What is a Pilot Plant?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Pilot plants are facilities that are created for the purpose of conducting a production process on a relatively small scale. Depending on the outcome of the evaluation of this limited process, the facility may serve as the blueprint for the creation of full-scale plant that is capable of producing much larger quantities of goods. Many businesses use the pilot plant model to work out issues of logistics and procedure before investing resources in the creation of a fully operational facility.

Pilot plants are facilities that are created for the purpose of conducting a production process on a relatively small scale.
Pilot plants are facilities that are created for the purpose of conducting a production process on a relatively small scale.

One of the key advantages of creating a pilot plant is the ability to carefully evaluate each step in the production process. Since the plant is operating on a very small scale, the investment of resources into the project is kept at a minimum. Generally, the plant is configured to be just large enough to imitate any issues that could occur in a larger plant, but small enough to prevent the waste of raw materials, labor, and other common operational expenses.

Generally, the pilot plant model is used to look at the entire production process, beginning with the order of raw materials all the way to the shipping of finished goods. Along the way, it is possible to find ways to refine the layout of the plant floor, possibly rearranging the placement of departments so that the production flow is more efficient. Various types of production equipment can be tried within the pilot plant, to determine which are capable of producing the most units without adversely affecting the quality of the goods. Even the assessment of how to utilize a workforce to best advantage can be explored with this type of controlled operation. Once all possible information has been obtained from the operation of the small-scale plant, the owner can determine how to proceed with the creation of a full-scale manufacturing facility.

A pilot plant is the ideal bridge between the first round of development of a new operation, and the investment of resources in the creation of a full-scale operation. By using the test plant to best advantage, company owners are able to avoid design and organizational errors that would inhibit the ability of the operation to produce high-quality goods as well as generate an equitable amount of profit. In some cases, a pilot plant may also serve as the foundation for the later full-scale plant, with the larger operation built around the smaller test project, a strategy that helps to make the process even more cost-effective.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


This article reminded me of that show "How is it Made" where they take you into lots of different kinds of factories and show you how things are made. It never fails to amaze me how complicated it is to just make something like popsicles or paper towels. Even the simplest of products take a huge amount of machinery and labor to produce them on a mass scale.

Each one of these factories, no matter what they make, probably started out as a pilot plant. Before there were popsicle factories someone had to figure out how to make popsicle factories.


@tigers88 - Interesting observation. It makes a lot of sense though. Factories are incredibly complex problems where the smallest inefficiency can lead to huge cost increases. It makes good business sense to put the time and research into a facility to make sure that its industrial capacity is running to its full potential.


Its interesting to think of a pilot plant as a kind of experimental factory. They build one and then tinker with all the variables until it is as efficient as possible, then they reproduce the design on a much larger scale.

I immediately thought of the way a sculptor will work with a clay model until the get the form and shape right, then they will work from the model to make a molding.

Or a technology company that designs a software and then does months of testing to work all the bugs out. A pilot plan is just like this except it is a huge building with lots of advanced machinery. What a crazy idea.

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