Field Group Guide to Purchasing

To do research, you need stuff. There are lots of people out there who would like to sell you stuff. For these reasons, MIT has established procedures for connecting you, the stuff-needing, to them, the stuff-having.

There are three basic channels through which we obtain stuff: MIT's online SAPweb/ECAT service, paper requisitions used for on-campus vendors, and the VISA purchasing card (ProCard, P-Card, credit card). Which channel you should use is dictated by the nature and cost of your purchase.

Equipment purchases are customarily made through the Procurement Office via the SAPweb interface (what qualifies as "equipment" is another story, see below). MIT has a system of "partner" companies with which they do a great deal of business. SAPweb is directly linked to their electronic catalogs (ECATs), which makes buying from them exceptionally simple. Paper requisitions can be used to obtain goods and services from on campus stockrooms as well as the Central Machine Shop and MIT Facilities.

Before you start

Look around the lab.

Make sure you don't see one of whatever you are buying unused and lying around. Our lab contains decades of accumulated stuff, and we certainly will never need to have two left-handed photo stretchers in use simultaneously. (On a related note, you should label equipment, optics, power supplies, whatever, when they are taken out of service for a particular experiment with the date they were last used, why you stopped using them and what they might be good for in the future. If they are no longer of any use to you, consider offering them to others and perhaps discarding them if appropriate. Reducing clutter is a noble goal.)

Find a source.

Ask around. Everybody has their favorite companies. Use MIT vendor partners if possible. A selection of companies often used by the group can be found on the Links page.

Consider the size of the order, particularly for chemical orders or small parts.

Chemicals should be bought in reasonable sizes, and not hoarded. Leftover chemicals, particularly if they are unidentified, are an EHS nightmare. Many manufacturers of small parts only sell in bulk because they are used to dealing with industrial operations. If you have a small need, ask them to send you a "sample" of a few of their products rather than make the minimum order of 500.

Consider the safety ramifications of your purchase.

Are we equipped to deal with the potential hazards? Do you know the potential hazards?

Figure out the price of what you are buying.

While some companies keep price lists on their websites, many do not. It is often necessary to contact the vendor and ask them to quote you a price. For major purchases, you should request paper quotes which can be faxed to the office.

Have an account number ready.

Each grant/project has a unique number which identifies the account from which it can spend money. You should have obtained the appropriate number for your project when you joined the group. These numbers occasionally change with the cycling of grant periods.

If the purchase is a relatively major one, run it by Bob for approval.

Expensive purchases may require explicit permission, as well as justification for the vendor chosen, etc. Be prepared to provide this if requested by your purchasing agent.

The purchasing channels

Buy to pay (B2P)

B2P is the electronic interface for the Procurement Department. All outside purchases can be made through this interface, although small (i.e. less than $500), routine orders should be made instead with the purchasing card. The relevant section of the page for people looking to buy stuff is the "Requests" tab. From this location you can easily reach the catalogs of partner vendors or generate an electronic requisition that will be processed by the Procurement Department. Partner vendors are listed on the bottom right of the page under the heading Additional Stores.

If buying from an outside vendor, you must make the choice whether to contact the vendor to place the order or to allow the purchasing agent to do so. If you decide to contact the vendor yourself, you must first submit the requisition, and wait for Procurement to generate a purchase order (P.O.) number. You can then call the company and make the purchase using the P.O. as currency. Be careful about where to have the bill sent versus where to have the goods sent (see below).

Filling out the electronic requisition form is somewhat complicated, and it is best to make your first purchases with an advanced graduate student nearby to advise you. The most confusing terms you will come across are "Cost Object" (translation: grant number), "Material Group" and "G/L account" (translation: classification of the purchase—often a vague, poor classification).

Once you submit a requisition (be careful to do so only once), you can check on its progress through the system by using the "Requests" feature. The most important new information available will be the name of the purchasing agent who controls the requisition. Different purchasing agents have different specialties, and you should contact the purchasing agent listed on the req. if there is a problem with the requisition.

If you get in over your head, contact Peter Giunta for advice. In fact, don't wait to get in over your head. Ask ahead of time if something significant is unclear. Altering/cancelling requisitions is a hassle for all involved.

All records of purchases are kept online in the system. It is best, and often most convenient, to keep a paper copy of submitted requisitions for later reference. This makes it much quicker to repeat similar orders.


The vendor partners have online catalogs, ECATs, that are directly interfaced to SAPweb. Current partners include Airgas, GovConnection, Staples, VWR International, Dell, Sigma-Aldrich, McMaster-Carr, Allied Electronics, Newark, and others. The Procurement Department is currently expanding the ECAT system to include more vendors. Watch the ECAT website for updates.

