After a petrochemical processor was recently forced to make an emergency shutdown, it transpired that the company was being supplied with counterfeit SKF bearings. At a time of rising demand and growing pressures on supply chains, Chris Johnson, managing director of specialist bearings supplier SMB Bearings
, suggests that the problem of counterfeiting could be on the rise.
He said: “Counterfeits may be everywhere, but bearings are among the most counterfeited critical components in industrial and engineering applications. Relative to the profits that can be made, counterfeiting bearings is in fact cheap and simple to do.
“Although larger bearings are not immune to the problem, smaller bearings are perhaps easiest to counterfeit and tend to emanate from regions where manufacturing and labour costs are low and where legal frameworks protecting intellectual property are insufficient, which means it is a truly global problem.
“Moreover, the technology that aids the counterfeiters is getting better and cheaper. This means that imitation packaging or markings on the bearings are becoming more and more realistic. In fact, in many cases you may not be able to tell them apart from the genuine artefact; there is also the risk that growing demand continues to fuel the problem, despite the best efforts of the larger reputable manufacturers to combat it.
“Customers wanting lower prices and shorter lead times often go for the cheaper option, unaware of the risks of counterfeits, which are typically made from much lower quality materials, increasing the risk of failure; and when a bearing does fail, it can cause catastrophic equipment failure.
“Combatting the problem is especially difficult due to its scale and the cost of action. Only the largest manufacturers, like NSK and SKF, have the financial resources to actively go after the counterfeiters. For the rest of us, a few general pointers should be borne in mind.
“For example, only an experienced technician will be able to identify the counterfeit, so if you have suspicions, contact the manufacturer. They will generally be happy to test and check for you, although be unlikely to publicly reveal how to precisely authenticate one of their bearings as doing so would simply provide more opportunity for the counterfeiters.
Also, among other considerations, make your purchases directly from official distributors. The World Bearing Association advises much the same.”
SMB Bearings is the UK agent for EZO bearings, made by Sapporo Precision of Japan.