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 such as increased running, maintenance and replacement costs.
It isn’t 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 level customer support or no customer support or servicing.
The last of our three risks is what we term grey import product; genuine product but from an unapproved source. This may be incorrectly specified or supported by an untrained distribution network and can include re-used products.
Product such as circuit breakers, contactors, overload relays, push buttons and other low-voltage control gear are for equipment in industrial, commercial and residential heating, ventilating and air conditioning 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 value for money.
Samples of counterfeit and copied product have been tested by GAMBICA members and this has highlighted concerns over the product’s 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. This is particularly the case in heating, where the application of heat near the product is an essential part of the process.
Ultimately, the question to ask yourself when offered any of these categories of product at a low purchase price is: ‘Is it what you think it is?’ It may well be low cost but what are the consequences of failure?
Steve Brambley is a director of GAMBICA