[time-nuts] Surplus Places...

jimlux jimlux at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 1 09:24:41 EDT 2010

SAIDJACK at aol.com wrote:
> Back in the days (around 1985 or so) Caltech in Pasadena used to have a  
> surplus store on campus. I spent a good time in that store, and still have 
> some  of those treasures. Lot's of JPL stuff.
> Does anyone know if that still exists??

No. doesn't exist.

Most government facilities (including JPL, which although part of 
CalTech, all the property is owned by NASA, so for surplus situation is 
government) have to dispose of their excess inventory in a special way. 
First you put it on a list, then other NASA centers get to pick and 
choose, then, other gov't agencies, finally educational institutions, 
and, then, only then, is it put up for bid, and then, someone could buy 
it and sell it at retail.

For the most part, I think it all gets bought as metal scrap, is crushed 
and shredded and then loaded on ships for recycling elsewhere.

I think there's a lot of factors leading to the demise of surplus stores...
1) Hazmat disposal rules - cradle to grave responsibility makes 
disposing institutions concerned about inadvertently having something 
hazardous in the pile of junk.  Transfer to someone who is ostensibly an 
entity willing to accept liability, do the paper work, etc.

2) A huge overseas market and cheap transportation - it's economically 
worthwhile to grind up broken whatevers and extract the metals by acid 
leach, particularly if this can be done in a place without many 
workplace safety regulations and low wages.  (I don't say it's ethically 
right, but it is clearly advantageous in economic terms. I think the 
practice is reprehensible. )

3) ITAR and export controls - if you're not just going to grind 
everything up, then you have to make sure that you're not surplusing 
something that is export controlled.  The laws are vague and scary in 
consequences.  Is it worth spending time examining each piece of gear 
and deciding whether it might be a "defense article" or "dual use"?  How 
many surplus places are set up to deal with that?

4) For test equipment, the rise of the equipment rental industry. Fewer 
large companies actually own any test equipment these days; they rent or 
lease it, and the rental companies don't seem to feed the surplus market 
in quite the same way.

5) Manufacturing and equipment processes have changed. Fewer piece 
parts, less hand assembly, so you don't see surplus parts.  Much better 
estimation and planning, so less "surplus" (in the sense of buy 20% more 
to account for scrap and so forth, and actually wind up with 10% left 
over at the end of the production run)

6) Ebay and UPS.  I think that's more the death of things like ham-fests 
as supplies of equipment.  Why get up early, load all that stuff into a 
truck and take it to sit at a table in the sun all day, when you can 
(clad only in your underwear) put up the listings, receive the orders, 
box the stuff up, and have UPS pick it up at your front door. 
Interestingly, I see even this model fading, as the more organized 
surplus style places take over the marketplace.

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