For labs trying to stretch their budget, purchasing pre-owned equipment can offer a cost-effective means of acquiring instruments. However, several factors must be considered when preparing to purchase a used piece of laboratory equipment, and key among them is compatibility.
“Everybody wants a fully integrated system,” says Tracie Brombos, VP of operations at GenTech Scientific (Arcade, NY). “What you have in the lab, you probably spent a lot of money on, so you want everything to work together.”
In Octavio Espinosa’s experience as COO at BioSurplus (San Diego, CA), most researchers naturally have a predilection for certain brands, which helps avoid incompatibility between instruments.
But it is when piecing together a system with instruments manufactured by different vendors—what Espinosa refers to as a “Humpty- Dumpty situation”—that issues tend to arise, and it is in these situations that the buyer needs to start questioning whether the instruments will communicate with each other.
Ceylan Bilgin, VP of marketing at International Equipment Trading (Mundelein, IL), notes that instruments from certain sets of manufacturers tend to work nicely together, but this is not always the case. “You can pair almost any SCIEX mass spectrometer with almost any Shimadzu LC, but it’s more challenging to have a Thermo mass spectrometer communicate with a Waters LC,” says Bilgin. “It’s possible,” she adds, “but it depends on the model and the configuration.”
Certain classes of instruments are more prone than others to incompatibility. For lower-end pieces that have little need to communicate with other instruments, such as water baths and vortexes, compatibility is almost never a problem. On the other hand, both Brombos and Espinosa agree that compatibility issues are more likely to arise when dealing with larger, higher-end instruments. “Mass spectrometers are the most difficult because they generally require data systems for control,” notes Brombos.
Fortunately, there are steps that anyone considering a pre-owned lab equipment purchase can take to ensure that their instruments integrate seamlessly. “When contacting the company to buy pre-owned pieces of equipment, make sure you’re talking to a knowledgeable salesperson,” Brombos advises. “Let them know what pieces you’re looking for, but also address the concerns about compatibility.”
For Espinosa, understanding the seller’s terms and conditions and asking what support, services, and protections will be in place after the sale are essential.
He notes the philosophy at BioSurplus: “We have ownership in all of that, so we have a money-back guarantee, no questions asked.” For higher-end instruments, the company will typically work with customers to extend that guarantee.
When facing software compatibility concerns in particular, Bilgin recommends speaking directly with the original manufacturer. “Usually when you’re dealing with older models, tech support will be helpful in providing the information that you need, whether or not you’re purchasing from them,” she says.
In the end, dealing with a pre-owned equipment supplier with a strong reputation can greatly reduce the chance of ending up with post-purchase instrument issues, compatibility-related or otherwise. As Jeremy Linder, president of Block Scientific (Bellport, NY), says, “Purchasing refurbished lab equipment from a trusted supplier is a great option for most labs to save costs and still maintain top quality.”
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