Volume 12, Issue 2 - March 2011


Four Tips for Buying Used

What to Look for When Buying Pre-Owned Equipment
by Penny Stacey

In today’s market, used machinery can appear an economical purchase for door and window manufacturers. But some machinery manufacturers say there are many factors to be taken into account beyond the simple price tag. Read on for tips on buying pre-owned equipment.

1. Do your research. When purchasing or looking at used machinery, there are many questions to ask, according to industry experts—questions such as, how long the machinery was used, how long it has been out of service, and what its capabilities are.

“The key when you’re buying used is to make sure you have good advice,” says Steve Waltman, vice president of sales and marketing for Stiles Machinery in Grand Rapids, Mich. “You need to check on the weight, and if [the machine] is particularly large you will have issues in your factory regarding floors. Riggers sometimes have limits on what they can pick up, and you have to make sure the riggers understand proper handling of the machine.”

Mike Biffl, national sales manager for Sturtz Machinery in Cleveland, also points out that it’s important to see the machinery in-person. “The best thing that [manufacturers] can do is to go spend time looking at the equipment,” he says. “In most cases there’s no way they can see the equipment powered up, but at least they should go and see that it’s in decent condition.”

Manufacturers also must keep in mind that websites and auctions are not always representative, says Biffl. “The pictures on these websites can be very deceiving,” he says. “The buyer might call the auctioneer, but the auctioneer doesn’t know anything about the machinery. He was brought in to empty out the [plant].”

When viewing a machine in-person, there also are several factors to take into consideration. “If the company that used the machine is still around, talk to the people who were at the plant where it was used,” says Biffl. “Get the serial numbers off of the machine and call the manufacturer and find out if parts are still available. Just do some homework and find out if you’re getting something that can viably be put into use for a few years.”

When research is carried out correctly, Cliff Langdon, vice president of operations for Sunrise Windows in Temperance, Mich., says a used purchase can indeed be advantageous.

“We did purchase a major piece of used equipment recently and it worked because we knew who was running the equipment and how well they maintained it,” says Langdon. “The person who sold us the equipment also helped with set-up and training. So, in the end, it was a less expensive way to get a good piece of equipment and more value than if we had just bought a new piece of equipment.”

"Sometimes new machines can even send you an e-mail when it’s time to oil or grease the machine. You’ll probably never find that on a used machine."
—Steve Waltman, Stiles Machinery

2. Look for quality. When researching the equipment, there are certain items to look for with regard to quality, such as age of the machinery. “I would look for a piece of equipment that isn’t [more than] ten years old,” says Chris Cooper, senior sales engineer for Joseph Machinery in Dillsburg, Pa.

Likewise, it’s important to know if the machinery has undergone changes since it originally was set up. “A lot of times there are modifications that were done to the equipment that were not documented,” adds Cooper.

Sometimes even when research is completed, full quality cannot be ascertained. “The machine is sold as is and where is—it’s in the quality that it’s in and whether or not it operates well enough is yet to be seen,” says Waltman.

Biffl agrees. “A lot of that stuff has been sitting around for quite awhile not really being used,” he says. “In some cases we’ve seen parts stripped off and the buyer [doesn’t] even know.”

Working with a knowledgeable seller often can help determine some of these factors, according to Dave Schmucker, president of Global Sales Group in Chico, Calif., which sells both new and used machinery. “Work with a company that is knowledgeable about the equipment, one that knows the ins and outs of it,” he suggests. “We know if a machine has been abused or hasn’t been maintained correctly. We can give our opinion on it and on some of the [used] equipment we do provide warranties.”

3. Consider efficiency and advancements. Even if used machinery has been well-maintained, it’s important to look at its overall capabilities, as the market is advancing constantly and older machines may not offer the same functions as newer equipment. “There are some great things that new machinery can do that old machinery can’t, and one of those is conforming to your company’s lean manufacturing flow,” says Waltman.

Cooper echoes Waltman’s thought on this. “The new thing now is flexibility, and a lot of the older equipment was designed for more of the locked-in-style profiles,” he says. “The new machines we offer now have more options and fewer costs for more changeovers.”

The same goes for green. “Most companies have adopted a green principle of some sort and most of the new machines are much greener than a used machine,” adds Waltman. “And … you have to look at new machines as being frankly smarter than used machines; they’re more intuitive to operate, they have [fewer] labor costs, and they have less downtime than used machinery.”

General capabilities also are key. “Most new machines have self-diagnostics that used machines don’t have. They can track tool life, spindle hours and component hours,” says Waltman. “Sometimes new machines can even send you an e-mail when it’s time to oil or grease the machine. You’ll probably never find that on a used machine.”

Though machines sometimes can be re-configured or adapted, this can require a good deal of effort. “The biggest thing we see on our equipment is anything bought that was manufactured before 15 years ago still had DOS on the machines, and there’s a significant cost to do that conversion. We basically have to go in and re-configure it,” says Cooper.

Biffl says sometimes even “the electronics might be obsolete” on a used machine. “We’ve had a machine come back to us that wouldn’t even power up,” he says.

"We did purchase a major piece of used equipment
recently and it worked because we knew who was running the equipment
and how well they maintained it."
—Cliff Langdon, Sunrise Windows

4. Calculate the full price of the machine. While buying used machinery at a discounted price may seem economical at a glance, some say this is not always the case. “It’s been too easy to find used equipment these past few years and everyone thinks they’re getting a great deal,” says Biffl. “[Manufacturers] don’t look at the fact that this machine was never designed to put together or run the specific product they might be running. There are always costs on top of the machine that they are buying that are going to have to be absorbed as well. They might say ‘Oh, I can get this machine for $100,000,’ but they’re not looking at the $15-$20,000 beyond that they’re going to spend.”

Waltman agrees. “If someone is going to go to the trouble of buying a used machine, they need to look at the total cost of ownership. What does it cost to operate? What does it cost to maintain?” he says. “Go out five years and find out what the real cost of that machine is. If it’s in favor of the use, then so be it, but it’s often that the value of the machine is hidden, almost prostituted, by the cost of the machine.”

The cost of setup also is key. “We were at an auction a few years aback that had great equipment available and the OEM was there,” says Langdon. “They knew that the people buying that equipment were taking money out of their pockets, so I don’t think they were especially excited to help the new owners get the equipment up and running.”

Penny Stacey is the assistant editor of DWM magazine.


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