Heard of the hover fly? Adorned with black and yellow stripes, these creatures take advantage of the wasp’s fearsome reputation by using mimicry to repel predators. Deception in nature is fascinating, but in the industrial equipment world, false imitation can be problematic. Here, Nigel Smith, managing director of Shibaura Machine robot distributor, TM Robotics, explains why counterfeit industrial equipment could present a ticking time bomb for manufacturers.
According to data from global information board for counterfeiting, the ERAI, reports of counterfeit electronic products are on the rise. Realistically though, it is impossible to put an exact figure on the volume of counterfeit products in circulation, because many will go undetected. What we do know is that they are costly. In the United Kingdom alone, it is estimated that counterfeit goods cost the economy £30 billion each year.
A counterfeit is an illegal imitation of a legitimate product. Sounds harmless, but in manufacturing, they can be dangerous. Electronic component supply has long been plagued by counterfeit products with semiconductors, integrated circuits and programmable logic devices among the most targeted devices. Many replicas originate in China and are often manufactured to inferior standards. What’s more, they are not required to pass the same testing procedures as real versions and can present hazards when incorporated into larger systems and create the potential for malfunction.
Industrial products and factory equipment pose the same threats. Larger pieces of kit, such as robots and large-scale automation, are less at risk than smaller components due to the colossal expense of replicating these products. However, counterfeit versions of even small components can have a detrimental effect on a production line.
Consider an electric motor as an example. An overheated or faulty motor could result in hours of unplanned downtime for the rest of the production line. If the breakdown is hazardous, of which many counterfeit breakdowns are, this could also cause damage to peripheral equipment and risk injury to staff. Moreover, because the motor will not be covered by a legitimate warranty, replacing it can become a longwinded and expensive process.
Replica parts are undoubtedly a poor choice. Unfortunately, many factories are already using fake products — and just don’t know it. Counterfeits are increasingly sophisticated, possessing engraved identification marks and false certifications appearing to be from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Even large industrial equipment distributors are falling victim to the scam, with many trading counterfeit products unknowingly.
Unsurprisingly, purchasing online is the most unreliable method for ensuring parts are legitimate, but frankly, if the equipment isn’t sourced directly from the OEM or a first-tier authorised distributor, there is a risk it could be counterfeit.
It is impossible to completely prevent the distribution of counterfeit parts. But it is critical that manufacturers ensure their organisation — and those it does business with — are protecting themselves. Establishing supply chain legitimacy should be the first step. Manufacturers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for evidence of exactly how distributors operate with a product’s OEM. Should the relationship be legitimate, there will be no problem providing traceability for the product.
In the case of TM Robotics, the company was established from a close working relationship with Shibaura Machine — previously known as Toshiba Machine until a corporate rebrand in April 2020. For the last 20 years, TM Robotics has operated as a single point of contact for Shibaura Machine’s industrial robots’ customers in the EMEA and North and South America regions, with all its global partners trading directly through TM Robotics.
With the industrial supply chain awash with counterfeit parts, manufacturers must take steps to protect their operations. When dealing with an equipment supplier, it is recommended to choose authorised distributors wherever possible.
Investigating the origin of the equipment— separating the hover flies from the wasps, so to speak — will reduce the chance of purchasing counterfeits and in turn, protect the production line. Without this consideration, manufacturers risk getting stung.