Which one is counterfeit?

Identifying phony electrical products can save lives and profits

05/24/2013


The counterfeiting of well-known brands and products is a growing problem, estimated to be 5% to 7% of world trade, or about $600 billion each year. Counterfeit health and safety products such as electrical and electronic products now occupy second place after pharmaceuticals on the list of those most frequently seized by U.S. Customs.

Identifying phony electrical products can save lives and profits. Courtesy: Eaton

Counterfeiting has a negative impact on not only companies’ bottom lines and reputations but also public safety. Counterfeit electrical products can overheat or cause short circuits, leading to fires, shocks, or explosions that can cost workers their lives and produce considerable property damage. These illegal products don’t need to comply with performance and safety specifications and they are not tested or approved.

It is important that facility managers understand the dire consequences of using unsafe counterfeit products and know how to avoid them.

By definition, a counterfeit is a product, service, or package for a product that uses, without authorization, the trademark, service mark, or copyright of another intended to deceive prospective customers into believing that the product or service is genuine. This makes detecting the difference between a counterfeit and authentic product difficult.

In fact, Eaton has shown industry professionals, from plant and facility managers to independent electrical resellers, two seeming identical breakers and asked each professional to pick out the counterfeit breaker. After inspecting the breakers for everything from recognizable certifications and brand stickers to noticeable defects or missing parts, each professional leads to a common realization, “I never would have thought it to be counterfeit—I didn’t know.”

You can do the test yourself by looking at the circuit breakers at the top of this page. Can you tell which one is counterfeit? The answer is at the end of this article.

While identifying a counterfeit product is difficult at first glance, there are many ways to detect and avoid them prior to making an actual purchase.

The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is to purchase products from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or resellers. There is a higher risk of counterfeits if one cannot trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer.

Counterfeiters do an excellent job of disguising their products to look like the real thing. The bar code (upper right), date code (lower left) and style number (lower right) on this circuit breaker are authentic. Courtesy: EatonSome manufacturers and certification organizations also provide tools to verify that electrical products are authentic. This can be an easy way to detect if a product is not certified and therefore should be avoided. For example, Eaton’s new Circuit Breaker Authentication (CBA) tool is designed to allow customers to detect if Eaton circuit breakers are counterfeit. By entering the bar code, part number, and date code found on the circuit breaker, the CBA tool is intended to immediately verify authentication. You will use this online tool, at www.eaton.com/counterfeit, to learn if you correctly guessed which circuit breaker is counterfeit.

When shopping for electrical products, managers can look for key red flags that signify an item, or distributor, should be avoided. The first red flag is “bargains” that seem too good to be true. Compare the price of that product to a similar product at a different retailer. If it seems too good to be true, the odds are it is.

Scrutinizing labels and packaging can also help identify a counterfeit product, but is just one part of the detection process. As counterfeiters become more sophisticated, a higher level of scrutiny becomes necessary. Check for certification labels from organization such as UL, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), or other organizations that certify the quality and performance of electrical products.

Avoid products that lack any identifying branding label or affiliation and be leery of additional markings or labeling not applied by the original manufacturers and of missing or poor-quality labels, out-of-date product codes, and non-genuine packaging.

In this counterfeit version of the breaker, you can see there is no date code. The style number and bar code are similar, but if there is a question, many companies have ways to verify the legitimate electrical equipment. Courtesy: EatonPay close attention to products purchased. Quality control is often lacking in counterfeiting operations, so you may be able to spot a counterfeit simply based on its workmanship. Be wary of products that seem flimsy or that have any noticeable flaws.

Always be on the lookout for materials that come with a product. Counterfeit products often don’t include supplementary materials such as an owner’s manual or product registration card. Sometimes counterfeiters do not include all the parts that should come with the product, or some parts will be from a different manufacturer.

Finally, if a product is suspected to be counterfeit, it is recommended to contact the original manufacturer. This will allow authentication of the suspect product and ensure that the potentially unsafe product is removed from the marketplace.

While the physical differences between the two breakers embedded in this article are nearly undetectable, the second circuit breaker is counterfeit. Try it out yourself by entering the highlighted information into the authentication tool at www.eaton.com/counterfeit.   

As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness, training, and prevention. This involves building awareness of the risks that counterfeit electrical products present to personal safety and the economy with end customers, contractors, inspectors, and electrical resellers. For more information, go to www.eaton.com/counterfeit.  

Check the link below for tips on how to combat counterfeiting.



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
July/Aug
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me