The Real Cost of Counterfeit Products From the Eyes of a Contractor

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Manufacturers and trade associations have devoted much attention to counterfeit electrical products and their effects on consumers. The U.S. Customs' Consumer Safety and Critical Technology seizures of counterfeit electrical products are second only to pharmaceuticals. According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 3,400 seizures of Consumer Safety and Critical Technology products accounted for more than $146 million in 2012.

Using counterfeit electrical products can result in product malfunctions or failures, resulting in serious bodily injury and even death. These failures are also capable of causing unplanned outages, manufacturing downtime, and even significant property damage. When you factor in the financial and legal liabilities, the potential damages of counterfeit  products not only affect the customer, but also the electrical contractors responsible for properly installing equipment that should pass independent certification testing and code regulations.

Eaton is committed to stopping the counterfeiting of electrical products worldwide and has adopted a zero tolerance policy for the illegal practice. Eaton is also committed to creating awareness of the dangers that counterfeit electrical products present and frequently collaborates with electrical industry organizations, such as IEC, to increase this awareness.

In order to find out exactly what that means for electrical contractors, Eaton reached out to Michael Scherer, general manager of Scherer Electric in western New York, an IEC member, and an Eaton Certified Contractor Network (ECCN) instructor to share his experiences.

Eaton: Have you ever seen a counterfeit or suspect product in the field?

Scherer: I’ve had a few experiences with counterfeit products. Each experience was the result of a cold sales call into our office with an offer that seemed too good to be true. It turns out that they were exactly that, and resulted in our company wasting time and money on inferior quality products.

One such experience was a call from a reseller claiming they had bought out a contracting company and had brand-name saw blades for sale at a deeply discounted rate. When the blades arrived, they appeared to be the real product. It was when they were put to use that we found the blade teeth were so brittle they fell off during the first use. We had to throw out these blades and buy new ones, resulting in more money being spent than if we had bought the higher-price but higher-quality blades in the first place.

On another occasion, we bought staples from a small local electrical supply house; the staples ended up being soft and would bend when we tried to hammer them. The  supplier did not allow us to return the product so we wasted money again, throwing out the entire shipment. This supply house went out of business shortly after that.

Eaton: In each of those experiences, it sounds like it was only after using the product that you learned of its inferior quality. We learn these lessons the hard way since so many products today are purchased online with unknown quality. In the case of the saw blades, the inferior quality meant a frequent replacement and time wasted on the job. Fortunately the blade breakage didn’t result in any injuries. For electrical products, this risk can be a lot higher, especially if undetected during installation.

The inferior construction of a counterfeit product means that malfunctions or failures could result in serious injury or property damage. What do these risks mean for you as an electrical contractor?

Sherer: You’re exactly right, the risks that counterfeit electrical products pose are threatening to both personal safety and business health.

As electricians, our number one job is to protect our clients. An electrician who uses counterfeit electrical products is violating that responsibility. Our codebooks are written based on situations involv