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Purchasing Used Lab Equipment

Purchasing Used Lab Equipment That Won’t Cost You Later

Asking quality assurance questions prior to purchase is important to ensure upfront savings are worthwhile

Michelle Dotzert, PhD

Michelle Dotzert is the creative services manager for Lab Manager. She holds a PhD in Kinesiology (specializing in exercise biochemistry) from the University of Western Ontario. Her research examined the...

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There are many reasons to consider purchasing pre-owned lab equipment, including environmental benefits and lower cost. Unfortunately, upfront savings may be lost if the instrument or equipment is in poor condition, or is at the end of its life cycle and necessitates costly repairs or disposal. Asking a few quality assurance questions prior to purchase is important to ensure upfront savings aren’t lost to additional costs.

Purchasing from a reputable reseller is the first, simplest way to ensure quality. Thirty-day money-back guarantees provide some assurance that the equipment is in good working order, but be sure to confirm the policy with the reseller prior to purchase. It may be worth considering a warranty or service contract, offered by some resellers such as International Equipment Trading Ltd. (IET). “IET provides warranties up to two years and service contracts are available,” explains Ceylan Bilgin, director of marketing at IET.

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“Next, make sure to ask if the equipment is tested and confirmed to be fully functional,” says Reid Hjalmarson, vice president of marketing at BioSurplus, Inc. It is also worth having a conversation with the reseller about the specific application and conditions under which the instrument will be used. “We also recommend that customers give us some background on how they plan to use the equipment. Sometimes, their science requires a creative implementation of an instrument,” says Hjalmarson.

It is also important to consider whether the equipment will easily integrate into the existing laboratory setup. “If the lab equipment will be used in conjunction with existing lab equipment, confirm with the vendor and possibly the original manufacturer regarding compatibility. For example, Sciex mass spectrometers are typically paired with an Agilent or Shimadzu HPLC. It may be possible to pair a different LC, but you may run into communication issues,” explains Bilgin.

Related Article: Buying Used Chromatography Equipment

The equipment’s life expectancy is another important consideration. Purchasing equipment near the end of its life cycle may result in having to replace it a few months later. Hjalmarson offers some guidance on the subject:

“When purchasing cold storage, for instance, look for units that are no more than seven to eight years old. The compressors only last for around this long, and replacement can be costly, particularly if important samples are being stored.” In addition to age, “for analytical systems, we take usage hours into consideration as well. Many chromatography systems last for decades when maintained properly.”

The more information you can obtain on a piece of equipment prior to purchase, the better. Don’t hesitate to request any additional records or documentation associated with the item. As Hjalmerson notes, “whenever possible, we look to obtain service history and calibration logs for the items we acquire. The more information we can get, the more assurance we can provide a customer that the item has been properly maintained and is in working order.” If the previous owner does not provide the calibration history, it may still be possible for the reseller to obtain it. “If the instrument has always been under the manufacturer’s service contract, this information is verifiable through the instrument serial number. Depending on the model of the instrumentation and if it can connect to a PC, we can provide qualification data prior to shipment,” says Bilgin.

Purchasing pre-owned equipment is a great option, but should be done with careful consideration. A conversation with the reseller can help determine their reputability, and obtaining service or calibration records can help you determine the condition and quality of the item. Some time spent on research prior to a purchase can ensure any initial savings aren’t lost.