Sparks Electrical News

In the electrical industry in South Africa, counterfeits are estimated to be a multi-million-rand problem. From circuit breakers that do not trip when they should to batteries without vents for built-up gases to grounding rods with only a fraction of the required copper coating, counterfeit electrical products fail to meet standards and pose risks of injury and even death.

Continuing the war on counterfeitsFurthermore, contractors may be liable if they install a counterfeit product and, for years, manufacturers have considered contractors to be the men and women on the front lines in the battle against counterfeiters.

During September, an international webinar was held where Eaton presented its investigation of counterfeit electrical products. Tom Grace, who has spent more than 10 years focusing on the impact of counterfeiting on Eaton and the electrical industry, notes that to combat counterfeiting, companies are moving towards dynamic marking (rather than adhesive labels) such as laser marking serial numbers directly onto the product itself and making it harder for counterfeiters to replicate. The company has also developed a mobile app, named PowerEdge, which allows electrical contractors to scan the serial number of a circuit breaker to authenticate the product in the field.

Marketing specialist, Erika Healy, who works in the Gulf Region to ensure distributors understand the dangers of purchasing from unauthorised resellers says, “For contractors, the biggest reason to be concerned about counterfeit electrical products is the liability and risk you take on. Apart from your livelihood and your reputation, the safety of people in the area where you installed the item is also at stake.” She suggests, whenever possible, buying from an authorised distribution channel such as an authorised reseller or manufacturer’s representative, and alerting the manufacturer if you come across any suspect products. “This mitigates the risks of contractors installing products with unknown origins,” she says.

In one of South Africa’s highest profile counterfeiting cases, in 2016, for his role in importing nearly 124 000 counterfeit CBi electric: low voltage earth leakage devices and circuit breakers from China, Abdool Kadar Omar Khan – sole proprietor of a business trading under Akronix and South Star Technologies, in Lenasia – was convicted in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, Johannesburg, for contravening the Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997 and the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) Act 5 of 2008.

A raid at Khan’s premises in November 2011 uncovered 17 683 counterfeit CBi earth leakage devices and circuit breakers. It was discovered that, of the imported consignments of these safety critical protection devices, 106 295 counterfeit devices had already been sold. Consequently, according to court papers, it was estimated that the people who lived and worked in at least 25 000 businesses and homes were potentially exposed to “significant risk”, including fire, electrocution and death.

“We are aware of another practice which, although not strictly counterfeiting, is still detrimental to business,” says Ryan Burger, Divisional product Manager: Tools & Instruments at HellermannTyton. “We have encountered suppliers who simply change our casing and sell the product to a competitor – our Intellectual Property (IP), with exactly the same specs and identical inside – just with a different name. We have been fighting this for years, but it is a losing battle,” he says.

How do you combat counterfeiting? “You just have to try and make it more difficult for counterfeiters,” answers Burger. “Ensure that serial numbers are on all products for tracking purposes and, for users, be vigilant and make sure you are purchasing through the correct channels.”

A spokesperson for a respected brand in the electrical industry in South Africa notes that there are more and more counterfeit products entering the continent. “It is virtually impossible to control as containers belonging to larger companies are the ones that are checked because the companies involved will take responsibility if something is incorrect. Smaller importers who bring in a container now and then are hardly ever scrutinised. These, however, affect the market and get sold into the industry; a recent case being inferior cables, sold through China City markets, which have been used by electricians in installations. We have standards in Southern Africa, however, we do not have the manpower to enforce the safety standards.”

With counterfeiting of well-known brands estimated to have cost $1.77 trillion worldwide in 2015, and with no sign this of letting up, Eaton is on a drive to educate the industry, professionals and the general public through the four following points:

Counterfeits pose danger: Using counterfeit electrical products can result in a higher risk of failure or malfunction. Such failures may result in electrical shock, overheating or short circuits, leading to equipment failure, fires or explosions that can cost people their lives and cause considerable property damage

Counterfeits are hard to spot: All well-known brands face the issue of counterfeiting.

Counterfeit product manufacturers rely on deception, the Internet, and prices below market level to find their way into homes, businesses, and commercial and industrial facilities. The more sophisticated counterfeiters become, the more difficult counterfeit products are to identify.

You can help: Buy from authorised resellers. The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is if you can trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer. If every individual along a product’s supply chain played an active role in stopping counterfeit products from being bought and sold, the demand for counterfeit electrical products would decrease. Reducing the spread of counterfeit electrical products can help to ensure maximum electrical safety protection.

How to report a counterfeit: If you identify a counterfeit in the field, report it to the brand owner. This will allow authentication of the suspect product and ensure that it is removed from the marketplace. The manufacturer can then report the violation to the relevant authorities and industry bodies.

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Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Gregg Cocking
Email: sparks@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Email: carinh@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

 
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