In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many food manufacturers have experienced a spike in demand for their product, driven by a profound consumer shift toward at-home dining. For some, the spike has become a new baseline, requiring additional processing equipment to keep pace.
The situation is prompting many food manufacturers to consider an age-old question: "Should we buy new equipment or used?"
New processing vessels are typically custom-built to the manufacturer's specific needs – thereby optimizing production quality and efficiency – but there is no construction lead-time for used equipment. For operators with an immediate need, this can make used equipment appealing.
But before plunging into the market for used processing kettles or tanks, buyers should first understand key factors to look for – and be aware of – when evaluating their new vs. used options:
- Prior use: Determining what ingredients were processed in the vessel under consideration is an important risk, safety and liability issue. For example, a kettle that was previously used to mix or process hazardous, reactive chemicals or pharmaceutical products may pose too high a risk for use in food processing due to possible cross-contamination from trace chemical ingredients. While the used vessel's original manufacturer may be able to provide information on the first buyer's industry, this information may not be available for that vessel's subsequent owners. So, unless you can establish a clear chain of ownership on a used vessel under consideration, you can never be sure of its prior use history.
- Safety and potential liability issues due to wear, defects or unauthorized repairs: Processing vessels with steam and water jackets are classified as "unfired pressure vessels" per section VIII of the A.S.M.E. code. A.S.M.E. code guidelines must be followed and documented for repairs or alterations made to the unit. Any repairs to a vessel can only be performed by a state-certified A.S.M.E. boiler technician, and all such repairs must also be inspected and receive an "R stamp" by a state-certified A.S.M.E. boiler inspector.
Therefore, as in the case of prior use above, it is critically important to obtain a documented record of all inspections and any certified repairs made to the used vessel under consideration. Due to the significant safety and liability risk involved, you should absolutely avoid any vessel where an undocumented, uncertified repair has been made.
- Your custom requirements: Because most vessels on the used market were custom-built for their original owners, the specific features and operating characteristics of the used vessel you are considering may or may not meet your production and safety requirements. The cost of major modifications – such as rebuilding the agitator drive, replacing worn parts, adding a larger discharge port and general modifications to adequately meet your process, can put the total cost and time of buying a used vessel in-line with those of a new kettle or tank custom-designed for your needs.
- New service and parts for preventive maintenance: Most used equipment dealers do not take on the responsibility of performing maintenance on the vessels in their inventory. Therefore, to prevent costly downtime once that vessel is on your production floor, it is essential to have this preventive maintenance done before the vessel is put into operation. Further, buyers should identify a knowledgeable and reliable source to fill ongoing need for parts and service support.
- Warranties: While new vessels usually carry a warranty (e.g., Lee Industries provides a two-year limited warranty), used vessels are most often sold without any warranties, on an "as is, where is" basis. In some instances, vessels that have been reconditioned by dealers may be sold with limited-time unsupported warranties. Generally, the best you can expect on a used vessel is a short-term warranty, which makes a thorough inspection and preventive maintenance vital to keep production downtime to a minimum.
Is a used vessel the right choice for your operation?
As you can see, several important factors affect your decision to buy a used vessel, beyond its availability or purchase price: the vessel's prior use, its repair or modification history and the cost of preventive maintenance service and parts. Each of these issues must be carefully examined to determine the true cost of used vessel ownership, and to assure reliable, long-term operation for your food processing operation.
Learn more about choosing a new vs. used vessel for your food processing operation by downloading the guide: New or Used Kettle: How to Make the Right Choice for Your Food Processing Operation.