“What are the possible risks to consider when running a pilot test?” In this blog I’d like to discuss the concept of a pilot test in relation to oil sludge treatment, why it’s important, some of the possible risks and a few tips to minimize these risks.
First, what is a pilot test (sometimes referred to as a pilot experiment)? Wikipedia provides a useful definition when applied to engineering applications…
“Pilot experiments are used to sell a product and provide quantitative proof that the system has potential to succeed on a full-scale basis. Pilot experiments are also used to reduce cost, as they are less expensive than full experiments. If there is not enough reason to provide full-scale applications, pilot experiments can generally provide the proof.”
When we’re approached with a new oil sludge treatment challenge, there are typically 4 key steps we take in the implementation and optimization process:
- Lab test – a quick lab test to determine if our chemistries are effective.
- Pilot test – a field-test using a similar process to the likely full-scale process. This is typically conducted over 1-5 days on a relatively small volume of waste. This delivers clear data enabling a well-informed decision regarding implementation
- Implementation – Scaling up the pilot approach to a full-scale operation
- Optimization – Continually optimizing the system to improve performance and efficiencies.
The pilot test is critical as it’s the only way to provide real and relevant data to enable a well-informed decision before making a significant investment. A Pilot test is a risk reduction strategy in itself, but what are the risks associated with a pilot test? Below are a few of the possible risks and some strategies for addressing:
Risk: What if the product/process isn’t effective?
How to address: Always run a lab test first to determine which product is most effective on this waste stream. Lab tests need to be done on representative samples of the oil-contaminated waste that will be treated during the pilot. If it works in the lab, we can make it work in the process. If it doesn’t work in the lab it will almost certainly not work in the field.
Risk: What if the equipment breaks down?
How to address: It is of course always great to have backup equipment if possible. The most important preparation is to have the equipment that will be used properly serviced prior to the pilot trial. A chemical injection pump should be calibrated. If not, it will be unknown how much chemicals is used/needed. Decanter centrifuge should be clean and maintained. If spare parts are available, locate them.
Risk: What if we don’t get the data you need?
How to address: Clearly define the data required prior to the pilot and design the pilot to gain this data. What do you want to find out? It is a pilot trial and as with any trial it will generate a limited amount of information. Waste changes all the time and further optimisation work will need to be done. The pilot is carried out to get the best possible answer as to the “does it work” and “does it make economic sense” questions.
Risk: What if the first attempts don’t deliver the desired results?
How to Address: They almost never do! It takes a bit of work and tweaking the different parameters to get the best results. Ensure the size of pilot (volume of waste, days, chemical, etc.) is sufficient for multiple tests. As long as we measure what we do we can learn and change. It is quite rare for the first try to be a success. Though, it does happen.
Risk: What if the unexpected happens?
How to Address: Have the right people on site who have the ability to find solutions to the unexpected – people with expertise related to the equipment, the chemistry, the waste and local resources. Unexpected surprises do happen, but most trials bring up very similar issues and these can be prepared for and often prevented.
Depending on the situation, there could be any number of different risks – it’s not practical to list them all. It’s impossible to eliminate risk entirely, but with thoughtful planning it’s possible to make a pilot test an extremely low risk way to test a new approach.