Best Buys: Ingenious Ways to Find Lab Equipment

From cruising the Internet to getting items donated, there are plenty of novel ways to find lab equipment that won’t bust your budget.

Whether buying a new car or a mass spectrometer, nobody wants to pay the full sticker price. Finding a good deal on lab devices takes a bit of resourcefulness and negotiating but can generate major savings on annual operating costs.

The typical laboratory spends $347,302 per year on equipment, instruments, chemicals, and other products according to Lab Manager magazine — all of which can be obtained through unorthodox, yet cheaper, methods. A bit of extra effort can score great equipment and product finds for researchers on a budget.

Donations

As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. University laboratories, nonprofits, and self-funded studies might find a superlative deal by asking local companies for donations of their excess equipment and other lab materials. The company can potentially receive a tax write-off for the gift in lieu of payment, while scientists can save thousands of dollars.

The nonprofit Seeding Labs has proven the possibilities of unpaid acquisitions by collecting and distributing equipment to university and research institutions in developing countries. The organization opened its doors in 2008 and has since placed more than $1.3 million in materials to laboratories in need. It has also outlined clear guidelines for donations to maximize the efficiency of it’s operation.

Quality control can be challenge when receiving free items. One may go to great lengths to find, pick up, and test gifted gear only to discover that it is beyond repair. No financial loss may occur, but the time wasted could be costly to the progress of one’s work. Seeding Labs requires that donated equipment is in good working condition, that it is not very old or obsolete, and that it is not custom-made or altered for specific needs. By developing long-term relationships with companies that can make quality gifts on a regular basis, it has been able to build a network of reliable donors.

Web Classifieds

Other potential sources of gratis lab materials can be found online. Craigslist.org offers a “free” section under items for sale, where individuals and businesses may post giveaways. The same concerns apply for condition and wasted time, but the ease of the searchable Internet database requires less effort than outreach to various companies and organizations. Popular free items often include computers and IT network equipment.

Of course, new and used equipment can also be purchased on Craigslist.org. Because of the lack of accountability for sellers on the site, there is no consumer protection and buyers must be wary of scams. A better option is the online auction site eBay.

eBay recently published a guide for purchasing lab equipment on the site, which offers basic descriptions of the items available and an overview of its buyer protection program. Th e guide recommends using the advanced search feature to narrow down the listings — starting with the “Business & Industrial” category, then selecting “Healthcare, Lab, & Life Science,” and finally clicking “Lab Equipment” or “Lab Supplies” to see items for auction. Additional subcategories are also available.

Similarly, Amazon.com has extensive listings of everything from pH testers to centrifuges. Th e options available on Amazon and eBay are far larger and better organized than those on Craigslist. Both offer some sort of guarantee to ensure that purchasers get what they pay for.

A number of Web classifieds specifically for laboratories exist as well. LabX.com and LabMerchant.com are two of many such sites. Prices can quickly be compared for equipment across the Web to find the company with the best deal for a particular item.

Resellers

LabX and LabMerchant also operate as resale merchants for excess and used equipment. Prices will likely be higher than buying directly from a private seller, but if the laboratory materials in question are not available through cheaper avenues, resellers offer a reliable alternative.

These companies approach industry labs and other businesses with extra equipment and off er to buy supplies off their hands. Each item is added individually to their inventory and sold online for a profit. Often, they gather the best used or unneeded gear, and donation seekers must dig through what is left. On the bright side, most resellers off er buyer protection and sometimes even warranties on the items they sell — similar to Amazon and eBay — which one cannot get with free equipment.

Resale merchants still claim to be significantly cheaper than ordering new from a manufacturer. Dante LaTerra, CEO of American Laboratory Trading Inc., told LabManager magazine that his company aims to support underfunded science. “We are providing opportunities for startups, smaller companies, colleges and universities, and others with budget concerns to get high-quality technical equipment at a discounted price so that they can conduct their research and other projects and compete in their fields on a limited budget.”

American Laboratory Trading offers buyers a 90-day warranty on any item purchased. Researchers can also trade their old equipment for a newer model or a different tool. Because LaTerra has trained technicians on staff for refurbishing, he often takes broken equipment from scientists in exchange for a credit toward a working replacement. According to the website, prices are 50% – 80% less than retail.

Internal Equipment Networks

Those working at academic institutions or other organizations with multiple labs may instead fill orders by tapping into an internal network. To avoid waste, many universities have put in place a system for trading tools and materials among their laboratories.

Harvard University’s Office of Sustainability operates a “reuse room” and “green room” at two different campus locations where researchers can trade, share, and donate laboratory and office supplies. Basic everyday items like Styrofoam coolers can easily be obtained. It also runs an online database called the “lab reuse list” where people can trade, reuse, and share working laboratory equipment and other materials, in addition to saving precious research dollars.

Each novel method offers eco-friendly sensibilities in addition to cost-cutting benefits, as they encourage the reuse of old tools and reduce trash. Selling or donating unneeded lab gear rather than throwing it in the garbage is equally smart. By purchasing or offloading lab materials through these channels, scientists can feel confident about both their budget and their contribution to sustainable practices.

— Mapes is a Washington, D.C.–based freelance writer
and a frequent contributor to Endocrine News. She wrote
about new technology in the September issue.

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