Low-cost controlgear products may not be a good investment

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GAMBICA explains why machine builders should be very wary of using low-cost controlgear or products that are described as 'equivalent to' or 'interchangeable with' those from leading brands.

In times of economic struggle and high levels of competition, it is natural to seek to reduce costs - and sourcing components at lower purchase prices can appear to be attractive at first glance. But behind that lower price tag there are often risks, with consequences for increased running costs, maintenance costs and replacement costs. But it is not just the financial risks that should be considered: there may be safety concerns, increased downtime and legal penalties involved. Injuries, fatalities, prison terms and reputation are all at stake, but rarely considered when comparing list prices.

There are three types of risk to the buyer and their stakeholders. The first is counterfeit product, by which we mean an illegal imitation carrying the branding of a leading manufacturer. This is generally poor quality product from an unknown source with reliability and safety concerns.

The next risk is copied product, which can be defined as an unauthorised copy of a leading manufacturer's product. This generally goes hand-in-hand with lower levels of customer support or no customer support or servicing.

A third risk is what is called grey import product; this is genuine product but from an unapproved source. For example, this may be incorrectly specified or supported by an untrained distribution network and can also include reused products.

When offered any of these categories of product at a low purchase price you should ask yourself "Is it what you think it is?"

Low cost or low value?

Product such as circuit breakers, contactors, overload relays, pushbuttons and other low-voltage controlgear are used to control equipment in industrial, commercial and residential applications. Safety is always a concern and reliability is essential to avoid costly downtime, unplanned maintenance and early replacement. Purchasing this type of equipment brings a responsibility to source genuine product from an approved supplier, with a support network and manufacturer expertise behind it. In this context, low-cost does not mean good value for money.

Samples of counterfeit and copied product have been tested by GAMBICA members and this has highlighted concerns over the products' safety. For example, some of the circuit breakers tested exploded or caught fire when subjected to fault currents that would have been well within the acceptable range for genuine products. Some even have no overload or short-circuit protection. The risk of injury, possibly with fatal consequences, should these products be put into service is clear.

In the event of an accident occurring involving use of such a product, unless it can be shown to meet the relevant national and international standards, the seller and/or the user may be in breach of their legal obligations in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act (in the UK), and possibly other legislation. This could result in prosecution of the individuals involved.

Product descriptions

In most cases, no claim is made that copied product is made by a leading manufacturer. However, they are frequently offered as being "equivalent to" and/or "interchangeable with" genuine products from leading brands. These compatibility claims are rarely, if ever, substantiated and treating them as interchangeable with original product may invalidate the warranty.

For example, an imitation contactor might be used with a genuine timing attachment or a copy pushbutton head used with a genuine contact block. Use of such combinations will invalidate the warranty on the genuine product. Moreover, from a safety point of view it would be wrong to assume that the technical characteristics of the copy product would be identical to those of a genuine product. As a consequence, the combination could not be expected to perform correctly under all conditions.

Furthermore, copiers and counterfeiters rarely if ever bother to comply with the regulations concerning the use of hazardous materials in products. This can lead to a complete item of equipment being in breach of the law because it contains hazardous substances.

Grey goods

Grey market goods may be assumed to be free of the risks relating to safety, legal and reliability that might be the case with counterfeit or copied products, but the danger here is not the product, but the way it is specified, sourced, handled and supported. If the supplier is not approved by the manufacturer, then the expertise in providing the correct specification for the application, compatibility or even the country could be missing. The buyer may not have access to technical support, product alerts and updates, and the warranty may be voided. There is also the risk that counterfeit or reused products can be introduced to this distribution chain, unknown to the supplier.

Even if your own purchasing system ensures that you buy genuine components from approved sources, there is still the concern of your suppliers' purchasing criteria. You may be buying sub-assemblies, production machines or assembly lines; you might be buying chillers, compressors, air conditioning or ventilation. When you are negotiating a lower price for these systems, be aware that you may be opening the door for your supplier to source lower-cost and higher-risk components to go in them.

You may even be specifying approved manufacturers for the components to ensure reliability and compatibility with your spares system. However, it is still important to verify that the specified brand is actually installed in the final assembly.

With a wealth of manufacturing experience GAMBICA members strive to provide their customers with high-quality, value-for-money products that comply with all current legislation. Customers get the reassurance of years of experience from reliable and reputable companies and are safe in the knowledge they are not risking their own reputation by using substandard products that will inevitably lead to a poorer end result. Follow the link to view the GAMBICA Products Directory.

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