Are They Real?

Are knock-off automation components from China becoming a major point of concern?

By Joe Feeley, editor in chief

One of the side conversations that surfaced from September’s column about some subtle shifts in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards results [ControlDesign.com/07RCA] was in reaction to my reporting that we found more Chinese automation suppliers in the voting than previously.

With all the recent revelations about unsafe and/or bad quality Chinese-made goods getting into North America, the question of how that’s affecting automation component quality was an inevitable next step.

You can find the origins of this discussion via the link to our Machine Builder Forum at ControlDesign.com in the Rumor and Innuendo or Hints and Allegations channels, so I won’t repeat all of what’s there. The issue of counterfeit automation components coming in from China is the major point of concern and discussion. A few people in our biz believe it to be a real and growing trend.

There are fast-becoming urban-legend stories about the purchasing agent or specifying engineer at a machine builder or SI shop who’s been contacted by a distributor they’d never heard of offering name-brand components at hard-to-believe low prices.

I then heard suggestions about how these parts are being made. One point of view is that sometimes in the wee hours of third shifts in Chinese factories of big, well-known global suppliers, a certain amount of the batch gets diverted out of the normal flow, sometimes bypassing the final QC and production logging steps and into an alternate distribution channel to North America and Europe. Others say, no, it’s mostly low-quality knockoffs made in local pirate factories.

If this automation junk is getting into North America and Europe, then the—maybe even more troubling—corollary is to consider in which machines and manufacturing processes they’re ending up. Is the lure of wildly inexpensive parts too much for some to pass up? Are others just not paying attention? It must be. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be finding a home in these countries in the first place.

Of course, the rub here is that so far we can’t find much hard evidence on this subject to report, hence the second-hand nature of this column and the forum posting. I don’t like settling for that.

So the objective here and in the forum is to see if we can prime the pump. Maybe we can raise the conversation out of the second-hand category and find some people who actually have experienced some of this. I’ve said I think it’s time to unleash an editor on this subject and see where the story leads.

Whether it’s by posting comments in the forum, e-mailing your perspective, or getting in touch with us to contribute to an article, help us bring some focus to these issues.

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