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Companies continue the anti-counterfeiting fight

On December 10, SAE International (formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers) held a symposium on "Counterfeit Parts Avoidance." Fake parts tend to get a lot of press, but only after these parts have caused damage or a tragedy. Automotive parts are a huge target for counterfeiters. These parts, mostly sold on the aftermarket, are so good that even car dealers have been fooled by the authentic looking packaging and inventory/product numbers.

The SAE symposium presented topics such as "Mitigating Counterfeit in the Authorized Supply Chain" using the latest SAE standard being created to mitigate counterfeit electronics (AS5553), by Charles Amaden of Mouser Electronics Inc.

Earlier this year Eaton Corp., a diversified industrial manufacturer, announced a new campaign they call "I Didn't Know" to continue raising awareness of the dangers of counterfeit electrical products. The campaign is part of Eaton's ongoing commitment to combating counterfeit electrical products.

Eaton said it came up with the idea after presenting industry professionals with Eaton two circuit breakers - one counterfeit and one authentic - who couldn't tell the difference. "Not realizing the sophistication of the modern counterfeiting techniques, these industry professionals said that they 'never would have thought it was counterfeit - they didn't know,'" said Steve Huggins, director of marketing, control and circuit breaker division, Eaton's electrical sector.

Counterfeit electrical products can present serious health and safety risks to consumers and to the electrical industry. These products may overheat or cause short circuits, leading to fires, shocks or explosions that can cost people their lives and product considerable property damage, according to Eaton.

While counterfeit products can come from almost anywhere in the world, most of the counterfeit products come from China suppliers to U.S. companies who outsource their manufacturing there. Many consumer products from coffee makers to hair irons to dehumidifiers have been the target of recalls due to home fires and injuries to the users of these products. Some of these have been found to have fake UL tags that are even difficult for UL to authenticate.

It's not only the electronics and electrical products that are a concern, but many of these are housed in plastic housings. The plastics used in many of these electrical and electronic products are specified because of the physical properties of the material that make them safe for use in these applications. That means that if the plastic can't be certified and "lot traceable" there is a danger that the product won't perform to manufacturers standards.

Phil Zulueta of Consultants to Management talked about "Avoidance of Counterfeit Electronic Parts through Robust Procurement Practices." Given the extensiveness of the global supply chain, knowing who your suppliers are for the various components and finished goods, is critical for a whole of products and industries including pharmaceutical, defense, aerospace, medical and more.

"The methods and practices to mitigate the risk of counterfeit electronic parts continue to evolve as counterfeiting evolves and as we identify gaps in what we do to implement a robust counterfeit avoidance and detection program," notes Zulueta in the program outline. "There are numerous steps that can be taken to address the avoidance portion of a counterfeit mitigation program, as it is popularly agreed that 'avoidance' (pre-procurement) practices are better and more cost-effective than 'detection' (post-procurement) protocols."

 The plastics industry is seeing a number of ways to "tag" materials with a marker inherent in the resin so that it can be identified. Another presenter, Diganta Das, of the University of Maryland, talked about "Material Based Part Authentication - Using the Built-In Imprints" to detect counterfeit parts. Other methods include in-mold holographic labels that become an inherent part of the plastic part and can only be read using black light.

Protecting a customer's intellectual property is important to processors, and learning ways that to mitigate the risk of counterfeit parts is an important part of your business model. And one that helps you be more competitive in the global marketplace.

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