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Making Smart Decisions around Pre-Owned Lab Equipment

Addressing common hesitancies when shopping the pre-owned marketplace

by
Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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Many labs operating on a strict budget turn to using pre-owned equipment to carry out their work. The approach comes with numerous benefits, chief among them being affordability followed by shorter lead times and sustainable usage. But pursuing pre-owned lab equipment can come with unknown variables, a few of which are outlined here. 

Missing documentation/manuals

Oftentimes, pre-owned equipment will not include any manuals, documentation, or other useful literature with it. While you may not necessarily need a manual for a particular type of equipment because you have prior experience, documentation is still useful for developing standard operating procedure documents, as well as training new staff on how to use the equipment. However, it’s not always possible to locate the documentation from other sources. Depending on how obscure the product is, there may not be any digital scans of the manual available online. Contacting the company may also prove fruitless—as companies undergo mergers and acquisitions, product documentation can get lost between the cracks

If the manual for an instrument you’re considering is nowhere to be found, consider alternative models that do have documentation readily available.

Cybersecurity

Many software-driven instruments, such as analytical equipment, on the used market are at least a decade old. As such, they often come with a computer running an older operating system that was supported when the instrument was being sold by the manufacturer. Legacy operating systems pose a security risk as they are no longer updated, leaving them vulnerable to exploits. If the pre-owned instrument you purchased does not support newer operating systems, consider keeping that instrument disconnected from any networks, a security practice known as airgapping. “Older equipment that runs with computers on older operating systems is a risk, but that can be mitigated,” says Bill Dykstra, information technology (IT) director at LabX Media Group. “Airgap[ping] is the safest—in that case, there are no real risks. If you can’t airgap it, then as long as firewalls are used to restrict access from the outside—and, if possible, internal access is limited as much as possible—then risks are still low. You certainly don’t want any out-of-date equipment available [over the internet] in any way.”

Buying pre-owned equipment assumes a certain level of in-house technical expertise to maintain and support it without any backup from the OEM.

It should be noted that airgapping the computer from your lab’s internal network will not allow it to interface directly with a LIMS or ELN, leaving manual USB export as the only option for transferring data to and from the computer. Should you wish to preserve its ability to communicate with your lab’s informatics platform, work with your organization’s IT department to safely connect it to the lab’s network with proper firewall rules and security measures.

Lack of technical support options

Past-generation equipment is very common on the used market. Many manufacturers only support current-generation equipment, however. As such, finding service providers can be a challenge. Buying pre-owned equipment assumes a certain level of in-house technical expertise to maintain and support it without any backup from the OEM. That said, it is certainly possible to source high-quality service from third-party providers. Many pre-owned lab equipment vendors offer post-sales support.

While pre-owned lab equipment can be a boon for labs on a tight budget, there often are strings attached. Before committing to a pre-owned purchase, it’s important to weigh these pitfalls against your project priorities to ensure none of them will compromise safety, operations, or the quality of your lab’s output.