Not all great innovation need be complicated. That can necessarily be the case, of course, but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most brilliant. As Leonardo da Vinci so succinctly put it: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. And no less an engineer/scientist than Edsger Dijkstra believed that “simplicity is the prerequisite for reliability.”
And so we have VEXO International (UK) Ltd’s X-POT multi-functional water conditioning system for commercial heating and cooling systems, a novel patented product that has changed accepted practice in the plumbing and heating industry.
It’s simple, sophisticated and reliable. It’s the brain child of Darren Wilkinson, a former Royal Navy marine engineer turned water treatment technician who back in 2003 wondered if he could improve the commonplace dosing pot for adding biocide and corrosion chemicals into commercial heating and chilled water systems, instead of a vessel conventionally just left to sit there with stagnant water. He felt it better to filter the water, leave valves open and condition the water when it wasn’t in use for dosing chemicals.
By 2010 VEXO had developed a patented domestic product which although did not set the market on fire pointed the way to a commercial/industrial application.
Commercial systems often have several devices fitted to remove sludge, microbubbles (air) and treat the water. These are usually installed piecemeal at different stages, thus providing additional maintenance, installation, space and cost issues.
Three years later the X-POT was born. It includes magnetic filters, additive dosing pot, dirt and air separator, cartridge, and bag filters with filtration down to 0.5 microns. These elements work together to remove liberated limescale, magnetite, dirt, sludge and biofilm from hydronic heating and cooling systems.
In 2013, Darren and fellow director Paul Hanrahan became ‘jacks of all trades’ – warehousing operatives, van drivers, finance managers, import and sales executives until 2014 when this ‘multi-tool’ took off.
Darren, who is VEXO’s MD, said: “We saw an opportunity to have one product that combined the functionality of many in a neat package, so creating cost, space and maintenance savings, but also it’s very easy and cheap to install, so is great for retrofitting and improving system efficiency and reliability which accounts for around 70 per cent of our sales.
“I look back at those days and realise just how far we’ve come. The lucky break came for us when the largest distributor British Steam Supplies (BSS) Industrial really got behind the product.
“We gave them exclusivity and it became a collaboration piece and then a year later they put their own brand on the product called BOSS which lasted between 2015 and 2020 when we opened the market to other distributors and independents.”
The product now has a granted patent in 11 territories, including the USA, across Europe and Asia Pacific.
Darren said: “X-POT is very good at restoring existing systems in old buildings with heating which is underperforming because of accumulated sludge. It’s proved to be very popular at universities [including the likes of Cambridge, Oxford and St Andrew’s], hospitals, government buildings, famous churches and even in Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium.”
VEXO, which is based in Biggleswade in Bedfordshire with a regional office in Southampton, is no one trick pony either and has launched other products and registered other patents in the UK and overseas.
“Energy efficiency isn’t just about clean pipework and heating systems”, said Darren, “It’s also about how it operates and the next step for VEXO is helping customers reach their net zero targets with better control systems.”
Darren, Paul and colleagues are steadfastly dedicated to using their knowledge not only to assist the company’s own growth, but also to educate industries nationally and worldwide, particularly around the environment.
One of the business’s main pillars is therefore education and is supports two PhD students at Loughborough University who are researching and testing a hypothesis written by Darren on buildings’ heating efficiency that hopefully will see greater benefits in the water treatment, FM and construction industries.
VEXO is now looking to grow its team of nine on the back of their Queen’s Award as well as launching a big push in USA and Canada. Darren said: “Winning this award is recognition of our hard work and the support of our supply chain and customers.
“It gives us further credibility and will help our ambition to expand overseas and increase our sales and further our journey.”
VEXO’s is a journey with humble beginnings and through persistence and belief in the effectiveness and simplicity of the products and solutions VEXO develop, X-POT is an innovation that’s helping to enable zero carbon pathways.