One fake bearing could mean disaster.
Over the past 20 years, counterfeiting, in general, has grown by 10,000 percent globally. And while all counterfeiting – from money to music – is costly in the long run to consumers. However, industrial counterfeiting goes a step further. It’s dangerous and sometimes deadly. It’s dangerous and sometimes fatal.
Bearings are an essential component in virtually any machine with moving parts. Machines that build products, as well as those products themselves, rely on the benefits of ball bearings. That is, as long as those bearings are working properly. And none of us is immune from the unfortunate effects of a counterfeit ball bearing that fails.
“Everyone who buys, sells, mounts and uses bearings can be adversely affected by counterfeits, so it is in their best interest to be on the lookout for them,” says James W. Griffith, World Bearing Association President. “Manufacturers of products containing industrial bearings may be held responsible for damages. We want purchasers to realize that counterfeiting is a widespread and serious problem.”
The Rise of Counterfeit Ball Bearings
If counterfeit ball bearings were easy to recognize or limited to one size or market, we would not have the problem we have today. Counterfeit ball bearings are a global challenge, and all markets, all segments, all types, and all sizes are affected. In fact, fake bearings currently account for 60% of China’s total bearing trade.
Counterfeiters have become so skilled that it’s almost impossible to detect a fake. Those counterfeit bearings enter the market in some ways. According to SKF, counterfeit bearings have been discovered when:
- Counterfeiters have become so skilled that it’s almost impossible to detect a fake. Those counterfeit bearings enter the market in some ways.
- Bearings are remanufactured then sold with no indication that they have been remanufactured.
- Timeworn bearings are cleaned, polished and supplied without informing the buyer of how old they are.
And just as there are some ways counterfeit bearings can enter the market, there are many ways they can affect your business.
Financial Problems: Anticipated cost savings is what keeps the counterfeit ball bearing machine functioning. However, any value that is saved by paying less for counterfeit ball bearings isn’t saved for long. Liken this to any counterfeit product. If you buy a watch that claims to be a Rolex but isn’t a Rolex, would you expect it to keep time as well and last as long as a Rolex? And, if that imitation watch breaks, then what? Is the person or place that sold you the watch going to stand behind their product? Of course not.
The same is the experience with counterfeit ball bearings. Counterfeit bearings are not made with the same high-quality material, attention to detail, and held to the same technical manufacturing standards as quality ball bearings. As such, they have a high likelihood of being faulty. And, if they do fail, the distributor you purchased them from will not offer a warranty.
As such, the money you saved by buying these less expensive bearings multiplies in cost to your business. Especially when you realize equipment downtime, plant shut-downs, and repair costs.
Safety Problems: This is where the repercussions of counterfeits exceed all other counterfeits. A real danger is posed to your employees when a machine in your plant fails. Lives can be lost if bearings fail on cars, buses, planes, or any other machinery we rely on for transportation. No amount of money saved is worth the cost to human lives.
Reputation Problems: Counterfeiting is illegal and unethical. Your company will be the one taking responsibility if your product fails or someone is injured.
When the products you manufacture do not work as well as promised or break down early (because of faulty counterfeit ball bearings) harming your good name. Whether you make escalators, skateboards, garage door openers, blenders, wash machines, mechanical toothbrushes or any number of products that use ball bearings, your reputation is on the line if your product fails. Consumers have excellent memories, and your competition will be sure to capitalize on your mistake.
The Battle Against Counterfeit Ball Bearings
To address the problems of counterfeits, three major regional bearing associations founded the World Bearing Association (WBA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Committee within the WBA. The World Bearing Association is a nonprofit and unincorporated industrial association. They are promoting the common lawful interests of the world bearing industry. Including open economic engagement, sustainable development, and the protection of legal rights of companies.
The WBA assists global and local law enforcement with information and identification of counterfeit products. Further, they assist the authorities with investigating suspected counterfeit operations, conducting raids and prosecuting counterfeiters.
Here is one example of how this partnership with law enforcement has benefited the fight against counterfeit ball bearings. Last year, the WBA announced that a constable from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Toronto intercepted a shipment of counterfeit ball bearings that had arrived from China. While it’s often difficult to detect differences in packaging, there were a few variances in the design of the cartons. This caused the diligent constable to take notice. He then contacted Timken, the company these fakes were claiming to be from. The education that the WBA has provided to customs officials was the key to preventing these faulty bearings from reaching their destination and causing dangerous consequences.
The above company that ordered the bearings thought that they were making their purchase from a trusted source. Unfortunately was not the case. The WBA knows that an important part of winning the battle against counterfeit ball bearings is making certain companies order from an authorized dealer. The WBA also serve as an online resource for trusted sources of premium ball bearings.
How You Can Protect Your Company, Your Employees, and Your Customers
Educate Yourself. Knowledge is power. The more you know about the counterfeit ball bearing problem, the more you can do to ensure that you do not become a victim. We at L&S Electric have published some blog posts on this issue, and we encourage you to explore them for more information. Further, the WBA’s website is an excellent source for the latest news on counterfeiting within and outside of the bearing industry, and they also provide promotional tools which are an excellent turnkey solution to educate your employees. Talk to your dealers and your staff about the problem and make sure to educate everyone.
Only Buy From a Trusted Source. We cannot stress the importance of this enough. By purchasing your bearings from a trusted source who is also an authorized dealer, you can feel confident about the product you are buying. And, even if you end up with a sub-standard product, reputable distributors help you resolve the situation by ensuring the replacement of the product and compensating you for any losses.
Be Wary of Offers That Are Too Good To Be True. The biggest reason that the counterfeit ball bearing crimes have become an epidemic is that all companies are looking for ways to save money and unfortunately make the costly decision to purchase cheaper – but unknowingly counterfeit and faulty – ball bearings. There is a saying that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeits will fail, either in your plant machinery or in the products you sell, and your company will be responsible for the losses. This is not a chance worth taking, no matter how good the deal seems.
Get Checked. If you suspect that you may have purchased counterfeits and you did not buy from a trusted, authorized supplier, contact the premium brand manufacturer first to report the problem. If you have purchased them from an authorized supplier and still have suspicions, contact your supplier and arrange a test of your machinery. Catching the problem before disaster strikes will save you downtime, money, and potential injuries to your employees and customers.
Bottom line: Any short-term gains in the form of cost savings do not outweigh the long-term problems caused by counterfeit ball bearings.
It’s up to all of us to do our part to eliminate the counterfeit problem. By learning more about the issue, only making purchases from authorized dealers, trusting your instincts when it comes to the deals you receive, and sharing what you know with your employees and business partners you will help to make great strides in making the problem of counterfeit ball bearings just a memory.
Have you ever had any experience with counterfeit ball bearings? If so, please share your experience and any advice you have so our readers can learn even more about the scope of this problem.