- Published on Friday, 17 July 2009 01:00
- Written by Peter Cleaveland
Counterfeit industrial products have been around a long time: The term “the real McCoy,” for example, comes from the self-regulating steam engine lubricator patented in 1872 by Elijah McCoy. The reason it was called “real” was that the device worked so well, customers demanded it by name over imitators.
While the term “counterfeit” implies a pure manufactured fake, in the control valve field, used valves that have been refurbished and resold by questionable suppliers are just as big a problem as newly made pieces. And valves are just a small fraction of the overall problem; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has broadened the term to Suspect/Counterfeit Items (S/CI).
Ayman Cheta, senior mechanical engineer, Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., said in a presentation at the API CRE meeting last April that industrial items commonly counterfeited include “high-strength mechanical fasteners (e.g., bolts, washers, and nuts), lifting equipment (e.g., slings, shackles, and clevises), valves, pipe-fittings, flanges, batteries, extension cords, electrical circuit breakers, relays, connectors, and other electronic components, lubricants, and adhesives.”
While most agree the problem is expansive, it’s not easy to find good numerical estimates of just how wide the problem of suspect and counterfeit valves in the United States is. There also appears to be significant under-reporting of incidents—sometimes because companies are unaware and sometimes for legal reasons, according to Cheta. Some areas of the government, including the Department of Energy (DOE), have reacted with policies requiring organizations and contractors to deal with the problem by reporting all findings of suspect/counterfeit items, but DOE problems are a small segment of the market. Other, wider problems exist in industries such as the automotive aftermarket, where one of the largest growth areas for counterfeiting appears to be in truck air-brake system components, according to Fleet Owner magazine. And such problems are sporadic with little incentive for either user or manufacturer victims to publicize incidents.
But is the prevalence of counterfeiting getting better or worse?
“If we’re talking about the problem at large, then I guess my perception is the problem is getting worse,” says Dan Velan, marketing director, Velan Valve Corp., “or at least has been over the decade. If we’re saying in the last six months or in the last couple of years, there’s definitely been an increased focus on this issue.” Velan adds that there seems to be considerably more counterfeiting of small commodity-type valves than larger control valves. He cites European companies that have been nearly driven out of business by the flood of counterfeits and knockoffs.
VMA President Bill Sandler confirms this is true. He just returned from a trip to the European Committee for the Valve Industry Congress in Baveno, Italy and before that, the ACHEMA international trade show in Frankfurt am Main. Sandler reports that counterfeiting was a major topic of discussion, including the fact that to create a counterfeit today, “you buy one [part] and you take it apart and then you put it back together your own way.”
The problem has become so bad that at a trade show a few years ago, a Chinese company was showing exact copies of the products of a British manufacturer, he adds. In fact, “they had a little sign next to the copy, [indicating] ‘parts interchangeable with the British company.’” The British company persuaded show management to shut down the booth in that case, but similar situations persist.
“There’s a number of shows where they’re the dominant factor as far as exhibiting,” Sandler says, and while a U.S. company might have a collection of their own valves showing, a Chinese exhibitor sometimes has ten times as many, “showing they can make any type of valve in any size and any pressure and any material. And then they go around with their camera taking pictures of others,” he says.
One bright spot, according to Ray McCaffrey, president, Quality Valve, Inc., is in safety and relief valves. This is because the National Board Inspection Code requires the use of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts and is strict about documentation of that OEM.
The problem of bogus repaired valves is actually less severe now than it was some years ago, says Greg Johnson, president of United Valve and former chairman of the Valve Repair Council. He explains that it all started when companies revamping plants would sell off old valves as scrap. Someone who bought those and sold them as is, without warrantee, would not be doing anything dishonest. But someone would still have to process the valves to make them operable, “and what happened in the past, and I’m certain it’s done to a certain extent today, is someone would have a manufacturer’s tag made” that was bogus, then they’d rebuild the valve completely and attached the bogus tag, he explains.
