Jack Keough: Counterfeit Bearings Remain A Problem

ID contributing editor Jack Keough discusses recent trouble caused by counterfeit bearings for companies in China, Mumbai, and Indonesia, and what companies are doing to thwart the issue.

This article first appeared in the September/October print issue of Industrial Distribution. To view the full digital edition, click here.

Counterfeit bearings continue to be a major problem for manufacturers and distributors.

The dangers of these fraudulent bearings can’t be overestimated and can result in the loss of life, compromise the financial condition of a company, and mean customers don’t get what they paid for, according to the World Bearing Association (WBA).

It’s a problem that has existed for many years and one that has been attacked vigorously by manufacturers that have seen their products copied by increasingly improving counterfeiting methods.

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Just recently a series of raids in Mumbai further exposed the number of counterfeit bearings products used throughout the United States and the world.

The Schaeffler Group said that four companies in Mumbai were involved in dealing counterfeit FAG roller bearings. Schaeffler brands include FAG, INA, LuK, and the Barden Corp. – all well-known and highly respected companies throughout the world.

At these production, packaging and grading firms, police confiscated tens of thousands of counterfeit FAG packaging units, more than 500 counterfeit FAG roller bearings, as well as various machines. The owners have been arrested and criminal proceedings have begun.

Products of the brand FAG, which is one of the leading rolling bearing brands, are highly popular with counterfeiters.

The team of investigators from the agency TACT India, which safeguards Schaeffler business interests in India, identified Mumbai as a central market for these counterfeit products and those responsible. Their investigations yielded sufficient information as a basis for the raids. However, the firms involved had already learned in advance of the operations and had closed their shops or moved to new storerooms.

After five days of waiting and more observation, the investigators raided four firms in a joint operation with the local policy authorities. TACT India impounded more than 37,000 counterfeit FAG packaging units and labels, 530 counterfeit FAG rolling bearings and 250 FAG master copies as well as various grinding machines and packaging machines. Moreover, two of the proprietors and an employee were arrested and remanded in custody, the company said in press release.

In 2004, Schaeffler set up a central department for fighting product and brand piracy. A lot has happened since then. The Brand Protection Team has handled several thousand cases, and they are by no means restricted to Asia as in this example. There have also been a large number of major counterfeiting offenses in Europe and the USA. This global experience forms the basis for the constant improvement and refinement of our procedure for prosecuting.

Successful raids are an important step for Schaeffler in the fight against product piracy and thus towards the protection of customers. Two years ago in Germany, Schaeffler was able, thanks to the assistance of an authorized distributor, to seize a total of 87 FAG spindle bearings and over 2,000 other rolling bearings from the Schaeffler brands INA and FAG.

This was the largest cache of counterfeit spindle bearings seized in Germany to date. Subsequent investigation of the incident led back to a German importer, from whom counterfeit Schaeffler products had already been confiscated and who had been issued with a declaration to cease and desist at the start of 2014. The repeated sale of counterfeit products has now placed the existence of this company in danger.

The Customer Side

Several bearings customers are finding themselves in trouble after having inadvertently purchased counterfeit bearings, according to the WBA.

A bearings customer in China recently ordered what they thought were high-quality NTN bearings through a local distributor. The bearings that they had ordered for their use abroad were deemed to be counterfeit and seized by the Chinese Customs authorities. The company was forced to bear unexpected and unnecessary high costs associated with procuring legitimate goods required for their imminent use.

Another customer in Indonesia also inadvertently bought counterfeit bearings from local distributors. After the purchase, the customer noticed something wrong, and requested that NTN verify their authenticity. After evaluation by NTN, the goods were judged as counterfeit. In other Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, India and Pakistan, similar kinds of problems often occur.

One ball bearing manufacturer, NSK, has been educating their distributor partners on how to identify and address counterfeiting activity. NSK has also begun reaching out to end users and companies in other industries, such as electrical appliances manufacturers, steel mills and paper mills, on why it is important to partner with authorized distributors and not purchase fake bearings.

Many of these regional companies are highly influenced by the local marketplace and unaware of the dangers involved in the use of fake bearings. Through NSK’s education efforts with distributors and end users, NSK distributor partners are learning more about how to detect counterfeit operations. They also explain why customers should only deal with authorized distributors, and outline the dangers involved should a counterfeit bearing fail during manufacturing operations.

NSK is working with two distributors to develop anti-counterfeiting programs and share issues and data.

Some of these counterfeit bearings have found their way into facilities throughout the world and can cause production problems, damage equipment and possibly cause injury to workers.

WBA is attempting to get the message out as to the dangers of counterfeit bearings. The group was founded in 2006 by three major regional bearing associations: the American Bearing Manufacturers’ Association (ABMA), the Federation of European Bearing Manufacturers’ Associations (FEBMA) and the Japan Bearing Industrial Association (JBIA).

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