Good as New? Make Sure.

March 1, 2002
Hold off on buying used equipment until you know its history.

Someone once said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. That’s a good image to keep in mind next time you hear that a used rack system is on sale for a fraction of its original cost. Unless your application is very similar to that of the original owner, you might find yourself mopping up a big mess of camel dung in your industrial stable.

I’m painting this pretty picture for you because The North American Material Handling Show is around the corner. So? Well, if you are thinking about buying used equipment, hold off until you see what’s new. You may find that your requirements would be better met by an engineered solution than one that has to be re-engineered.

Even if the original owner’s installation was similar to yours, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Racks get hit by lift trucks every day. Most hits are minor, but some can dent or even bend the structure. This can change the rack’s capacity. So can changing its configuration. In fact, even if you load the rack with less weight than its previous application, that doesn’t protect you from the possibility of a collapse. The original configuration might have been three shelf levels high and rated at 5,000 pounds capacity. If you were to reassemble that into a system two shelf levels high, spreading the system farther out and increasing the unsupported span of the upright frame, you could be setting your operations up for trouble.

Jay Anderson, president of Steel King, called me recently to share this information after reading MHM’s November article on the used equipment market (see Bargains By The Bagful: Buying and Selling Used Equipment, page 39). He said used equipment poses significant challenges to the OEM as well as to the end user.

“It takes quality control out of the manufacturer’s hands and voids all the warranties,” he said. “That doesn’t keep us out of a legal mess if something happens to that product. That’s why we send out a pallet rack user’s manual with every installation and we indicate that the rack structure should only be assembled and used according to our assembly drawings. In red it says that changing the configuration and adjusting storage levels could adversely affect the load-carrying capacity.”

John Nofsinger, CEO of the Material Handling Industry of America, isn’t too worried about used equipment gobbling up marketshare from OEMs.

“It may bring to market people who weren’t going to buy new equipment anyhow,” he told me. “The buyer figures, ‘I wasn’t going to, but if I can get something that’s good and I can organize the back 40, maybe I’ll go ahead and do it.’ The seller needs a lot of luck to find the right application to put it into. Otherwise, the equipment tends to get garage-saled.”

This magazine will not advise you to avoid buying used equipment. That might be your best, most affordable option. We do suggest you consult with original equipment manufacturers first. In fact, NA 2002 offers the opportunity to see some of the leading OEMs in one place at one time. A good number of consultants will be there, too. Our exhibitor list (NA 2002 Show Preview) will help you plan your booth visits. If you can’t go to the event, contact them directly, either by phone or via their Web sites. Tell them your plans and ask for their input. You’ll collect a lot of information to help you make a balanced decision.

The material handling industry wants you to be safe, for its own good as well as yours.

Tom Andel, chief editor, [email protected]

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