Counterfeit Bearings Seized at Toronto Airport

Industry says fake auto, industrial parts increasingly a worldwide concern; and yes, they are also found in Canada

By Rebecca Reid

On Friday, July 13, The Timken Company received an ominous phone call from Constable Grumel Gill at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) asking about counterfeit bearings. It turns out Canadian customs had intercepted a full pallet of about 500 of the company’s bearings at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in a shipment coming in from China.

“They sent some photographs of the cartons and the external packaging, and asked if we could determine they were counterfeit. Unfortunately, to the trained eye – or the reasonably trained eye – the differences can be hard to spot, but the actual cartons looked wrong enough to raise suspicion,” says Evan Boere, business development manager at Timken in Mississauga, Ont.

All Timken products are packaged in a black and orange packaging manufactured to a specific corporate standard that has a hologram for counterfeit protection. Boere notes this packaging was lacking a hologram and the barcoding was wrong.

“Those were the first indications,” he says.

The World Bearing Association has embarked on a mission to educate customs officials around the world about ways to spot counterfeit bearings. In fact, the organization was formed specifically to tackle the problem of fake bearings and has launched the “Stop Fake Bearings” ( campaign. These counterfeits don’t just impact the company’s bottom-line. The shoddy performance of these fakes can cost people their lives.

“They [the RCMP] get a lot of requests to investigate counterfeit CDs,but since there is no human safety aspect, they go to the bottom of the pile,” Boere notes. “Constable Gill asked if we could do some analysis –there were enough telltale signs – so we sent the bearings to our manufacturing plant in St. Thomas, Ont., that has a lab.”

The bearings conformed to Timken standards in terms of dimensions and surface hardness and weight, but because of the scoring marks on the cone raceway, the bearings were sent to Timken’s metallurgical lab at its Canton, Ohio headquarters.

Once they cut them open, it was obvious the bearings weren’t genuine. They were through-hardened and the materials were wrong, Boere explains.

Who made them?

Tracking down the perpetrator of such fakes, however, is challenging.

“That gets a little difficult,” Boere says. “It’s very difficult to determine the manufacturing source, but they came in from China.”

“We have to do it ourselves,” explains Daniel J. Szoch, program manager at Timken in Canton, Ohio. Szoch heads up the company’s global anti-counterfeiting operations. The authorities in China usually don’t take the lead in these investigations, he explains. The onus is on the manufacturer to track down the guilty party and point the authorities in the right direction. It can be costly and time consuming.

This was the second time in the past year Timken has been notified of counterfeit bearings.

“We get a phone call from one of our distributors saying they had unknowingly purchased a bearing from a source they thought was trustworthy,” Boere says. The source was a surplus house.

“We spoke to the principal at the surplus house and he was very good at telling us where he sourced them in China. We tried tracking them down but we weren’t successful,” Boere says.

In this last case, there were only six bearings and all were destroyed, he notes.

“The products were marked as ‘Made in the USA,’ but they came from China at a really fantastic lead price. It’s interesting with surplus houses because they deal with stuff that comes from all over the world, so I think they tend to turn a blind eye as to whether the product could be counterfeit if the packaging looks close,” Bore says.

Buyer Beware

The biggest risks with counterfeits are premature wear and failure resulting in serious injuries or death.

In October, for example, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), issued a warning about counterfeit airbags circulating in the U.S. market that had either failed to deploy or unleashed shrapnel on the passengers and drivers in the vehicles.

RCMP says buyers need to consider the four P’s when making purchases:

• Packaging: Examine the packaging for quality, spelling errors, incorrect fonts, lack of the supplier’s standard security measures like Timken’s holograms, and incorrect barcodes.

• Price: If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. However, some counterfeiters do have the audacity to sell their knock-offs at full price

• Product: Examine the product to look for signs of shoddy manufacturing.

• Place: Be wary when purchasing online; ensure the dealer is reputable. Most counterfeit auto parts come from China (redistributed once they make it to Dubai), but Taiwan, India, Pakistan and Malayasia are also known to ship fake auto parts, the Motor & Equipment

In 1997, the U.S. estimated the worldwide counterfeit auto parts market at US$12 billion, with the U.S. market accounting for 25 per cent. In 2008, market research firm Frost &Sullivan estimated the market would reach US$45 billion by 2011.

Just like in the U.S., Canadian auto parts imports from China are increasing. According to Statistics Canada, $662 million of imports of motor vehicle parts and accessories under the headings “87.01 to 87.05” from China entered the Canadian market between January and August of 2012. Total imports for those categories reached $910 million in 2011, up from $806 million in 2010 and $632 million in 2009.

In 2010, U.S. imports were up to US$90.9 billion, an increase of 44.3 per cent from 2009 according to the “2011 Industry Annual Assessment” from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Transportation and Machinery.

The most counterfeited parts are those that most often need replacing, like brakes, brake linings, rotors, seals, air filters, oil filters and windshields, to name a few.

With the impact these parts have on safety, the old expression “buyer beware” now sounds more like salient advice rather than a cliché when purchasing aftermarket automotive parts.

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