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Don’t fall foul to fakes

Countering the dangers of counterfeit bearings

Counterfeit products are a serious issue in the maritime industry. The quality, performance, and origins of fake products are unknown and unpredictable. Installing them in critical machinery may present a major safety risk for crew, assets, and the environment. But there are ways you can protect yourself.

More than meets the eye?

When they hear the word ‘counterfeit’, most people immediately think of fake handbags and watches. But counterfeiting is a huge global problem in the industrial world, too. In all sectors, businesses and authorities are clamping down on fake products and the organizations that produce and distribute them. In the maritime industry, however, there is an inherent difference: As ships travel around the world, it can be difficult to guarantee the reliability of sources for replacement parts, such as bearings.

There are several dangers involved with counterfeit bearings. In the maritime industry, where uptime is a critical factor and repairs can be complicated, they can result in enormous costs. Fake bearings are much more likely to fail prematurely, even after just a few hours of use. And they are known to cause significant damage to machinery, for example damaging housings and shafts due to catastrophic failure mode. However, companies do not purchase counterfeit industrial products intentionally—they are often simply unaware of the scale of the problem.

Recognizing a fake bearing is not an easy task. The product may appear to have the correct packaging and all the right brand markings—so to the untrained eye, it will look like the genuine article. Unlike consumer goods, where low prices are usually a strong indicator that a product is fake, counterfeit bearings are typically sold at a similar price to the real thing. Moreover, the majority of bearings used in the industry are manufactured according to ISO standards. This makes it more difficult to spot a fake because specifications such as width, diameter and bore will be identical, regardless of brand.

There is a common misconception that only small bearings are faked. However, counterfeiters will produce whatever type of bearing is most in demand at any given time.

Staffan Holmberg, Brand Protection Manager, SKF Group

Counterfeit bearings: the warning signs

There are several warning signs to look out for. Often, counterfeiters will supply forged certificates to make their fakes look more convincing. But it is not common practice for authentic components suppliers to supply such documentation. Certificates stating that the product supplied is genuine are therefore no guarantee. On the contrary, a certificate should be considered as a warning sign. Short lead times are another indicator. When a shipping company is unable to obtain a certain component from its usual source within the desired timeframe, it can be very tempting to try out a new dealer. But if the delivery time looks too good to be true, it usually is.

What companies can do to avoid being cheated

While there is no silver bullet that will solve counterfeiting for good, awareness of the issue is crucial. Here are some measures you can take to reduce the risk of purchasing fake bearings:

  • Reach out to authorized distributors: Always make sure you purchase bearings from trustworthy sources. To find an authorized distributor for SKF bearings in your area, refer to the find a distributor page on the SKF website.
  • Rely on the experts – use an authentication app: If you are uncertain about the authenticity of a product, you should always contact a trained expert. SKF offers a free mobile app to help you verify the authenticity of your SKF products. It allows you to submit photos of the product and packaging for investigation. The team will usually respond on the same day. Alternatively, you can–send the photos to: genuine@skf.com.
  • Plan ahead: For all critical machinery, you should keep a stock of spare parts onboard at all times. However, if this is not possible, it is advisable to search for authorized dealers near the ports you will be travelling to. In this way, you reduce the risk of getting caught out.

SKF´s free mobile app

For more information about counterfeit SKF products, visit the SKF website.