Complaints about problem parts in plant operations seem almost endless these days. They come from all sectors and go on and on and on. Maybe you’ve heard some, or even expressed concerns of your own that are eerily similar to the following:
“These bolts, right here on the agitator, are 1/2-inch grade eight. What’s strange is the heads started breaking off about a year ago. Now we replace them every few months. Still have some break off. Nothing else has changed with the agitator. What’s happening?”
“There are over 3,000 of these hex-head rivet nuts in each of four major components. For years, we very rarely ran into problems. Now, the nut guns jam, and we have to swap them out and rebuild the guns. It even happens with the new nut guns. We have a lot more downtime and our tool-maintenance costs have gone through the roof. It must be the new nuts they’re buying.”
“We bought these six new machines over a three-year period. Two machines every two years. Then, after six months, the #50 roller chains in each of the machines would fail, like clockwork. When we replaced the chains with the machine-OEM’s chains, they, too, would last about six months. What’s peculiar, there were no name or brand markings on any of the chain links. So, we’ve replaced these failing chains with a known name-brand chain, and they’re still running fine after three years. I believe the machine OEM was saving cost by buying knock-off roller chains.”
“Every time production gets these bottles, the filling line has jams in the feeder, labeler, and capper. They’re 355-ml bottles, the same specs as the others we get. I know they cost less, but there must be something different. We’re losing so much production time due to troublesome line setups, startups, and running jams. The scrap and reject rates are increasing with these new bottles. I think it’s a purchasing/supplier problem. But the buyers don’t want to discuss it. They’re saving money for the company.”
Anytime I hear about such issues, I am suspicious regarding the associated materials handling/storage and procurement practices. In tracking down the root causes of the problems described in the above comments, the finger pointed to procurement practices: the seeking of lower-cost materials.
But the cause doesn’t stop there. It’s more that “cheap” parts and materials. It’s sourcing from unknown suppliers. In many cases, that may lead to operations ending up with counterfeit, fake, forged, bogus, knock-off, pirated, imitation, deceptive, (or whatever term you may choose) parts.
The reliability of our critical equipment is a fundamental of business success. Sometimes the causes of unreliability have nothing to do with how the equipment is designed, operated, or maintained. Production materials and spare parts have a huge impact on equipment reliability. But these materials and parts are often overlooked causes or problems and failures.
IN THE MARKETPLACE: TIMES THEY ARE A’CHANGING
Many of us, given our time spent in equipment-maintenance- and repair-related work, have come to expect that bolts and chains don’t break, bearings don’t fail after a few weeks, and specifications are adhered to by materials manufacturers, regardless of where they are made. But in recent years, our supply chain has become populated with bogus manufacturers, disreputable suppliers, and previously trusted machine parts that prematurely fail.
A number of things led up to these changes, including, among others: 1) emergence of global supply chain; 2) internet sales; 3) cost-cutting initiatives; 4) countries of origin, with little to no respect for intellectual property; and 5) and acceptance of quality that is “good enough.”
Counterfeit items come from a variety of sources, foreign and domestic. These include:
- regions with low labor costs and limited market regulations
- countries with weak governments, poor intellectual-property-rights (IPR) protection, weak regulation and law enforcement, and/or organized crime syndicates
- unscrupulous persons or businesses with easy access to supply-chain entry points, including distributors and brokers for online sales.
China and Hong Kong have been identified as the origin of 80% of goods seized by U.S. Customs authorities, with China being the source of products and Hong Kong and Panama being the transit countries where goods are repackaged and shipped. Panama is the key transit point for fake goods heading to the United States.
DEFINING THE PROBLEM
When exploring the sources of equipment problems to the point of parts and materials, let’s not be too quick to label them merely defective of poor quality. Consider that they may be counterfeit.
