Since 1965, Lionel Hitchen Essential Oils (LHEO) has grown and diversified into one of the UK's main manufacturers of natural concentrated oils, steam distilled oils, alcoholic extracts, flavours, oleoresins and dispersed herb and spice extracts.
Among hundreds of products are substances as diverse as valerian, vanilla, Worcester sauce and vending soups. As a result, the Winchester-based company is now a leading supplier to the food, beverage, toiletry and cosmetic industries, along with flavour and fragrance houses.
One of the company's key technologies is vacuum distillation. This is used to concentrate natural citrus oils by removing a high percentage of the insoluble terpene hydrocarbons which readily oxidise to give poor odour and flavour. Terpeneless and sesquiterpeneless oils are of prime importance where solubility and long shelf life are required in an end product.
Recently the company purchased a second hand vessel from Perry Process Equipment, the pre-owned plant specialist. The 1200 litre stainless steel vacuum vessel with jacket is used in the citrus oil distillation process.
According to engineering manager Chris Dimmick, the decision to use a second hand solution was driven by two main considerations -- availability and cost.
In terms of availabilityit is a big advantage if you can pick up something similar to what you need in a short period of time he explained. Generally speakingif we were going down the new plant route we would need to draw up specifications and tender documents for vessel manufacturersthen invite tenders and so forth. We might then get three or four tenders backall of which need evaluating. On top of thisthere may be a 12--16 week delivery time. So it could be nearly 20 weeks before we get anything operational on site."
In this caseLHEO's requirements were complicated by the fact that a mixer needed to be attached to the vacuum vessel. Although Perry could supply the mixerits seal was not suitable for full vacuum conditions. Perry contacted the seal manufacturer on behalf of LHEO to find one that was. This was then agreed and fitted by Perry as part of the contract.
Even sothe complete packageincluding mixervesselseal and all inspection documentation was ready in six weeks -- two weeks before it was needed on site.
"Overall we spent around 50 per cent of the cost of a new vessel with equivalent accessories noted Dimmick.
Over the years, LHEO has enjoyed good service from Perry. This is illustrated by another recent acquisition -- an Apex mill. Perry had three in stockbut we had very specific blade requirements. The one we wanted did not have the correct bladesbut one of the other two did. So they put the blades from one machine onto the one we wanted said Dimmick.
Make your own luck
According to Dimmick, when deciding on whether or not to take the second hand plant route the best strategy is to go and visit all the dealers in the area and see exactly what is on offer. There is some luck in this gamebut there is a risk with second hand plant too."
"With a new piece of equipment you get exactly what you want. All the flanges are in exactly the correct placefor example. With a second hand piece you might have to do so much work on it that in the end it isn't worth the effort. For a bit more expense you could have exactly what you want. But in the event of us undertaking any new projectswe will definitely consider second hand again he concluded.