Industrial auction: how to buy online

Ever have a project with a tight budget? Recently, I found myself in this situation and decided to purchase the entire project's non-critical instruments and automation controls from an Internet auction site. That's right. The same Internet auction company better known for selling computers and baseball cards has a sizeable list of industrial automation and controls available for sale by indivi...

12/01/2004


Ever have a project with a tight budget? Recently, I found myself in this situation and decided to purchase the entire project's non-critical instruments and automation controls from an Internet auction site. That's right. The same Internet auction company better known for selling computers and baseball cards has a sizeable list of industrial automation and controls available for sale by individuals at a fraction of the price.

I must say that buying this way is not a good idea for individuals without a considerable knowledge of such equipment. The potential buyer must have a willingness to spend time researching model numbers to ensure features and metallurgy are appropriate. But, if you are patient and enjoy a challenge, you can easily save 75% off the price of new equipment.

Before starting on this endeavor, I took our equipment and instrument purchase lists and divided the items into critical and non-critical items. For me, a critical item would be any item for which a failure could result in a safety or environmental incident. Non-critical items for this project included the PLC, motor controls, HMI, tank level gauges, flowmeters, and most of the control valves. Critical items included pressure relief devices, ambient air monitors, pumps, and valves in corrosive or toxic service.

Some tips

  • Always try to purchase items that are new or surplus in their original boxes. In our experience, no new or surplus item that arrived in its original box failed on the calibration bench.

  • I suggest placing a maximum bid limit of 25% of new list price. If you can't save 75%, then it might not be worth the hassle. Remember—many of these items are sold as-is and may not have a warranty. [Read this piece online at www.controleng.com, Archives, December 2004, to view a chart depicting savings.]

  • Only buy brands and equipment that you and your maintenance staff are familiar with. There are no real savings if you buy a control system or instrument that your technicians aren't trained to work on.

  • Set up an Internet payment account. Most Internet auction sellers use these services, meaning that your accounts payable department won't go crazy writing a bunch of little checks.

Did the equipment work?

I purchased approximately 100 surplus items for this project surplus from the Internet auction site. Only one item (a magnetic flowmeter) didn't work upon receipt. It's been nearly a year since plant startup and only two other items failed. Therefore, 97 out of the 100 items purchased are still in service. In contrast, three new critical items purchased directly from the factory similarly failed. But, of course, these new items had the luxury of being replaced under warranty.

In my opinion, it was worth the hassle to be able to bring this project to completion under budget and still meet all the project design criteria. If the budget weren't tight, I wouldn't recommend buying the entire non-critical equipment surplus by Internet auction. It takes a lot of personal time researching all the purchases to ensure you are buying exactly what you need. Also, the items you need may not be up for auction all at the same time. You may have to check the auction site daily until that perfectly sized flowmeter or valve is listed. It is a lot easier to pick up the phone and call your local distributor and order the items you need. But, if you find yourself over budget, then you might want to give this purchasing method a try.


Online Extra

Internet auction savings

This chart shows some of the actual purchases I made on this project. All were name brand products that our company was already using in other applications.

Item Internet
auction cost

Approximate
new list price

Coriolis mass flowmeters

$200

$3,500

PLC

$1,000

$4,000

Pneumatic control valves with I/P

$100

$1,200

Smart pressure transmitters

$50

$900

Smart temperature transmitters

$25

$500

On/off pneumatic ball valves

$50

$600

Constant flow regulators

$20

$400

Magnetic flowmeters

$100

$2,500

Stainless tube fittings (box quantities)

$80

$2,000

Level transmitters

$50

$1,000

Source: Control Engineering with information from Douglas G. Wene.


Author Information

Douglas G. Wene, P.E., is plant manager for a global company that provides refineries, gas processing facilities, petrochemical and chemical plants with a variety of catalyst services.




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