The problem got so bad it led to the formation of the Valve Repair Council in the early 1990s, whose primary mission was to certify valve facilities working on manufacturers’ products.
A FEW EXAMPLES
Last year, the NRC released an information notice explaining a November 2007 incident in which a counterfeit Ladish stop check valve was discovered on the stator cooling water skid of the Southern Company’s Hatch Unit 2 nuclear power plant in Georgia (Figure 1 is the body of a counterfeit and the genuine Ladish valve. Figure 2 is the stem of a counterfeit and the genuine valve.). Another example occurred in 1987, when eight counterfeit 4-inch, 1500-psi, pressure-sealed Crane valves were discovered at an ARCO chemical plant near Houston. In that case, the name “Crane” was apparently welded to each valve body, the NRC explains. In February, 2008, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Particle Physics Division reported discovery of a large number of suspect/counter?feit small ball valves.
Bob Baker, independent safety consultant, relates an incident where a paper mill was trying to cut costs by buying remanufactured valves from a third party. The supplier had not bothered to check the valves’ wall thicknesses, and one day the side of a pulp stock valve blew out and gushed a 6- to 8-foot stream of pulp. No injuries were reported, Baker says, “but had someone been standing there next to it, they probably would have gotten hurt when it blew.”
THE COSTS OF COUNTERFEIT VALVES
Counterfeit valves may not always fail in such a dramatic way, but when they do, they can cause process upsets, downtime and accidents. They also hurt legitimate valve manufacturers by taking market share and by damaging reputations: a failed valve with a false trademark has the potential for giving the legitimate manufacturer a bad name.
In Europe, failure to act against counterfeiters can have legal consequences, points out Orgalime, the liaison group of the European mechanical, electrical, electronic and metalworking industries. Orgalime’s publication Combating Counterfeiting: A Practical Guide for European Engineering Companies points out that: “…legal opinion has indicated that if you have been made aware or should reasonably have been aware that your trademark was being used by counterfeiters and did nothing to stop it, you may be held responsible under product liability legislation for damage caused to person or to property by the fake product.”
SUSPECT VALVE SOURCES
The most reported source of counterfeit valves made from scratch is China, but refurbished used valves come from a wider base of locations. Baker explains that used valves become available when plants shut down. People then buy them up, tear them down, pull out the trim, make repairs, then sandblast, reassemble and repaint them.
“When an OEM rebuilds a control valve,” Baker continues, “critical dimensions are compared to those required for new ones; but independent repair and/or remanufacturing shops typically do not have access to necessary engineering drawings that contain locations and magnitude of such critical dimensions.”
He adds that third party shops also may or may not measure wall thicknesses, let alone know the necessary location for such measurements to ensure continued compliance to dimensions originally engineered to meet appropriate ASME B16.34 pressure class code(s). “They may sandblast a valve and repaint it, but they probably don’t fully know whether the body wall still meets Class 600. Yet they typically leave the original OEM nameplate on or duplicate its information and sell it as a Class 600,” Baker says.
However, is it really a code 600? The original ASME design code for a control valve requires two conditions be met: having appropriate wall thickness to handle all applicable stresses and hydroing, says Baker, but “the rebuilder may only hydro it without measuring and verifying that the necessary wall thicknesses continue to be met for the pressure class.”
Problems can extend beyond the valve itself as well. For example, electronic or electrical instruments such as actuators or position indicators originally approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) (FM Approvals or CSA), may be improperly repaired. “If a product was approved by FM Approvals and is then rebuilt, that product is no longer FM approved unless the manufacturer of that product did the repair,” says Steven Zenofsky, assistant vice president and manager, public relations at FM Global. But end users and repair or remanufacture shops may not know that reality. Baker cites an example in which a control valve remanufacturing shop exactly duplicated an OEM nameplate, added its own company name, and then also copied the FM Approval certification mark and all approval certification listings such as Class I, Div 1, Group B, C, D, etc. “It’s my understanding that FM Approvals quickly put a stop to that,” he says.
