In recent years, the rise in counterfeit products has created a headache for quality manufacturers and suppliers all around the world and affecting a multitude of market sectors.  The aerospace industry is no exception to this phenomenon.  However, the implications of bearing failure in an aerospace application are beyond comprehension and the implications of purchasing and installing counterfeits can be catastrophic.

Remy Malik, Manager for Industria Bearing & Transmissions’ aerospace division, discusses this troublesome issue and outlines how bearing manufacturers are working hard to help users avoid falling into the ‘counterfeit trap’ and the subsequent problems that will inevitably ensue.

Since the start of the global recession 10 years ago, sometimes operations and purchasing staff in the aerospace sector may have been tempted to shave a few pounds off their budget by seeking cheaper versions of what they perceive to be equivalent products. In line with this, online purchasing has become a useful tool in some ways, but in others it can present many potential dangers.  There are counterfeit bearing suppliers out there who are only too keen to take money from unsuspecting customers and then provide them with inferior products.  All too often they look fine and even the packaging and website instil a feeling of false security, but failure and resulting danger lurks for those who don’t take extra care.

The aerospace sector is equally exposed to the availability of sub standard products. While if an inferior bearing should fail in an industrial manufacturing situation, the results can cause annoying downtime and expense for the operator, it could clearly have life threatening implications in aerospace applications.  In addition to this, loss of credibility with customers can happen very quickly, but it can take years, even decades, to repair a damaged reputation.

It can be difficult to determine whether the cheaper online company and its products can be trusted.  So many websites look like they are authentic and convincing, but the best way to ensure genuine branded products are what is being bought is to only work with tried, tested and trusted bearing distributors.  They will have the right levels of expertise, knowledge and probably most importantly, accreditation by the correct standard agencies. This way the purchaser can have complete confidence in what they are ordering and in turn installing on their finished products.

It is an old saying – ‘if it seems too good to be true then it probably is’ but it is as relevant in today’s aerospace sector as it ever has been.

So what should the aerospace specifier look for when selecting bearings?  Potentially at the top of the list is the experience and knowledge of the supplier or distributor.  Working with established companies who have an excellent reputation and proven track record with their customers and getting the right advice at the start of the selection process is something that cannot be underestimated for a successful outcome.  As with most situations, good business relationships are usually built on trust in the quality of the product and service received.  If unsure, it is a good idea to ask around in the industry and often other companies will be only too happy to recommend and point in the right direction.

It is important to work with a supplier that guarantees a high standard of product and has quality assurance systems in place to ensure standards are not compromised.

Close examination of the bearing specification and consideration of how it will perform to meet expectations, is vitally important at the outset.

For example, Industria Bearings & Transmissions has recently received the latest version of EN 9120 Bureau Veritas Certification, which verifies its Quality Management Systems conform to both BS EN ISO 9001:2015 and EN 9120:2016.  This is also technically equivalent to AS9120.

The standard encompasses the supply of bearings and associated parts with full traceability specifically for the aerospace industry.  It is essential for anyone looking to purchase bearings to check their supplier holds this accreditation as it reinforces the distributor’s status as an authorised master distributor and stockist for bearings and related products.

It is also adviseable to ensure the supplier possess the right level of technical ability to support them and their product before, during and after the sale is made. High technical competence will also be invaluable when sourcing products as incorrect specification can cause a range of operational problems.

A key part of ensuring correct standards are held by the supplier is the subject of traceability. Most customers these days will require a bearing that has full traceability from where and when it was made, from the raw materials, right through to the component assembly of the final bearing. This should be a pre-requisite for aerospace manufacturers when sourcing their bearings.

Aside from avoiding counterfeit products, it is also important to steer away from cutting corners with regular maintenance to ensure continued, trouble free operation. Again, this is an area that in recent years has also been subject to cost savings, but inevitably this will prove to be a false economy for those involved.

Bearing manufacturers have been working hard to combat the counterfeit market in recent years. Some work with customs agencies to identify fakes and to track down counterfeit culprits as well as organising disposal of products.  However, at the end of the day the best way to rid the market of counterfeits is for purchasers to avoid buying them and always seek out genuine, reputable products.

For those purchasing any type of bearing, confidence in the product, the manufacturer and distributor is vital, not only for complete peace of mind, but for safety.  If seeking a new bearing for a particular application, then working with those who have the experience and knowledge to help and advise in finding the best solution will be time and money well spent.  At the same time, knowing the product is right and true in its brand, manufacture and accreditation is equally important.

When sourcing any bearing product, avoid websites that look too good to be true and the temptation to cut corners with lower cost products.  Ask the right questions and finding an authentic and approved supplier will save time, money and potentially lives – something that is impossible to put a price on.