A 94-pg. publication from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) includes many helpful insights, examples, references, and actions for counterfeit detection and prevention. Titled Suspect/Counterfeit Items Resource Handbook(DOE‐HDBK‐1221-2016), it offers the following definitions:
- Genuine. Items that are produced and certified without the intent to deceive.
- Counterfeit. Items that are intentionally manufactured, refurbished or altered to imitate original products without authorization in order to be passed off as genuine.
- Fraudulent. Items that are intentionally misrepresented with intent to deceive, including items provided with incorrect identification or falsified and/or inaccurate certification. They may also include items sold by entities that have acquired the legal right to manufacture a specified quantity of an item but produce a larger quantity than authorized and sell the excess as legitimate inventory.
- Suspect. Items where there’s an indication or suspicion they may not be genuine.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE COUNTERFEIT MARKET
The main categories of counterfeited products across the world in 2016, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) were:
- Electrical Machinery and Electronics $138 billion (US)
- Jewelry $49.8 billion (US)
- Photography and Medical Equipment$26.7 billion (US)
- Clothing, knitted or crocheted $24.8 billion (US)
- Machinery and Mechanical appliances $19.7 billion (US)
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put the value of counterfeit goods at $400 billion in the United States, in 2013.
A study conducted by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found that raw, substandard steel was the most counterfeited commodity. Here is CII’s top-10 list of counterfeit items:
5. Circuit breakers
6. Rotating equipment parts
7. Electric equipment
8. Pipe fittings
9. Pressure vessels
‘STOP FAKE BEARINGS’
That’s the name of an important industry initiative and informative website supported by the World Bearing Association (WBA). Substandard bearings, after all, can have significant impact on equipment reliability and performance, as well as on human injuries and fatalities.
The WBA’s website www.stopfakebearings.com can be an especially valuable resource for anyone in the maintenance, reliability, procurement, or failure-analysis fields.
The website even offers a smartphone app that can be used to spot suspicious bearings. It allows users to scan bearing packaging to determine one of three of the following conditions:
1. The code is correct and is contained in the manufacturer’s database.
2. Caution: the code is known but has been scanned numerous times. To be on the safe side, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation in the response.
3. Warning: this is an unknown code. The bearing is a suspected fake and must not be used under any circumstances without confirming with the manufacturer. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation in the response.
Older packaging does not have the new coding. If there is no code on the product packaging contact the manufacturer any suspect bearing.
Rather than cite the numerous counterfeit-bearing case studies and ways to buy bearings safely, readers should visit www.stopfakebearings.com and learn about them directly..
TAKE STEPS TO COMBAT BOGUS PARTS
Here are some action items to help reliability professionals and maintenance technicians eliminate suspect and counterfeit parts:
1. Dig into time premature failures of machine components or production materials. Examine the failures in detail. Capture the findings with data, photographs, invoices, and the actual part(s). Contact the suppliers and verify that their sources are reputable.
2. When stored spares fail, inspect storage locations and environment for subpar conditions. Verify the shipping or transportation methods and packaging. Sometimes, transportation causes internal damage, especially in rotating devices, due to improper stabilizing or orientation for shipping.
3. Examine high-dollar or criticalspare parts upon arrival (conducting acceptance testing, if necessary). Don’t let such parts sit on the shelf until needed. Check for suspicious markings, misspellings, quality defects, discolorations, and other signs that just don’t look right.
4. Deal ONLY with reputable suppliers, OEM reps,, and known sources. Avoid brokers, online distributors, and prices that seem too good to be true.
5. When counterfeit or fraudulent parts are suspected, contact the supplier and/or the OEM listed on the item, to seek expert advice and inspections. Sometimes, suppliers and OEMs are unaware of their items being knocked off. Other times, they may have been victim of bogus parts in their own global supply chain and would like to eliminate the source.
Suspect and counterfeit items have invaded our turf. Now is the time for us to wage a serious war on counterfeit machinery and machine parts. Let’s hunker down and win it.TRR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or email@example.com.