It is an old saying in the machine tool business – new machines are all made with used machines – which means a used machine is often capable of doing extremely fine work – good enough to make parts for brand new machines. Because machine tools need to cut and form metal to very close tolerances, they have to be well maintained and kept in good repair or they are of no value to their owners.
A typical large company making automotive parts, for example, may run their machines around the clock, 7 days a week, but they have a full time maintenance staff that changes the oil and filters, fixes anything that gets damaged and even replaces bearings and spindles when necessary, otherwise the machines will not produce parts that are saleable. It is common to find machines that are 40 or 50 years old holding the same tolerances as when they were new. They may have been rebuilt 3 times and they are surely not computer controlled, but they still can make quality parts.
Machine tools, by their nature, are extremely solidly built and durable and typically have long productive lives. A machine tool made in the 1970s is, in many cases, worth more today than it cost when it was brand new! A well maintained machine tool can often do its job for many decades and often has many owners over the years. New machine tools are extremely expensive, so secondhand machine tools are a cost-effective way to acquire metalworking capacity at a reasonable price. In the case of some machines, it can be the only way to acquire a certain make and model machine that is no longer made, but fits your application perfectly, or matches with the machines currently in your production line. Since the machinery used in the metalworking industry is often large and very costly, it is common for even the largest Fortune 500 companies to acquire second-hand machines rather than purchase new ones – especially if there are budget constraints.
The main downside of purchasing used machine tools is that you may not be acquiring the latest technology. This is especially true with newer technologies, such as CNC, conversational programming, graphics, and high speed machining that may not be up to the latest standards in a used machine. CNC, or computer numerical controlled machining, refers to the automation of machine tools, which may be something totally not required in your application. If the used machine you are considering is CNC controlled, you will need to ensure that it is compatible with your other systems and your operators. A variety of CNC control types can make integrating different machines difficult, but not impossible. CAD-CAM systems can simplify integration by making all programming possible on one system, eliminating the need to learn the idiosyncrasies of many different machine controls.
With the economy and manufacturing in such bad shape recently, used machine tools have become more plentiful and prices have come down considerably. Today, it is possible for a buyer to acquire a very slightly used, second hand machine for a price as low as 40% below new cost. We are talking about a current model with the latest technology and with less than a years use on it. This was unheard of in past years, but happens every day now. If that price is still above your budget, and the latest, greatest technology is not required, you can buy good serviceable, but older CNC machines in great running condition for 5 or 10% of the cost of a new one.
Many people buy a used machine because they intend it for occasional use, not intense continuous production. It is a tremendous convenience to have a particular machine at your disposal, in your shop, to do a required operation once a week or even less, rather than send those jobs out to others. It simply does not pay to spend 5 or 10 times the cost for a new machine that is going to spend much of it is time just sitting around doing nothing, but a used machine can be justified in these situations.
Secondhand machinery is often sold as-is, without warranty, so in-person physical inspection of the machine is important to most buyers. But, if the intent is to rebuild the machine, no inspection may be required. Any guarantees or warranties will be provided by the used equipment dealer, not the manufacturer, unless the used machine is very new and still under the manufacturers warranty. Just as with purchasing a used car, you should check over used machinery for defects and make sure all the specifications and capacities are correct. The previous owner may not have required the machine hold close tolerances, or may have modified it to make their particular jobs easier, but not in a way helpful to you. A knowledgeable used machinery dealer can often check capacities or condition of the tool and report that to you, which will help remove the guesswork and save on travel. In any machine you purchase without a physical inspection, be sure you get a full refund return privilege, most reputable machinery dealers offer this without charge.