HOW TO SPOT PROBLEMS
Many counterfeit valves can be found by visual inspection, but the person doing the inspection must know what to seek. Marc Tannenbaum, project manager, plant support engineering, EPRI, says that receipt inspectors should be trained to look for telltale signs. “One of the things we’ve seen with valves is that where an original equipment manufacturer’s logo is usually cast into the valve body, what we’ll see on a counterfeit is that the logo might actually be welded to the valve body and then cleaned up with a grinder,” he notes. “So it appears at a quick glance that it was cast into the valve body, but someone with a trained eye can quickly tell something is wrong.”
Sometimes even the simplest visual check can spot a fake: In the case of the counterfeit Crane valves discovered by ARCO, the NRC report mentioned that “[d]uring … testing, ARCO found newspapers printed with Chinese characters in the valves,” which turned out to Taiwanese. On the other hand, “…in some instances, the valves are carefully made to the point that the counterfeit valves could not be distinguished from legitimate valves,” Cheta points out.
Companies that find a counterfeit valve should notify both the law enforcement authorities and the manufacturer that holds the trademark. As far as law enforcement, “The FBI and the Interpol have been very active in hunting and prosecuting counterfeiters,” Cheta says. The manufacturers need to be notified “so they can take the appropriate actions,” he says. Finally, he adds, a procedure for disposition of counterfeit valves should be put in place so those fakes do not make it back into the supply chain.
Probably the best advice to a user for avoiding counterfeit valves is simply: know the supplier. As Tannenbaum puts it, “We need to know who our suppliers are, and as we find different ways that counterfeits can enter our supply chain, identify them [the different channels through which they come into the system] and communicate with our suppliers. For example we might develop standard contract language that would require suppliers to take measures to prevent introduction of counterfeit or substandard items.”
Baker adds that: “If you’re buying equipment, electrical or electropneumatic for hazardous locations, then you should demand the documentation that the supplier’s facilities are being audited and approved by the NRTL.” You have to make sure that supplier “has maintained that equipment to what the original certification requirements were,” he explains.
For pressure testing, remember that a hydro test is only one of the two tests required to ensure a used valve continues to meet the ASME 16.34 code, adds Baker. Unfortunately, he adds, “ASME 16.34 was written to cover the design of new control valves, with no code covering used control valves.
“But the logical safety conclusion is that for a given pressure class, a used valve should meet the same minimum wall thickness in critical stress areas as a new valve to meet the code. To date, there is an industry standard written for wall thickness requirements for some generic types of used on/off valves, but none for used control valves due to the complexity and OEM uniqueness of design,” he says.
It’s also a good idea to re-check suppliers periodically, adds Tannenbaum, and make sure they audit sub-tier suppliers. For example, a supplier might receive a large order for which they must go to a new source for the required quantity of raw materials. It’s important to know how that new source would be chosen.
“The lowest priced item may not be of the same quality, so determine if more than price is considered when they evaluate their bids,” he says. Also, find out if suppliers take precautions when using new sources.
“For example, when they change fastener suppliers, do they have controls in place to make sure they step up the level of inspection on the fasteners they’re getting from the new supplier for a while?” Tannenbaum asks.
Velan agrees, and explains that manufacturers must have strong control on their supply sources through quality inspections, using a smaller number of suppliers, but having as much contact with those suppliers as possible. “We have inspectors that travel to our different suppliers; we have auditing procedures; and we try and keep as tight tabs as we can on the companies,” he adds.
A FINAL WORD
As with many aspects of business, it’s sometimes best to be suspicious if a price quote seems unusually low. The oft-used adage applied to many of life’s aspects applies to the valve business as well. In other words: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.?
Immediate actions – implement robust procurement controls:
- Use approved distribution networks.
