Scientific equipment: cheap and even free

April 1, 2005
Many of you probably know about the numerous Web sites that offer second-hand scientific equipment for the optoelectronics industry either directly for sale or via an online auction, but did you know there is a site that offers free cutting-edge scientific equipment to academic researchers, even before it is offered for sale to the general public?

Many of you probably know about the numerous Web sites that offer second-hand scientific equipment for the optoelectronics industry either directly for sale or via an online auction, but did you know there is a site that offers free cutting-edge scientific equipment to academic researchers, even before it is offered for sale to the general public?

For sale and up for bid

When purchasing optoelectronics equipment online from a company other than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the best advice is “buyer beware”; that is, understand the product warranty before buying. If your company has researchers and/or a production team that uses and maintains particular industry brands and models, the risks of buying used equipment are minimized, while the financial rewards can be overwhelming.

Most of these sites offer fixed-price sales and live auctions. Auctions can be time-consuming and are best handled by an experienced purchasing agent in your company who knows new-product pricing well and is able to bid confidently.

This is a searchable database of more than 250 dealer inventories and private listings, and with more than 160,000 individual listings at any one time in three primary categories (test and measurement, general lab, and semiconductor manufacturing). It is hard to beat for used optoelectronic equipment. The day I visited, for example, I found 2500 spectrum analyzers from four major suppliers and several minor suppliers, after an easy category search. The site’s quote cart makes it easy to contact multiple sources of hard-to-find equipment, and the dealer directory is searchable by location, equipment types, and services offered. Its historical price database has information on published prices going back three years, and you can be kept up to date on new listings of the model you need with automatic alerts.

By far the most popular auction site, DoveBid has been auctioning used capital assets in 20 categories for 60 years. For customers in need of specific equipment that cannot wait for an auction, DoveBid’s Test & Measurement Group (TMG) at, a division of DoveBid, may be a better option. With more than 30 years of experience, DoveBid TMG is one of the ­largest providers of reconditioned test and measurement equipment. The group sells, rents, and leases directly from its warehouse of more than 40,000 items and promises delivery at the “lowest cost” and in the “shortest timeframe,” thanks to its on-site state-of-the-art calibration facility.

Concentrating on used and new laboratory, medical, test/measurement, and semiconductor equipment, claims 400,000 visitors each month who buy or bid on 75,000 listings. Rather than warehousing and selling equipment, the site is meant to be a marketplace through which buyers and sellers connect.

“An eBay for scientists and professionals,” as described by general manager Ken Piech, has doubled its number of registered users during the past year and is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the oldest online marketplace for scientific equipment. A unique feature of the site is that users can post “wanted” and “donation” ads for free.

GoIndustry Group and its United States, United Kingdom, and German subsidiaries, Michael Fox International (, Henry Butcher (, and Karner (, respectively, have established a global asset valuation and disposal company.

The integrated website offers a broad selection of laser and optoelectronic equipment for sale from end users that turns over at a very fast rate-GoIndustry and its subsidiaries are in the asset-disposal business and do not hold stock. The optoelectronic ­client list is impressive and includes companies such as Bookham, JDS Uniphase, Corning, and Alcatel. Frequent visits to the Web site are worthwhile if you are in the market for large lots of optoelectronic assets at end-user (as opposed to dealer) prices because major companies often use the site to handle their auction needs when a major facility or division closes its doors.

This site does not sell equipment, but instead is a valuable resource that lists more than 600 companies in 29 countries that sell and auction used test equipment and semiconductor production equipment. Over 150 international equipment sellers are in a separate category that is listed by country. In addition to equipment sales and auction sites, the Web site also lists equipment rental companies, calibration laboratories, repair services, and more.

Started as a personal database over 10 years ago by Steve Noll-the current Web master and site is not fancy on purpose: the lack of graphics allows speedy searching and only one banner ad per page allows advertisers to target particular buyers. There is no fee for a company to add its listing, and each listing includes a brief description of the product or service offering, along with full contact information and a quick link to the individual company Web site. There is even a category for locating suppliers of product manuals for used (and in some cases obsolete) scientific equipment.

Free scientific equipment-yes FREE!

Believe it or not, a few mouse clicks and a relatively simple online submission process are the only steps necessary for an academic researcher to have a high probability of obtaining free scientific equipment.

Administered by the ­Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA; Washington, D.C.) and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (NSF and DARPA; Arlington, VA), the Photonics Technology Access Program (PTAP) was organized in 2002 to provide precommercial, state-of-the-art photonic devices to universities for teaching and research. Unlike a grant program that requires exhaustive proposals, PTAP is a resource for researchers to find specialized equipment and devices that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Although the program is limited to faculty and researchers at United States academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations with funded research projects (or projects in which the device will help obtain early data that can be used to improve the odds of winning research grants), international and domestic device manufacturers benefit by compensation through PTAP for the devices they supply to the program. Equipment providers also receive valuable feedback about their preproduction or ­prototype products.

To apply for free equipment, the Web site has a series of easy-to-complete forms and information on the most ­recent “solicitation” under way. The PTAP organization solicits academia two to three times a year, in a variety of optoelectronic and other scientific disciplines, and awards equipment to more than 60% of its applicants.

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