The Hidden Value of Used Lab Equipment
Written by Richard Delhaye, Senior Consultant Scientist at Process Alliance
I started purchasing used laboratory equipment in the early 2000s. One of the first items I purchased was a Titertek Apex 10/600 auto gamma counter. This unit was so old (manufactured in 1983) that the IT department needed to force the hard drive to run at a slower rate to allow the instrument to communicate with it!
At the time, I was working in a new lab and was tasked with procuring a reliable gamma counter at an affordable price (new price > $40,000). Also it needed to be able to connect to an online statistical software. I had a budget of $8,000 to get it all accomplished. In the end, I was able to get the gamma counter delivered, an IQ/OQ/PQ performed, and have it networked for just over $8,000. The unit ran and collected data in a GLP bioanalytical lab with no issues—and great service responses from the vendor. This was the beginning of my love of refurbished laboratory equipment.
The Time Investment is Worth the Reward
Over the years, I have continued to be a strong advocate of purchasing used equipment for new startup labs or existing laboratory expansions. There are many established and trustworthy used equipment vendors now that you can confidently fill a new laboratory for pennies on the dollar. You will not always find the latest models readily available, but you will find the previous one to two generations back available for purchase.
You can and will spend a significant amount of time researching and looking into identifying the best fit for your lab, but the dollar savings make the loss of time worth the effort.
If you’ve been in science awhile, you know that historically, the only used equipment that was available were units that were overused and nearly nonfunctional. However, that is not the norm anymore. If you are willing to put in the time to go out and shop the various vendors, you can purchase an HPLC that five years ago would have cost you $80,000 for less than $10,000 or a $40,000 multimode UV/Vis microplate reader for $5,000—things have changed.
The preowned market has gotten to the point some primary vendors such as Agilent have begun providing preowned systems that come with manufacture warranties.
Going, Going, Gone! The Value of Auctions
About 5 years ago, I started using auctions from pharmaceutical companies either closing or updating locations. These are great opportunities to get quality used equipment. A few observations on these auctions:
First, be sure to not purchase enough equipment for a new lab with equipment you did not even know you needed or wanted. I accidentally found a synthetic DNA generating robot for around $2,000. No, I did not need it, nor did I know how to use it, but I wanted to make sDNA! Luckily, we ended up being able to use it as part of an equipment trade-in and made money off the trade—so I did not get into too much trouble.
Second, make sure you know what you are buying, especially when buying in lot quantities. I accidentally purchased 11 movable lab benches for $300 thinking I was buying a single HPLC bench—I was shocked when 11 units arrived, and I was expecting only one. The good news is I was able to get work benches into more lab space than we had first thought we would be able to.
Thirdly, the people moving the equipment are not always going to be gentle. I purchased a semi-analytic balance, and it arrived in multiple pieces inside of the Tecan robot. Remember to take multiple pictures of the equipment as it comes off the delivery truck and provide them to the vendor ASAP. It might save you money.
Lastly, when buying from an auction that supports a site closure, make sure you are buying functional equipment as they are liquidating all their stored equipment—including pieces that were on their way to the recycler.
Some Vendors I Like
If you are willing to spend some time looking you will be able to save a significant amount of money on equipment. Below are a few of the vendors that I have personally used in the past and have nothing but positive things to say about them….
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