#1 Suggestion for Improving your Large Equipment Purchases

The #1 thing you need to keep in mind when buying equipment is to clearly identify and communicate your needs before starting the process.

There, that is the punchline, read on if you want to learn a little more about my perspective. I have been involved in equipment purchases from the customer and sales side. They have been as small as mini-microfuges for the lab or multiphoton systems for live animal imaging. I have purchased systems without thinking through what the criteria were clearly and I have worked with customers to determine their criteria.

Too often the ideal criteria are murky for the large equipment grant, joint purchase, start-up/new PI purchase, or institutional purchase. When I have been on the sales side this is irritating becasue I can’t even tell you if my system is the correct one if you don’t know what you want to do. There are some people that take advantage of this and discuss your needs in such a way that, Lo and Behold, their system becomes the best possible option for you. Occasionally, this might work out for both parties but too often the result is a piece of equipment that has unnecessary or missing features.

What should the first steps in the buying process be then? I would suggest the following:

  1. Identify wants and needs. These are different. Lots of people “wanted” a multiphoton back in the early 2000s but not nearly so many needed one.
  2. Convert needs into slightly more generic terms. “We need a spinning disc to image yeast bud formation” becomes “We need a highly sensitive, live cell imaging system with incubation control.” Don’t lock yourself into the technology you know or that one person suggests.
  3. Rank the needs by impact. This is difficult. It requires you to look at what resources you have, how they might be modified or upgraded to suit some needs, and what is truly missing. It also requires a dispassionate person to look at the overall impact on the facility that meeting different needs will have.
  4. Reach out to every supplier you can find with a list of needs. This list should not specify features “point scanning confocal with GaAsP detectors” but needs “live cell imaging system capable of imaging yeast bud formation without bleaching”. Let the vendors bring you the best match to your needs.
  5. Let the vendors know how much funding you have. What! I can hear your saying that the vendors will just try to squeeze every penny out of you. Maybe. But, just as likely is that you hide the funding level from them and they demonstrate a system to you everyone loves, but that you cannot afford (I will be writing about this next).
  6. Do a demonstration that measures your needs. Plan this out well in advance, maybe way back at step 2 or 3. The demonstration should test your needs, not the system. It is great that the system makes coffee, but you already have a coffee machine, you were looking for a food processor – right?
  7. Measure the equipment demonstrations versus these needs. You have done your homework, now stick with it. Don’t let your head get turned by some really cool feature that will impact no one or a software package that you don’t need or the promise of a “free” system that will be thrown in with the purchase of a lesser system. Stick to your list of needs and see which system quantitatively meets them best.
  8. Negotiate in good faith. You gave a budget, your vendor should have brought in and demonstrated a system that will meet that budget. You chose their system as the one that would meet your needs and fit your budget. Want to negotiate, sure, this is ‘Merica after all. But, keep in mind that you are about to join a parntership with this vendor and you don’t want to start that partnership with a fight.

So, there you have it. Those are my thoughts on large equipment purchases. Each one could be its own blog post, but please tell me what you think and what you would add.

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  1. 1 5 tips for putting equipment into your grant. | Two Minute Tar Heel

    […] previously wrote about how to assess needs for large equipment purchases for a group. Today I wanted to touch on another issue I run into while working with PIs. […]




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