[time-nuts] Surplus Places...

Bob Camp lists at rtty.us
Thu Apr 1 10:00:30 EDT 2010


Add a few more things to the list:

1) The rise of contract manufacturing. Apple is in a nice big complex in San Francisco. Their stuff gets made who knows where. No more parts from Apple floating around the bay area. What's scrap to one job may be stuffed on the next job by a sharp CM. Not as much scrap to go around. 

2) Very real improvements in yields, even on complex products. The number of repair and debug benches isn't what it once was. 

3) Changes in the way programs are contracted. Back in the "old days" it was advantageous to buy gear for a project and dispose of it when the project was over. That sort of stuff went into a steep decline starting in the 70's. 

4) Software is king. Like it or not, most big companies spend 10X designing firmware / software over what they spend on hardware. If you have a hundred design guys toiling away today, 90 of them have workstations rather than benches. Thirty years ago they all would have had a bench.  

5) We are well past the end of the vacuum tube test equipment era. A lot of the "churn" in gear in the past was conversion to solid state.  Tube based stuff became viewed as ever more costly to keep running (both repair and calibration). Now when a gizmo fries it's magic custom internals it's a scrap metal item rather than a repair or surplus. Such is progress.

I'm sure there are more. It's not all bad though. I could never have gone down to the local surplus place and found a $70 TBolt sitting in a pile, let alone a near infinite quantity of them. Volt meters, power supplies, a million 15.27K ohm 300 Watt resistors, yes - highly specialized stuff - no. Even at a hamfest what's there this year isn't what's there next year. I could spend a lot of time looking for that "great deal" and never find it again. I'm glad I can shop where the stuff now is. Rummaging around a surplus store in Shanghai one day and one in Atlanta the next makes for major jet lag ....

Time marches on.


On Apr 1, 2010, at 9:24 AM, jimlux wrote:

> 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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