- Safeguard design information, prevent it from becoming available to counterfeiters.
- Question suppliers’ return policies and design control measures—how do they control parts and subassemblies purchased from sub-tier suppliers?
- Incorporate terms and conditions that address expectations (and consequences) relative to counterfeit, fraudulent and substandard items.
- Open lines of communication with suppliers, ask them to provide instructions for how to recognize and avoid any counterfeits if they know of instances where the items you purchase have been counterfeited.
- Trust by verify—perform diligent inspection in receiving items procured, particularly when they are provided by a new supplier or must be procured outside of approved distribution networks.
- Pursue incidents when they are identified; notify the authentic OEM; prosecute if possible.
Possible future actions:
- Identify existing sources of information
- Develop a database or means to effectively collect and share industry information
- Use educational tools and training for staff
Tannenbaum also recommends the 1990 EPRI document Guidelines for the Procurement and Receipt of Items for Nuclear Power Plants (NCIG-15), available at www.mydocs.epri.com/docs/public/NP-6629.pdf. “Appendix C of this document,” he says, “addresses identification of substandard and fraudulent items and contains specific guidance on valves. Subsequently, nuclear licenses have been applying this guidance, and it has been an effective barrier against counterfeits entering the inventories of commercial nuclear generation facilities.”
DOE HSS guidelines for users
In 2007 the Department of Energy’s Health, Safety and Security Office of Corporate Safety Analysis issued Rev 6 of Suspect/ Counterfeit Items Awareness Training, available at www.hss.energy.gov/CSA/CSP/sci/SCIAwarenessTrainingManual062007.pdf. Appendix B of that document lists indications that render items suspect. They include:
Piping and Piping Components (including Mechanical and Metal Products)
A. General Indications
- Used component appearance
- Unusual or inadequate packaging
- Foreign newspapers used as packaging
- Scratches on component outer surface
- Evidence of tampering
- Components with no markings
- Pitting or corrosion
- External weld or heat indications
- Questionable or meaningless numbers
- Typed labels
- Evidence of hand-made parts
- Painted stainless steel
- Ferrous metals that are clean and bright
- Excess wire brushing or painting
- Ground off casting marks with stamped marks in the vicinity
- Ground off logo mark
- Signs of weld repairs
- Threads showing evidence of wear or dressing
- Inconsistency between labels
- Old or worn nameplates
- Nameplates that look newer than the component
- Missing manufacturer’s standard markings and logos
- Overlapping stamps
- Different colors of the same part
- Traces of Prussian Blue
- No specification number
- No size designation
- Missing pressure class rating
- Other missing designations per the specification
- Evidence of re-stamping
- Deficient welds on chemical/nuclear shipping casks
- Thinner than expected
- Parts identified as “China” only, or “Korea,” “Mexico,” “Thailand,” “India”
- Excess certification logos (i.e. “UL,” “FM,” “CGA,” “AGA”) all on one valve body – not normal, usually will have one or two logos plus ANSI or ASME
B. General Valve Indications:
- Wrench marks on valve packing glands, nuts, and bolts
- Nameplates attached with screws rather than rivets
- Poor fit between assembled valve parts
- Dirty internals
- Scratched or marred fasteners or packing glands
- Gate valve: gate off-center when viewed through open end
- Fresh sand-blasted appearance of valve bodies, eyebolts, fittings, stems
- Loose or missing fasteners
- Different types of hand wheels on valves of the same manufacturer
- Some parts (e.g., hand wheels) look newer than rest of the valve
- Improper materials (e.g., bronze nut on a stainless stem)
- Post-manufacturing alteration to identification/rating markings
- Indication of previous joint welding
- Excessive standards markings (e.g. UL, FM, CGA, AGA) (check manufacturer literature for standards they use)
- Valves will not open or close, even when wrench applied.
- Substandard valves mixed in with standard valves (substitution)