unique equipment, ambient heat flux, special analytical techniques, etc.

The MATRIC technicians that construct pilot plants for our clients are typically also the same technicians who operate the pilot plant later on. So they have a vested interest in getting it right, and they can draw from their many years of experience to work with the engineer to correct issues before they become a problem. They also have the operating knowledge to locate valves, equipment, and instruments in easy to reach and maintain locations, leading to a more efficient and productive operational phase.

IMG_2800eIn the event that we do need some extra help or to fabricate piping or small vessels, MATRIC has a good working relationship with local welding shops. We can also arrange for general support as well as lifting and setting larger equipment through a local construction firm that specializes in supporting the chemical industry.

Our technicians are also backed by MATRIC’s team of world renowned engineers and scientists who have spent their careers focused on commercial research and taking ideas to market. So if you need some more developmental work along the way, we have a whole team of scientists and process laboratories to support you.

Overall, MATRIC has the facilities, the infrastructure and the specialty knowhow in pilot plant design, construction and operation to effectively build and operate your pilot plant on our site. This enables you to invest your time and money on the plant and experimental program, which are the real value drivers, without having to worry about the peripherals.

For more information on MATRIC’s pilot plant capabilities, contact Rob Nunley, Pilot Plant Manager.