10 tips to help you navigate the counterfeit bearing epidemic in South Africa

03 February, 2020
— Bearings 2000

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We have prepared the following ten guidelines to help you avoid falling victim to fake bearings.

1. Educate yourself on what counterfeit bearings are so you can avoid purchasing them. 

Counterfeit bearings are a worldwide epidemic, affecting an estimated 10 to 15 percent of bearings supplied worldwide. 

South Africa has recently become a hot spot for this activity as the weakening economic situation has resulted in counterfeits becoming more attractive to opportunistic distributors and traders. On the FAG brand alone, in 2019, there were two cases of counterfeits being seized and destroyed by the Schaeffler Group (manufacturer of the FAG brand), with several ongoing cases in process. 

The most common brands that are counterfeited in South Africa are FAG, Timken, SKF, NSK and NTN. 

Most commonly, counterfeit bearings are economically produced bearings (also often of inferior quality) that are labelled and packaged according to the premium bearing manufacturer’s standards and sold as a premium quality brand when they are not. 

All premium brands, ranges and sizes are counterfeited. From the smallest to the largest bearing.

2. Counterfeit bearings are almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing. 

These counterfeited bearings are almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing; in most cases only the bearing manufacturers can identify them. There is no guide or catalogue to help distinguish a real from a fake as the manufacturers do not want the counterfeiters to obtain such information.

real vs fake bearings

Here are some of the most common flaws in counterfeit bearings that we are aware of:

  • Inferior quality steel material used  
  • Incorrectly sized rolling elements 
  • The use of incorrect design cages
  • Incorrect lubrication used in the bearing
  • Incorrect lubrication points
  • Contamination with iron filings
  • Incorrect clearance in the bearing
  • Incorrect tolerances on critical dimensions and rolling elements
  • Incomplete hardening of the steel 

These flaws can be very difficult to identify, especially after the counterfeiter has packaged it in almost identical packaging to the authentic item. These flaws can have severe effects on the performance of the bearing and, most likely, will result in premature bearing failure.   

3. Only buy from authorised distributors. 

Ask your suppliers for their valid, authorised distributor certificate to check and ensure that they are appointed and controlled directly by the bearing manufacturer. We are aware of photoshopped and expired authorised distributor certificates circulating in the market therefore, we recommend that you contact the bearing manufacturer directly to confirm that the distributor is, in fact, an authorised distributor for that manufacturer.

4. Conduct an audit on your bearing supplier(s) before purchasing.

Conduct an audit and approve your bearing suppliers before buying from them. This can be done by an informal visit to their premises or a formal comprehensive audit. Even if you have been buying from a supplier for many years, we still recommend that you verify them regularly.  

It is our opinion – based on the known cases of counterfeits in South Africa – that, in general, the less a supplier or distributor has to lose if caught with counterfeits the more likely they are to become tempted to be involved in such activities. It is, however, important to note that due to the large payoff for suppliers being involved in fakes it could be anyone from the smallest to largest distributor. 

5. If it’s too good to be true it most probably is! 

This is the golden rule to follow when purchasing premium branded bearings. If the lead time and price from one supplier is far better than what your other reputable suppliers have quoted or what you have paid in the past for the same brand, then you need to proceed with caution. 

This is especially true for rare and/or uncommon items which either have a long production lead-time or are priced at a premium by overseas distributors that hold stock of uncommon items. A counterfeiter will quote a lead-time of a few days (most likely in order to have the inferior quality bearing marked and packaged i.e. counterfeited) and offer it at a far lower price than the original, branded item.    

6. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly. 

If you believe that you may have been supplied a counterfeit bearing contact the bearing manufacturer immediately, either directly or via an authorised distributor, before you install the bearing. They will inspect the bearing and provide you with a report. 

7. Do not try and source premium brand bearings from overseas suppliers directly. 

While it may be easy to search Google or other websites like Alibaba for suppliers, this is very risky. It is especially risky if your local bearing supplier has quoted a higher price or a longer lead time (refer to point 5) because the online supplier may seem like the faster, cheaper option but you may get caught purchasing a counterfeit. Almost all the counterfeited bearings originate in China. They are then, most commonly, sold to South Africa through trading companies in China, Hong Kong, Dubai, Korea and Singapore. While they can come from any country, these are the most common that we have noticed. Do not be fooled by some of the professional-looking websites that are soliciting you to buy counterfeit bearings. Proceed with extreme caution.

8. Beware of unsolicited emails offering premium brand bearings from overseas. 

Counterfeiters send out unsolicited emails daily to bearing companies, and sometimes directly to end-users, in South Africa. They offer multiple premium brands and entice you to request pricing from them. These are almost guaranteed to be counterfeit offerings. Do not become a victim of these unscrupulous operators. They will send you authorised certificates and photographs of the bearings which, 99.9% of the time, are not real.   

9. Beware of complete assemblies containing bearings.

When repairing or ordering new machinery that contains bearings be aware of the risk that the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or the equipment repairer may have been supplied counterfeits by their bearing supplier. In most cases, a reputable OEM or equipment repairer would have audited their suppliers and ensured they purchasing from an authorised distributor. 

We recommend asking your OEM or equipment repairer for information on their bearing sources and proof that they are authorised distributors. If you want to eliminate the risk completely or have doubts about the OEM or equipment repairer’s bearing sources, we advise you to purchase the bearings required for the job directly from your trusted bearing supplier and free-issue the bearings to the OEM or equipment repairer to include in your job.  

10. Use the WBA app as the first line of defense. 

The World Bearing Association (WBA) has launched an application that can be downloaded on Apple and Android smartphones. This app allows you to scan FAG, Timken, SKF, NTN, NSK, NACHI and Koyo branded bearings to determine if they are originals or suspected counterfeits. We recommend that you download this app as your first line of defense against counterfeits. 

It is important to note that these applications are not 100% accurate and a bar-code that is not recognized does not mean the bearing is counterfeited, rather that the bearing must be verified by the manufacturer before installing. 

You can also contact us if you have other queries and we would be happy to help you or point you in the right direction.

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