One of the drawbacks of buying used equipment is the fact that the products often do not include any documentation — no user manuals, setup guides, or brochures. While reaching out to the manufacturer to request a copy of the manual is always an option, there's no guarantee that the manufacturer will be willing to help (as you didn't purchase the instrument from them), or that they will even have a copy of the manual. Documentation can be lost over time as companies undergo mergers and acquisitions.
Luckily, there are numerous resources and tricks on the web that may help you find the literature you're looking for. Here's a few we use frequently here at New Life Scientific.
Owned by LabX, LabWrench is a forum dedicated to compiling and sharing information on lab equipment of all kinds. There's a massive directory of instrument models, each with a dedicated Q&A section, documentation repository, and list of third-party service vendors — all curated by the community. If the manufacturer's website does not yield any useful information, LabWrench should always be your next stop.
While this site is free, you'll need to make an account to exercise their full features, such as downloading PDFs and asking questions on the forums.
Despite the similarities in name, MedWrench is completely unrelated to LabWrench. Its function is virtually identical to LabWrench's, though: it's a forum where lab and medical professionals can share questions, answers, and documents on equipment. However, MedWrench focuses on diagnostic, surgical, and patient care equipment whereas LabWrench is geared for research equipment.
If you work in a hospital or clinical lab and can't find what you're looking for on LabWrench, there's always a chance MedWrench could have it.
Like LabWrench, MedWrench is free but requires an account to download PDFs and post on the forums.
A non-profit organization dedicated to "building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form," the Internet Archive allows you to browse documents of all formats, genres, and purposes uploaded by the public. Perhaps the most well-known feature of the site is the Wayback Machine, which is a search engine of over 635 billion webpages saved over the past twenty years. With the Wayback Machine, you can browse long-dead websites or — and this is key for finding documentation — older versions of current websites.
For example, let's say you purchased an older SP Scientific Freezemobile 35 freeze dryer and you want to know its exact specifications. Like most used equipment, the freeze dryer didn't come with a brochure or manual, so you turn to Google and run a few queries.
But instead of ending the search there, you can navigate to https://web.archive.org and search "virtis.com". From there, you can then view archived versions of the website captured over the years. Select a snapshot from the timeframe that you suspect your Freezemobile 35 came from and browse the site for that model. You may be able to locate an archived PDF of the manual or brochure from there.
Using the Wayback Machine can be rather time-consuming, and oftentimes it won't yield many results that you can't find through Google — but occasionally, those archived webpages are the only places on the web you may be able to find reliable information on a product.
Occasionally, you may have too many results instead of too few when searching for a specific manual. For instance, many manufacturers will release variations of the same instrument with different specifications and catalog numbers. In such cases, trying to find information for a specific variant can be difficult as the search results are clouded with results pertaining to other variants. This is where exact matches are helpful.
Let's say you've purchased a Thermo Revco UxF ultra-low temperature freezer. Your first instinct would be to search:
Thermo Revco UxF A789001009 manual
Sure, that will return lots of results relating to Revco UxFs, but not many will pertain to your specific variant. Instead of digging through results manually, refine your search by wrapping the model number in double quotes:
Thermo Revco UxF "A789001009" manual
The double quotes signal the search engine to only return results that have that exact phrase. This will minimize irrelevant results.
Another helpful search modifier is the "type" flag. This allows you to narrow results by file type. In this case, you're likely searching for PDFs. So by appending "type:pdf" to the end of your search query, only public PDFs will be returned.
Here's a list of common search techniques.
Warning! Not all websites claiming to have the document you're seeking are trustworthy. You should be very careful with which sites you visit, especially if it's prompting you to download something. We recommend sticking to sites ending in .edu, which are only given to accredited academic institutions and aren't likely to be hosting malware. To return only .edu domains, simply append "site:*.edu" to the end of your query. Ultimately, you should always err on the side of caution and always browse according to the security standards in place at your facility.