Had a nice visit with Chuck yesterday. We talked a bit about buying liquid handlers via auction sites.
The parent company of The LabSquad (Biodirect, Inc) is the industry leader in providing refurbished liquid handling robots (Agilent, Beckman, Hamilton, Tecan, PE) and they frequently acquire units from various auction houses. Auction houses are typically hired by clients who are closing down a facility or a functional group and are tasked with disposing all of their assets (instruments, lab benches, hoods, consumables..etc). The prices are generally low but buyers are not able to physically inspect the equipment and might not have a complete understanding of functionality or completeness. For experienced professionals, like Biodirect, the risks from these purchases are minimal. Biodirect acquires instruments that they are intimately familiar with and even if the unit arrives in less than pristine condition, there is little they cannot do in order to bring it back to the manufacturers specs.
I have also spoken with a number of end-users who also purchase directly from auction sites for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they have limited funds and they need to stretch their budget a far as possible. Sometimes they get lucky and the unit they receive can be brought up and running with relative ease. Other times, not so much. That's the rub, imagine buying a house or car from a website with not much more than some photos to go by. Unless you are an experienced fixer uppper, you might have to get out the checkbook. I have fielded a number of phone calls where users contacted The LabSquad for a "PM" on a robot that they will soon be receiving. A PM can be an economical way to survey a newly acquired auction unit but, as is often the case, it leads to a need for additional spending to make the unit functional. The single biggest thing we encounter is a missiing PC or hardware key. The LabSquad does not (cannot) re-sell the manufacturer's software. Clients are told that they will need to get that from the manufacturer...if they will sell it to them. A handful or manufactures will refuse to sell software for a unit they do not directly provide. In many cases, No Software = Boat Anchor. Others may sell it, but at very steep prices. Once, and if the software issue is resolved, the PM process may lead to other smaller repairs such as leaking valves or bad diluters. Other times, multichannel head rebuilds or motor replacements can require still more invenstment.
Bottom Line - Buying from auction sites can get you a good instrument for a fraction of what you might pay from a company like Biodirect. However (you just knew there was a caveat coming ...re-read the title) buyers would be wise to consider the additional costs that are likely to occur post-delivery. I know from first hand observation the investment in parts, labor, packaging and warranty that Biodirect makes in order to ensure it's clients receive units that are "research ready", just as you would expect when buying new. For those that are intent on buying direct, you would be wise to enlist the assistance of a company like The LabSquad who can help with "gotchas"... End of Commercial Pitch. I bid you ...'good buy.'