ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and The Electrical Distributor (TED) Magazine jointly sponsored an Electrical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Panel yesterday to discuss the widespread impact counterfeit electrical products are having throughout the industry.
“Call it counterfeiting, call it mislabeling, call it gray-market – but it’s all a crime,” said ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR publisher John Maisel. “It affects every part of the electrical products channel, from manufacturers to distributors to contractors, and especially, end-users.”
Panelists included Kevin Yates, VP Siemens Energy and automation, and Steve Litchfield, asst consul Schneider Electric-Square D, Bob Crane of Underwriters Laboratory, and Bill Feyman, VP Leed consul, Babcork Electric. They focused primarily on the liabilities presented by counterfeit products.
“The closer you are to the end of the supply chain, the more liability you have,” Yates said. “So the most liability potentially rests with the electrical contractors.”
Crane pointed out some warning signs to help contractors avoid fakes. “The terms ‘overstock’ or ‘only 50 left’ are often used to promote the sale of counterfeit products,” he said.
“In 1981, the counterfeit products were laughable,” Litchfield said. “You could tell right away that they were fakes and inferior products. But in 2004, the first products I saw from an unauthorized distributor – another tip-off that products may be counterfeit – you couldn’t tell the difference from the packaging. It was a circuit breaker, and the flaws were really frightening when we tested it.”
Panelists echoed the concern that counterfeit products are a concern for the entire electrical industry. Manufacturers have taken initiative in pursuing and suing counterfeiters, enlisting help from U.S. Customs. They’ve had to spearhead raids on plants in China. But with less than one percent of all imports coming the U.S. screened and the fact that counterfeiting is roughly a $250 billion annual business, “counterfeiting is a value proposition,” Yates said. “Bottom line, they stand to make a lot of money, and the chances of getting caught are slim.
“We have to take the initiative to protect our customers, our workers, and our brands,” he continued. “It’s going to take education to recognized counterfeits and government assistance to prosecute the criminals behind counterfeiting.”
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR will release a special supplement to its December issue on the risks posed by counterfeit electrical products and what electrical contractors, site managers and other electrical industry professionals can do to protect themselves, their workers, and their customers.
What are your concerns about counterfeit electrical products? How much of an impact do you think it will have on the industry?