Bearings are one of the most crucial components in any machinery – from cars to marine ships, and from escalators to a petrochemical plant. This creates a huge market for counterfeit bearings, with the supply of bearings of different shapes and sizes, all used for different purposes. Often, customers are unaware of how to identify fake bearings, leading to significant damage, for both consumers and brands alike.
While the size of the bearings might make it seem inconsequential, we have to remember that it only took small faulty o-rings that led to the disaster of NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed seven crew members. When you put this in perspective of bearings used in escalators in malls or school buses, the impact of a fatal accident becomes highly evident.
The Impact of Fake Bearings
Counterfeit bearings have far-reaching consequences, compromising industries’ safety, reliability, and performance. These fake products pose safety hazards, lead to reduced operational lifespan, and increase maintenance costs.
US Federal and State investigations found that counterfeit machinery components like bearings aren’t only a safety risk to human health, but also to the economic health of industries such as automobile, aerospace, and rail among others.
Safety Hazards and Potential Accidents
Bearings, while they might be a small piece in a larger machine, have the potential of causing catastrophic accidents. World Bearing Association (WBA) has found that 39% of counterfeit bearings are dangerous to human life.
Counterfeit bearings aren’t manufactured with the same high-quality materials as authentic bearings, leading to an increased risk of failure and accidents.
Fred Muwema, Director of legal and corporate affairs of Anti Counterfeit Network of Africa commented, “We lose at least 10 people every day due to motor accidents because of vehicles that fail to break due to fake bearings.” While this comment is specific to Africa, it shows the widespread impact of fake bearings, especially in developing countries where laws and measures are not as strict.
The cost to recover from an accident or an equipment failure happens outweighs any cost saved on the purchase of fake bearings.
Reduced Operational Lifespan
As the materials used in counterfeit bearings are low in quality, their lifespan is greatly reduced as compared to their authentic counterpart built using premium high-quality materials. ISO 15243 states that the service life of a counterfeit bearing is much shorter than the bearings manufactured by a reputable company.
The reason: The quality of steel used in the manufacturing process is an important factor in determining the life of the bearing. The lifespan of standard alloys of steel for bearings like 100 Cr6 and SUJ2 is affected by the alloy content. Including oxides or non-metallic substances can heavily reduce the life of the bearing.
For example, including a high quantity of aluminum oxide will decrease the life of the bearing. On the other hand, leading manufacturers like NSK or SKF have invested in creating specialized materials such as Z Steel and EP steel, and have developed unique melting processes to decrease the content of non-metallic substances during the manufacturing process.
Along with that, genuine manufacturers also have post-production quality checks to ensure the quality of the bearings. This, however, is missing in the manufacturing of fake bearings, leading to poor performance and reduced lifespan.
Increased Maintenance Cost
Counterfeit bearings often lack the necessary durability and precision of genuine bearings. This reduced operational lifespan leads to frequent breakdowns, unplanned downtime, and increased costs associated with repairs and replacements.
So, even if you’re able to avoid a dangerous accident caused by a bearing failure, the cost of fake bearings is still higher for usage over several years.
Cases of Fake Bearings
After replacing around 1000 bearings of their machinery, a steel mill started facing longer operation times and poor performance of machines. The maintenance team of the mill had to stop the operations, remove the newly replaced bearings, and reinstall the old bearings. The mill asked SKF, a leading bearing manufacturer, to inspect the replaced bearings. SKF technicians found the bearings to be fake.
The mill incurred not only the cost of new replacement but also the downtime cost of operations. Fortunately, there was no catastrophic accident and the counterfeited bearings were discovered early on.
On 30th January 2022, customs teams in Shanghai Old Port detained 1000 counterfeit bearings having the trademark of SKF. The Shanghai port is a major shipment hub of China – counterfeit sellers regularly try to use this area to transport counterfeit products.
In another incident of counterfeit SKF bearings, a petrochemical plant had to implement an unplanned emergency shutdown to discover counterfeit bearings. Only after a couple of days of operations, bearings helping in an important application failed. That led to a costly shutdown of the plant. When the SKF team was contacted, they concluded that the bearings supplied were fake.
