Volume 12, Number 4
A Gossman Consulting, Inc. Publication
April 2007

Buying Used Laboratory Equipment


David Gossman

The first piece of used laboratory equipment that I purchased was in 1987 as I was setting up the hazardous waste fuel facility at what is now Holcim in Clarksville, Missouri. We had a highly successful phase 1 to the program where all the fuel was being delivered from McKesson Envirosystems blending facilities. All the metal testing was done at those plants but now we needed to increase volumes and for that all testing needed to be shifted on site. I had purchased my first PE 5000 atomic absorption spectrophotometer when setting up the Systech hazardous waste fuel lab in Paulding, Ohio at what was General Portland Cement (now LaFarge) in 1980. New it cost over $30,000! By purchasing a used unit in 1987 I saved over half the cost and got a thermal graphite furnace and autosampler as well. Again, 24 years after purchasing my first PE 5000, I purchased two more as part of setting up my own lab for soil and water testing (ChemRight Laboratories, Maquoketa, Iowa). This time the cost was less than $1000 each – about 3% of the cost of a new machine! In the early days the only real means for purchasing used lab equipment was through dealers. Now, eBay has radically changed the situation and massive amounts of used lab equipment are sold online every day. Another good online auction house for used lab equipment is Labx.

Most recently I helped a client set up a complete PCB testing lab with mostly used lab equipment. The GCs (two of them, each with with dual ECDs) were HP5890s purchased from Analytical Instrument Resource out of Golden, Colorado. This company did a fantastic job of providing beautifully rebuilt GCs complete with autosamplers, data systems, installation and warranty in a fraction of the time a new system could have been purchased and at far lower a cost – highly recommended. We also purchased most of the other equipment for that lab off eBay including centrifuges, reagent dispensers, balance, etc. Even the fume hood was bought used. Overall from the time we had the go ahead to having the lab up and running was about 2 months – try that with new equipment.

If you do decide to purchase lab equipment off eBay watch the bids on the types of items you are looking for a while and see how high the items go. If you jump in and start bidding on the first thing you see because it is “such a good deal” you may find that you overpay. Then, when you do buy off eBay wait till the last few seconds of an auction and “snipe” it – bid the highest reasonable bid you want. If you get it you are guaranteed not to have gotten into a competition with another bidder. If you don’t get it wait till the next time the item comes up and try again. Give yourself time to do it right for the best deals. Some items come up quite rarely, others quite often. Be certain to pay attention to shipping and handling costs – many times sellers bury a portion of their “profit” in that portion of the sale because it is less visible to the buyer until after the bidding is complete. If you do buy equipment off eBay expect that it may need some repair or maintenance. I often buy two of the same item so that I can treat one as a parts machine to make the other fully functional. Technical expertise with this type of equipment is critical.

There are a few things not to buy used for a lab. Generally speaking don’t buy used gas equipment (gas lines, valves, fittings and cleaning systems) if you are doing highly sensitive testing, like for PCBs. The potential contamination problems are just not worth the trouble. ECDs (electron capture detectors) for GCs should only be purchased used if you are certain they are refurbished and properly licensed because they contain a regulated amount of radioactive material. Also make sure to look at items that have a limited shelf life closely. That said, many times companies put shelf life indication on supplies that last much longer – the company just wants to avoid potential liabilities – so depending on your use it might be possible to use items past their expiration dates. We commonly used ink for inkjet printers that has “expired”.