Stick the landing with the proper ‘pilot’

Providing a heat transfer solution companies can touch and believe in

Author: Jamie Zachary

The indirect heating, cooling and drying of bulk solids has unique and specialized considerations. Whether handling NPK or potash, coffee or cocoa, canola or soybean, each product can behave quite differently based on its physical properties, the process conditions, equipment and intended result.

Meanwhile, new opportunities are leading to constant innovation in bulk solids thermal exchange as companies such as Solex Thermal Science explore bold and undiscovered frontiers – from battery powder to peanuts and sunflowers to lignin.

“There really are no textbook calculation procedures for the type of heating, cooling and drying that Solex provides with its equipment, so pilot testing is often a necessity to ensure the commercial equipment performs as needed,” says Caroline Richard, Senior Process Engineer at Solex Thermal Science.

The point of pilot tests

Pilot test blog 01When navigating the known or unknown, certainty is a commodity that is worth its weight in gold. Pilot testing not only ensures productivity and performance objectives can be met, but also demonstrates a solution that people can “touch” first-hand, says Richard.

“Pilot testing proves we’re in control,” says Richard, who has conducted dozens of site-specific pilot tests on behalf of clients in Europe, Russia, Africa and North and South America. “And seeing is believing. Take potash, for example. It comes into our exchangers piping hot. Yet during a pilot test, customers can catch it in their hand at the outlet because it’s at room temperature. They almost don’t believe it.”

Richard notes on-site pilot tests are the most effective way to prove operability, productivity and performance objectives in the field under realistic process conditions.

The units themselves must be representative of the end solution. Solex uses pilot units that feature the same type of pillow plates, hoses, spring assemblies, manifolds, casings and discharge feeders that you would find on its larger exchangers.

Solex also typically brings its own module for the heating and cooling of the heat transfer fluid. This allow technicians to modify the operating temperatures and show customers the impact on solids heat transfer.

How does it work?

1. In the beginning . . . The piloting process is typically kicked off with a series of technical conversations focused on identifying the product, what’s being done with it, as well as to understand the set-up and operating conditions for the test. Questions could also include how the pilot will tie into the production line? What will be done with the water? How long should the test last? What process goal does the customer ultimately want to achieve?

2. Setting up: Next, the equipment is prepared specifically to meet the test objectives and shipped to the site. With Solex, Richard says the company typically wants one of its subject matter experts there to assist with set-up, which could take anywhere from a day to a week.

3. The outer limits: Before being ready to accept product, the SMEs on site also want to determine the limits – for example, throughput maximums or water temperature before caking appears.

4. Ready for action: Once the pilot unit is turned on, it should be allowed to operate for upward of 48 hours. The goal here, is to prove continuous, problem-free production, says Richard. “We’re not going after a perfect 20-minute run. We want to see the unit running perfectly for at least two days.”

Determining the objectives

Pilot test blog 02Richard says a proper pilot test should be about more than just proving a concept and getting an understanding of the needs for a commercial unit. It should also be an opportunity to train on-site staff on:

1. How to operate an indirect heat exchanger.

2. Troubleshoot scenarios such as controlling the caking mechanism, the importance of temperature control or tying into the dust-collection system.

“We try to cover not just continuous operations, but make sure everyone is comfortable with indirect heat exchange technology in all circumstances,” says Richard, noting the most often question centres around maintenance requirements. This is an easy one to answer though, says Richard, as Solex heat exchangers typically require little to no maintenance.


Did you know that Solex is a global leader in bulk solids heat transfer technology with extensive experience handling many different applications in diverse operating conditions? In addition to on-site testing, we can also conduct in-lab pilot testing and product analysis to determine material flow characteristics of certain applications.

Contact Solex today to have us conduct on-site or in-lab pilot testing based on your needs, familiarity, level of comfort and budget.  

This entry was last updated on 2023-1-17

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