Buying used or refurbished lab equipment is a great way to save money on advanced laboratory instrumentation. Savings of 40% to 60% are common compared to purchasing the same equipment new. Some people may be tentative about buying pre-owned equipment, afraid that they will get a lemon. So, we want to address some of the most common misunderstandings. Let’s take a look.
Myth #1: Refurbished Lab Equipment and Used Lab Equipment Is All the Same Old Stuff
Many people use the terms “used” and “refurbished” interchangeably. “Used”, “pre-owned”, “as-is”, and “secondhand” mean someone else owned the equipment before you. It says nothing about the condition of the equipment. “Refurbished” or “reconditioned” lab equipment is also “used” lab equipment. But, it’s used lab equipment that is serviced and tested to meet the manufacturer’s standards. The seller may also offer a warranty or service contract for the equipment.
Understanding the difference between “used” and “refurbished” scientific instruments is important. There are many sellers that sell used equipment. But, there are fewer that invest in the expertise to test, diagnose, and repair sophisticated scientific instrumentation. You may pay a little more for a refurbished lab instrument, but your risk will be much lower.
This doesn’t mean that refurbished equipment is good and used equipment is bad. Be aware of what you’re buying and make sure that you understand the risks. Even refurbished equipment resellers sell some equipment as “used” or “as-is.” Depending on the type of equipment, selling it as used might be very appropriate. Good examples are small equipment like vortexers and water baths. For these types of items, you’ll want to use a reseller that has a good return policy.
Myth #2: Refurbished Lab Equipment Is Not as Good as New Lab Equipment
Lab instrument manufacturers have been making great, reliable equipment for decades. Most equipment has a very long service life, even at high duty cycles. For most applications, even previous instrument versions will meet the lab’s needs, perform well, and last for years. New equipment may offer some advantages, though. Your application might need a particular feature that only the new technology offers. Or, if you’re pushing into new areas of research, then only the newest generation may have the detection limits or capacity that you need. A manufacturer’s new system might only differ minimally from the previous generation.
Myth #3: Service and Support Are Not Available for Refurbished Lab Equipment
This is an important consideration when buying refurbished equipment. You should plan on maintaining your valuable equipment to keep it performing well. Today, labs have many options for servicing their lab equipment. You should consider both regular maintenance and emergency repairs. If you’re working with a reputable, full-service reseller they might offer service for the instruments they sell. Another option is a third-party service company. These are larger firms that compete with equipment manufacturers for service business. They support many types of equipment from different manufacturers and have established themselves as great alternatives. There are also smaller “boutique” service providers and individuals who have struck out on their own.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that manufacturers will not support refurbished instruments. While in some rare cases this is true, manufacturers do understand that once you have one of their instruments, you’re their customer too. They know that if you’re a happy user of their platform, the likelihood of you buying from them in the future is high. For this reason, you can generally get service and support from manufacturers. However, you should do your due diligence in this area. If you’d like support from the manufacturer, it’s best to contact them and make arrangements ahead of time. This will avoid nasty surprises after purchasing the equipment. Keep in mind that there may be some added expenses from the manufacturer. You may need to pay recertification, reinstallation, and/or software license fees.
Myth #4: You Never Know What You’re Getting with Refurbished Lab Equipment. People Only Sell Their Defective Junk Equipment
Dealing with broken lab equipment doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re not that interested in investing a lot of expensive time and parts to resurrect a junker. Reputable refurbished equipment sellers want to buy and sell the best quality equipment. We love it when instruments, even when heavilyused, were well maintained and under service contracts. This is reflected in the value we assign and the amount that we pay you. There are many reasons why a lab chooses to sell equipment, and “broken” makes up a very small part. Here are a few:
- The instrument has reached the end of its “financial life” and finance wants it off the books
- The objectives of the department or project have changed. That type of lab equipment is no longer needed
- A newer version of the lab instrument was purchased and the old one is no longer used
- The lab equipment was the “pet project” of an employee that moved on. Remaining colleagues don’t have the interest or expertise to continue its use
- The company outsourced the service provided by that instrument
- The company restructured the lab due to acquisition or downsizing
- The lab moved
- The company liquidated the lab’s assets
Myth #5: Refurbished Equipment Is Only for Startups and Academic Labs
Small companies and grant-funded labs may seem like they are perpetually budget constrained. Of course, saving with refurbished lab equipment is a great way to make room in your budget. Being part of a large company doesn’t mean a lab has an unlimited budget. Like the saying, “all politics are local politics”, it also feels like “all budgets are department budgets.” If you have finite funds to accomplish your lab’s goals, then selectively buying refurbished lab equipment can help stretch that budget further and allow you to do more.
If you’re purchasing several new pieces, look at your needs on an instrument by instrument basis. Buying one or more refurbished instruments might allow you to spend more in another area. Or, you may save enough to buy an important instrument sooner, rather than waiting for the next budget cycle.
Myth #6: Refurbished Equipment Sellers Can’t Help Me If I’m Buying New Equipment
There are a couple of ways that refurbished lab equipment sellers can help when you are buying something new. Are you trading up and buying the next generation of an instrument you already have in the lab? If you aren’t going to keep the old instrument, then a refurbished equipment seller may be able to give you a better “trade-in” deal than the manufacturer. Equipment manufacturers don’t like trade-ins. Sometimes they are necessary but tend to offer low or token discounts. Selling the old instrument to a seller may return more to you than the manufacturer’s trade-in discount. This is especially true when the new lab instrument is from a different company. Manufacturers don’t like trade-ins, but they REALLY don’t like trade-ins of their competitor’s instruments. This is a perfect opportunity to sell the equipment to a seller. In fact, this is a great time to look around the lab and see what else you may not be using and sell that too. This is a nice way to extend your budget and do a little lab cleaning as well.
Factors to Consider in Finding the Right Refurbished Lab Equipment Seller
Longevity – How long have they been in business? What do your colleagues know about them?
Expertise – Does the seller have a specialization in the type of equipment that you are purchasing? Do they have the staff with domain knowledge to support that equipment?
Services offered – Do they only buy and sell equipment? Do they test and recondition equipment themselves or use partners? Do they offer other more advanced services, like application development or asset management?
Policies – Do they offer warranties and service contracts? What’s their return policy for used / as-is equipment?
Ask a lot of questions – you want to find a seller that has great customer service. They shouldn’t be afraid to address any topic with you. It should be clear what the seller will provide, and you should understand what you need to arrange for.