Cutting Tool Engineering
March 2009 / Volume 61 / Issue 3

Buying pre-owned machine tools

By George Weimer

Used or new? There are pros and cons on both sides when buying machine tools. Price, availability and upgradability of older equipment are important considerations.

Taking the rebuild or retrofit route “makes sense in many cases,” advised Gisbert Ledvon, business development manager, GF AgieCharmilles, Lincolnshire, Ill. But, he cautioned, even if you choose to upgrade a machine, you cannot expect it to come back with completely state-of the-art technology. Take CNCs, for example. “Your existing CNC may use buttons instead of touch screen controls. Changing that is very difficult. You can only do so much in terms of rebuilding a machine. You can usually significantly upgrade the software, but you cannot always upgrade all of the hardware [of the CNC], and you end up paying a significant amount of money to put a new CNC in an old, inaccurate machine.”

Ledvon suggests dealing with the OEM when preparing an upgrade. AgieCharmilles’ machine refurbishing section is now called the RePlay Dept.

“Keep in mind there are different levels of refurbishment,” depending on the machine being upgraded and its age, said Ledvon. Also, consider that some types of specialty machines and very large machines are in short supply, and rebuilding rather than buying new makes more sense, he said. So who do you buy previously owned machines from and how?

Buying at an auction, for example, rather than from an OEM or reputable dealer can lead to nasty problems. “Sometimes you will find clipped cables, for example, instead of disconnected cables,” Ledvon noted, adding that it’s important to know a machine’s maintenance history. He compared shopping for a used machine to looking for a used car. In both instances, the dealer has a reputation to maintain. OEMs typically test machines and replace non-functioning components, allowing them to offer limited warranties on the pre-owned machines they sell, said Ledvon.

“There is an abundance of used machinery on the market covering every machine type and brand imaginable,” said Matt Garbarino, president and COO of MachineTools.com, West Bloomfield, Mich., an advertising Web site for sellers of new and used machine tools. One of the biggest challenges for someone looking to buy previously owned machine tools is where to start. Companies like MachineTools.com can help by listing used machinery by type, brand, year or location.

“The Internet makes this easy,” Garbarino explained. “This allows the buyer to do some shopping without committing to anything.” Interested buyers can contact the sellers directly via e-mail to submit a request for quote.

Ask questions up front, Garbarino said. Who previously owned the machine? Why is it being sold? Is there a warranty? If not, can one be purchased? What are the options if it doesn’t work properly? In other words, do due diligence before buying.

“The benefits are price and availability,” said Art Lazarus, president of Machinery Values Inc., Harrison, N.J. “If a used or rebuilt machine will do the job, it’s foolish to pay for new equipment. Most machine tools are built to last for decades, but they must be properly cared for. Only a thorough inspection by a qualified person can determine if a particular machine is in good enough condition for the intended purpose.”

The retrofitting business almost always increases during recessions, said Tom Curfiss, retrofit business development manager for Siemens Energy & Automation Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill. Curfiss, who is based in Lebanon, Ohio, is in charge of Siemens’ Preferred Solution Partner program, which “takes the company’s CNC, motors and drive packages to the machine shop market by a national network of qualified retrofitters.”

Curfiss explained: “When we determine the scope of the work needed, the proper partner is selected. Generally, for smaller jobs, a local partner is best. On more complex or dedicated machine tool projects, where a certain level of expertise and perhaps greater manpower are required to properly affect the retrofit, we might look to a more regional or even one of our national partners in the program.” There are 10 national partners so far.

The watchword in all of this is common sense. The Internet provides a new and effective tool for locating and categorizing the previously owned machine tools in a market that includes international sources. The final decision, however, must be based on research and evaluation of the vast array of information available on the Internet. Yes, you could get a “lemon,” said Garbarino, but if the buyer does his homework, chances are high a retrofitted, rebuilt or remanufactured machine will do the job. CTE

About the Author: George Weimer, a freelance writer based in Lakewood, Ohio, has an extensive background in the metalworking industry’s business press. Contact him by e-mail at gweimer@jwr.com.

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