Other Dimensions: Sold!

March 2, 2009
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Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series.

In my last column I outlined some things to keep in mind when buying used equipment at auction sales. In this column we’ll look at what you should know about the items you’re thinking of buying.

Major pieces of equipment, such as coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) and optical comparators, are popular items sold at auction sales. There’s the dream of buying auctioned equipment at half-or less-of what you might pay a normal supplier but, alas, in many cases it remains a dream when all the expenses are taken into account.

Where CMMs are involved, you should ensure that any computer and the relevant software are included in the package. Often, such computers end up for sale with those from the front office. Before attending the sale, you should find out if the machine manufacturer still provides parts and service for it. And most important, find out what the maker or local representative will charge you for knock-down and set up at your facility, plus the cost for an equipment mover to handle it in between.

If you let a machinery mover do everything, you could end up with hardware damaged beyond economical repair. In addition to these costs, you should know what calibration of the equipment would cost.

The cost of getting your bargain operational at your facility can range into the thousands of dollars; this should be allowed for when setting the price you’re willing to pay for it at auction.

Similar problems arise with optical comparators, although the costs are usually much lower to get them set up and running. But there are other things potential buyers overlook. For example, the fuzziness on the screen-if they are able to view it under power-may be due to someone getting clever and cleaning the mirrors with a rag to improve image quality. Because the surfaces of the mirrors are silver coated, cleaning them with a rag will leave scratches, which will require replacements, and that can be quite expensive. Similarly, someone may have tried to clean the lens without knowing how to do so, leaving scratches on it that will be seen on the screen forever. The fix is to replace the lens, and that can be a costly affair.

Like the CMMs, you should check to ensure that the maker of the equipment still supports the optical comparator model you’re thinking of bidding on. We had a customer ask about calibrating one and the cost of some accessories for it-after he had bought it at an auction. I do not know what he paid for this instrument, but he was not a happy camper when advised that the maker of it was no longer in business and, thus, spares and accessories were no longer available.

When considering “lots,” such as boxes of thread or plain gages, remember that it will cost you up to $20 or $30 per gage to find the good ones in the lot-if there are any. That’s a high price to pay for all those that are not any good to you and must be considered part of the price for those you can use.

If you paid $100 for a box of 20 gages, their unit cost is only $5. That’s cheap. But you have to have them calibrated to find out which ones are keepers at, let’s say, $20 each: that adds up to $400. If only half of them were good, the cost for your $5 gages has risen to $50. Not such a bargain when actual costs are taken into account.

People bidding on a “lot” of small instruments such as indicators, micrometers and calipers should keep the above in mind. Their importers do not support many such instruments with service and spare parts because they are not worth repairing from a labor cost point of view.

Whether you are buying a quantity of items for a “lot” price or by the pound, if you don’t know the equipment from a solid technical base, you are unlikely to end up with any real bargains from auction sales.

If you don’t get your bargains calibrated, you could end up shipping a lot of scrap, meaning the next auction for this type of equipment could be at your plant.

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