The industry’s war on counterfeit bearings

Photo of bearings

The growing problem of counterfeit bearings is one which has become an increasingly pressing issue for manufacturers and distributors alike in recent years. With the global market for bearings now a multi-billion dollar one, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that counterfeiters see it as a highly lucrative field.

While putting an exact figure on the problem remains difficult, the war on bearings counterfeiters has recently been stepped up. The latest generation of counterfeit bearings, superficially at least, can be difficult to tell apart from the genuine article. Fake bearings are, however, still of a vastly inferior standard to authentic top-brand bearings and pose a risk both to equipment and to people – risks to which we will return.

The scale of the problem

A story from this summer gives us some idea how serious the counterfeiting of bearings has become. In July, French customs officers contacted SKF’s anti-counterfeiting unit to alert them to a suspicious shipment of bearings and housings. The French authorities had taken an interest in two containers – weighting two tonnes – full of bearings and housings. It emerged that the containers were filled with more than 60 different product types, including large-size bearings and y-bearings.

Sample photographers were sent to SKF for analysis, and within 24 hours it was determined that the products were fakes. The counterfeit bearings were destroyed in September, with SKF France’s communications director personally attending their destruction.

According to an analysis by SKF, the global market for rolling bearings totalled $40bn (£25.9bn) last year and is expected to exceed $101bn (£65.6bn) by 2018 as the global economic recovery gathers momentum. NSK has also taken action against counterfeits which have appeared on the German market. It’s a safe bet to assume that as the global bearings market grows so will the black market.

What risks do fake bearings pose?

Counterfeit bearings are manufactured without reliable quality control and using substandard materials, which means they’re particularly unreliable. Fake bearings fail frequently and can pose a health hazard as well as leaving equipment seriously damaged. Counterfeiters have also diversified from the smaller roller bearings typically used in automotive vehicles to larger bearings used for industrial purposes, including in large generators and manufacturing equipment.

Not only do counterfeit bearings pose a risk to equipment and the people using it. They also impose sizeable costs on manufacturers, who lose revenue through lost sales and also have to cover the costs of investigations, seizures and the destruction of fake bearings. Counterfeiting represents a major violation of intellectual property rights – i.e. patents – which all serves to deter investment in the next generation of products and therefore slows the pace of innovation.

How are manufacturers combating counterfeiting?

In response to the growing counterfeiting problem, bearings manufacturers are working increasingly closely with law enforcement and customs agencies – as demonstrated by the seizure of the fake bearings in France – to uncover and break counterfeiting operations. Now that counterfeit bearings are so difficult to distinguish from genuine top-brand bearings, manufacturers have to be kept informed so that they can examine products and packaging to uncover any fakes.

In 2006, the American Bearing Manufacturers Association, Japan Bearing Industrial Association and the Federation of European Bearings Manufacturers joined forces to form the World Bearing Association (WBA). One of the roles the WBA plays is to increase awareness of bearings counterfeiting through the use of videos and other promotional materials, as well as helping to coordinate efforts to clamp down on the black market trade.

SKF is among the industry’s leaders in the war on counterfeit bearings. The company has launched its own app, Authenticate, which allows mobile and tablet users to submit photographs of bearings and their packaging to determine whether or not they’re genuine.

The most effective way of ensuring you buy genuine bearings is to buy only from authorised dealers and distributors. Authorised dealers obtain their bearings directly from leading brands, so you can be sure that when you buy from these outlets, you’ll be getting only quality bearings. However, if you do fear that you may have inadvertently bought counterfeit bearings, then you must contact the stated manufacturer immediately. They’ll be able to determine whether or not your bearings are counterfeit.

Author: Clive Simkins – Bearing & Maintenance Product Manager at Acorn Industrial Services

Submitted by Peter Eckersley

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