How to Evaluate a Used Machine


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Used SMT assembly equipment can be found all over the Internet. In most cases it's “buyer beware,” but there are some cases where you can get a good deal and save some money over a new machine. This chapter will help guide you in your search and give you some tips to avoid getting a raw deal or actually spending more than new by the time you get that bargain acquisition in good working order.

Why consider a used machine?

A new machine with all the options you want, the factory support you expect, and a warranty that protects you is always the first choice, but there are some good reasons to consider a factory reconditioned unit vs. new:

  • A factory reconditioned machine can save you up to 50%, depending on age and condition of the unit
  • If you have a short-term project that you want to minimize your cost and/or loss, buying a reconditioned machine could be a good choice
  • If you have a complex application that you’re not sure will even work, and you can’t afford the cost of custom equipment, you may be able to create a work-around with a reconditioned unit, along with the technical support of the OEM

The “re” words—rebuilt, reconditioned, recycled, recertified, remanufactured, or refurbished—are intended to describe the various conditions you can expect to find in the used market; however, you really need to look deeper. Many times the wording is used interchangeably to mean the same thing. The kind of description you want to avoid is simply “used” or “as-is,” because you have no idea how much work (and dollars) it will take to get it in good working order and registered by the manufacturer.

There are hundreds of surplus electronic manufacturing and test equipment re-sellers in the market, and they sell through different channels like eBay or SMTNet.  Currently, SMTNet has over 393 used SMT equipment dealers listed. Some have a good reputation for trying to help the customer with as much information as they can, while others may be only looking to make a fast buck on a bargain that they themselves found at a flea market.

The best situation, if you can find it, is to buy a factory reconditioned machine from a respectable manufacturer.  Here’s the distinction I make between “factory reconditioned” and “refurbished”: A refurbished machine is one that may have been damaged and repaired, while a factory reconditioned unit has had all its worn parts replaced, outdated components updated with new, everything tested to be in good working order, and a factory warranty applied by the manufacturer.

There are quite a few resellers who say they recondition used machines, but it’s always a risk. Here’s why: Most SMT assembly equipment is initially licensed and registered with the OEM, similar to a title on a car. So, to get instructions, support and access to spare parts, you’ll need to register your used machine with the OEM, and that can cost between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the manufacturer. Not doing so would be taking a big financial and implementation risk, and if you bought from someone other than the manufacturer you could be paying for support they might not be able to deliver.

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Figure 1: Here are some things to look for in a reconditioned machine, using this reflow oven as an example.

Original manufacturers will often take in older equipment in trade, or buy back machines that their customers have outgrown. They will also seek to purchase back their own brands from companies going out of business. This means you have a pretty good chance of finding a pick and place machine, reflow oven, wave soldering or other system that meets your needs direct from the manufacturer’s reconditioned inventory. They won’t always offer these machines on their websites, so you just need to remember to ask.

Sometimes a manufacturer is forced to downsize and sell off some equipment that may no longer fit what they need. So they decide to sell it on eBay or another discount online site. It may be in perfect working order, and it may be something you want test out before investing in a full line. I suggest contacting the manufacturer directly to see what support, warranty and training they offer even before making an offer on an online store. You should also consider the type of equipment and its average life cycle. If you can, check to see how many miles (or years of operation) are on stencil printers, pick and place machines, reflow ovens, or soldering systems.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the October 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.

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