How to Identify Fake Bearings: Present Solutions
Visual inspection is a widely used method to identify counterfeit bearings. But it comes with its limitations. Counterfeiting technology is getting extremely advanced and cheaper. This allows counterfeiters to be extremely skillful at replicating genuine markings and holograms, making visual inspection unreliable.
In a lot of cases, the consumer might not be able to differentiate between a genuine and a counterfeit bearing, based on the sophisticated imitation. The replica of packaging has also become on par with the real materials.
Because of this, bearing brands can’t also afford to reveal all the identification details as it’ll make it easier for counterfeiters to copy.
Nevertheless, a visual inspection can still serve as a starting point in the authentication process, especially for non-suspecting everyday users to identify blatant inconsistencies or suspicious packaging.
Visual inspection and packaging analysis
To visually inspect fake bearings, look for: markings, the finishing of the product, shipping material, and packaging.
- Markings: Look for markings in the product and compare it with the markings of the standard manufacturer. Examine if there are any extra markings at unusual places. Also look for the spellings, the marking pattern, and more.
- Finishing of the product: The rolling element on a fake bearing will have rough finishes and the roller will appear unusual.
- Outer box packaging and hipping material: If you have the chance to compare the packaging with a standard product, then examine the carton of the bearing and shipping crates. Fake bearings might not have proper markings on the shipping crate or the packaged carton. In some cases, the color of the carton is found to be different, even if the markings are intact.
Also, compare the manufacturer country printed on the shipment container with the shipment country.
Using manufacturer databases or certificates
Genuine bearings are accompanied by proper documentation, including certificates of authenticity, traceability codes, and test reports. The absence of these documents should raise suspicion.
Microscopic examination for manufacturing irregularities
Microscopic analysis of the bearing’s surface can reveal irregularities or inconsistencies in the manufacturing process, indicating potential counterfeiting. However, this method requires specialized equipment and expertise, which might not be available to a normal consumer.
Barcode and QR code verification
Some manufacturers have started incorporating barcodes or QR codes on their bearings, enabling customers to verify authenticity using smartphone apps or dedicated readers. These codes provide information about the bearing’s origin, manufacturing date, and other relevant details, aiding in the authentication process.
The caveat, however, is that these QR codes can easily be duplicated by counterfeiters and sold as genuine.
Advanced Technologies for Counterfeit Bearing Authentication
To truly protect your bearing brand, as well as your consumers’ safety, you need to be many steps ahead of the counterfeiters. While the bar codes and QR codes on the packaging can be replicated, they also give confidence to consumers about the authenticity of the product. So, completely removing them might not be the best solution.
This is where covert solutions help. The covert anti-counterfeiting solution allows brands to include marks of authentication that are nearly impossible to replicate as they aren’t visible to the naked eye. Bearing brands can apply this in two ways:
- AlpVision Cryptoglyph: AlpVision Cryptoglyph is a covert marking technology applied to printed packaging such as labels or flexible bags. This microscopic marking, invisible to the naked eye, serves as an authentication feature. By using a smartphone app or dedicated reader, users can verify the presence of the Cryptoglyph and authenticate the product’s genuineness.
- AlpVision Fingerprint: AlpVision Fingerprint is an anti-counterfeiting technology applied directly to the surface of the bearing. This unique marking is also invisible to the human eye and can be identified via a smartphone app. The Fingerprint provides an individualized identifier for each bearing, allowing easy verification of authenticity.
The best part: Brands can integrate either of these technologies into their existing production process, without changing anything. The two solutions will help manufacturers, distributors, and end-users alike, allowing them to quickly and reliably authenticate bearings.
Safeguard and Protect Your Operations with AlpVision’s Anti-Counterfeit Solutions
The presence of counterfeit bearings in the market poses significant threats to safety, reliability, and performance across industries. To combat this issue, it’s crucial to employ effective methods for identifying fake products. While visual inspection and other existing solutions provide some level of authentication, they have limitations.
AlpVision’s innovative solution, incorporating Cryptoglyph and Fingerprint technologies, offers a robust and reliable means of verifying the authenticity of bearings. By adopting these cutting-edge technologies, bearing brands can protect their reputation and consumers can safeguard their operations, minimize risks, and ensure the safety and longevity of their machinery.
Contact us today to learn more about AlpVision’s patented bearing authentication solutions and secure your operations.
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