Imagine this scenario: your mother is walking through the mall when suddenly, catastrophe strikes! She’s having a heart attack. Luckily for her, the mall has a portable defibrillator and a heart surgeon happens to be nearby. The surgeon checks your mother, determines that shocking her heart would save her life, so he places the paddles on her chest and activates them.
After the ambulance takes your mother to the hospital – she was luckier this time because of the fast-acting paramedics listened to the surgeon who knew what to do and she’s stable – the defibrillator is examined. Despite having a legitimate brand, the unit contained two electrical leads that were determined to be counterfeit. Those fake leads may have led to a death.
On a less life-and-death scale, yet still critical stage, companies worldwide are dealing with counterfeit components that end up ruining equipment, losing money, and destroying reputations.
In an article at the Manufacturing Business Technology website, Tom Grace writes that counterfeiting costs US industries $250 billion each year and 750,000 jobs lost annually.
In 2013 alone, there were 24,361 seizures of counterfeit products valued at more than $1.7 billion (MSRP) by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Over the last five years, counterfeit seizures have seen nearly 50 percent annual growth.
While the economic consequences of counterfeiting are more than alarming, professionals in the electrical and manufacturing industries must also recognize the health and safety risks that these counterfeit electrical products present.
The Dangers of Counterfeiting
Counterfeit electrical products pose very serious threats to the safety of workers and work environments within the electrical and manufacturing industries. Suspect products, such as circuit breakers, ground fault and arc-fault interrupters and surge protectors, are often made without regard for electrical safety or failing to meet minimal performance specifications.
As a result, using counterfeit products can lead to a high risk for failure or malfunction. These failures can cause electric shock, overheating or short circuits, often leading to equipment failure, fires, or explosions that can potentially cost workers their lives and cause substantial property damage to facilities.
In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has reported that electrical failure or malfunction was responsible for 47,700 home structure fires and 16,400 non-home structure fires in 2011 alone.
As more advanced tools become readily available to counterfeiters, the ability to spot a counterfeit or genuine product becomes much more difficult. Grace writes that despite this challenge, industry professionals are becoming proactive in trying to recognize and understand the dangers of using counterfeits.
How Professionals Can Protect Themselves Against Counterfeits
To protect themselves from counterfeit electrical products and help combat this industry-wide problem, electrical and manufacturing industry professionals can utilize the following anti-counterfeiting practices to build confidence in their ability to properly avoid, identify and report counterfeits.
1. Know counterfeits are hard to spot. Because counterfeiters are becoming increasingly sophisticated, counterfeit products are becoming more difficult to spot in the field or while purchasing.
The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is to purchase products from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or resellers. There is a higher risk of counterfeits if one cannot trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer.
2. Know your resources. Take advantage of the resources available for staying protected against counterfeiting. Many companies and organizations are leading efforts to protect their customers by providing tools, tips and information to help avoid customers from coming into contact with potentially dangerous electrical devices. For instance, Eaton’s Circuit Breaker Authentication (CBA) tool allows customers to detect if Eaton’s molded case circuit breakers (MCCBs), up to 400 amperes, are counterfeit.
3. Know how to report a counterfeit. If you encounter a counterfeit in the field, report it to the brand owner. This will allow authentication of the suspect product and ensure that it is removed from the marketplace. Contact Eaton firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you cannot find brand contact information, do not stop there. Be sure to contact the IPR Center who will disseminate the information for the appropriate response. Contact the IPR Center at IPRCenter@dhs.gov or 1-866-IPR-2060.
4. Know that you can help. If everyone played an active role in stopping counterfeit products from being bought and sold, the demand for counterfeit electrical products would decrease. Reducing the spread of counterfeit electrical products can help to maximize electrical safety protection.
Raid on a Counterfeit Bearing Workshop
Fortunately, not all counterfeiters are getting away with it. In the video below, Chinese authorities raided a counterfeit bearing workshop. The video shows how low-cost bearings are altered such that they mimic high-quality premium bearings.
Your chances of purchasing counterfeit items decrease if you purchase from reputable or authorized dealers. Counterfeit items can reach anybody in a variety of ways.
From fake ball bearings to Rolex watches, as the adage says, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.