Once you have made selections from the online catalog, you will have to fill out a modified electronic requisition.

All orders placed electronically must be run through the system and approved. It is to everyone's advantage to keep the total number of requisitions down by consolidating your orders. Stock up and plan ahead.

Paper Requisitions and On-Campus suppliers

All purchases used to be made with paper requisitions. They are becoming obsolete, but are still accepted as currency by on-campus stockrooms and some organizations.

You can use them, for example, at:

In order to use paper requisitions, you must have a requisition book. You can get one at the Procurement Department in building NE49, but it is much better to finish off one of the zillion partially used ones lying around the office. Don't worry about the "object code" when filling these out, but make sure to have a copy sent to Peter Giunta, Rm. 6-215. Give the white copy to the vendor, and put a photocopy of the blue copy in Peter's box. This serves as the receipt for a req.-based purchase.

For VWR stockroom purchases, a computer generated receipt is received at checkout, so there is no need to give a copy of the req. book page to Peter.

ProCard (purchasing card)

In order to reduce the load on the SAPweb system, you can make small, non-equipment purchases with the group purchasing card. This is convenient, in many cases, and can be used essentially as a normal credit card. However, some items are restricted and may never be purchased with this card. Some are obvious (liquor, cash advances), some are not (precious metals, protective masks). There is a complete description of the ProCard rules of use on the Procurement Department webpage. A quick reference guide is kept with the card for easy use.

When making a purchase with the ProCard, it is necessary to make the vendor aware of MIT's tax exempt status. This can easily be done over the phone, and sometimes over the internet. If there is no way to include a note with tax exempt information, you may not use the purchasing card online. (The Tax Exempt number is printed on the card. The group cardholder has additional documentation for tax exemption should this be necessary).

One particularly sensitive issue with this card is travel/conference expenses. Do not use this card to pay for any travel related expenses or conference fees that involve travel. These should be handled through the Travel Office.

David Grimes is the current purchasing cardholder in the group. Contact him if you want to make a purchase using the card. For each purchase made, he receives email notification, and is on occasion asked by the ProCard administrator to verify the validity of a purchase.

The bills for the purchases will be mailed to the office (see below). These should be put in Peter's box. Note that the purchase was made with the card, and make it clear which grant the purchase is for.

Our purchasing card currently has a limit of $1000 per purchase and $3000 per month. If you are making an order near the limit, make sure that shipping costs will not put the total purchase over $1000.

Specific items

Buying Methanol

We use (a lot of) "spectrophotometric grade" methanol because of its purity and low wavelength cutoff. As with other chemicals, the least expensive methanol by far is what the VWR strockroom has in stock. However, the in-stock chemicals can be strangely hard to find on VWR's ECAT website.

To find the inexpensive methanol, go through the ECAT portal (via SAPweb) to the VWR Stockroom punchout. When you first enter the VWR website (or if you click on the "My Account" tab), there will be a link on the left side of the page under "My Account" that says "Custom Catalogs". Clicking on this link will send you to a page with a "VWR/MIT (Campus Only) Stockroom Items in 56-070" link. From that link, you will end up on a page with a list of categories. Methanol, logically enough, can be found under "Chemical Flammable". There, you should be able to find the spectrophotometric-grade methanol for substantially less money than anywhere else on the VWR website.

Where to have things sent

The shipping and billing address to use depend upon the method of purchase and the method of shipping.


FedEx, DHL, and US Post (small to medium-sized packages) come to the office:

(your name)
MIT Rm. 6-022
77 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Attn: (your name)

UPS and large packages (i.e. a loading dock and a pallet jack are required to accept delivery) from other carriers go to a receiving room. Building 6 is serviced by the Stata Center receiving room. The address is

32 Vassar St.
Cambridge, MA 02139
ATTN: Room 6-022/(your name)

However, overnight deliveries should instead be sent directly to the street address for building 6, which is

182 Memorial Drive Rear
Room 6-022
Cambridge, MA 02139
ATTN: (your name)

When you receive a package, the packing slip must be placed in Peter's box. Write the following information on it:


For purchases made through B2P, in which you contact the vendor, you should have them send the bill to

PO Box 9169
Cambridge, MA 02139

For purchases made with the purchasing card, the billing address is the office:

MIT Room 6-022
77 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Attn: (your name)

Once the bill is received, put it in Peter's box with the usual explanatory remarks, especially the account to charge it to.

This page makes no claim to completeness, and may not be up to date. For complete, although opaque, instructions on purchasing at MIT, see the Procurement Department Policies and Procedures. Omissions should reported to the webmaster.