I'm running late for a meeting in London. Anyone who knows me will tell you that this is not an abnormal state of affairs. I'm on the train heading down to 'the smoke', trying studiously to ignore other passengers around me and the mundane, monotone safety announcements which seem to appear from the ether with irritating regularity.
Gradually, an announcement that I am trying to tune out begins to intrude on my consciousness. "Errrr...I'm sorry to announce that due to an ....err error this train won't be stopping at Royston."
This makes me smile for three reasons: the first because I'm not getting off at Royston so this announcement doesn't really affect me; the second, because I'm running late and therefore one less stop might make me up some time; and the third because we had passed Royston five minutes before at over 100 kph.
I didn't give a second thought to the passengers who wanted to get off at Royston. In all honesty it's likely that there were no more than a handful, if any at all. Nor did I consider the passengers waiting patiently for a train that didn't stop, just like buses another would be along in 15 minutes. Rather darkly, what I actually thought was "What if the driver tried to stop and found out he was unable to?" Suddenly, my smile faded.
I know that in the UK, trains are generally well maintained and the likelihood of brakes failing is slim, but I also knew that the counterfeit car parts industry is worth over $16bn annually and is growing at around 10% per year. Since I still had a strong Internet connection and a while before the train reached the end of the line, even if it had no brakes, I started to investigate the likelihood that the train I was on was sporting a 'hooky set of anchors'.
Apparently, the range of counterfeit railway parts extends from electronic components (such as integrated circuits that have been programmed to fail earlier than normal) through to mechanical components such as bearings (which keep the wheels going around) and brakes (which stop the wheels going around); a failure in either spells potential disaster. And the counterfeiters' strategies for fabricating expensive and mission critical mechanical components are enterprising, some might say ingenious. One such strategy is to add an extra 'secret' shift in a legitimate component manufacturer that has not been declared to the originating manufacturer (and IP holder). These secret shifts often use material from previous shifts, which has either been rejected as not fit for use, or is the excess waste material left over from the manufacturing process to build the counterfeit parts.
Since this sort of counterfeiting is high cost, and requires a certain amount of collusion from the legitimate component supplier, often the counterfeiter bypasses this route and goes back to the war time ethic of re-use, repair and recycle. For example, a counterfeiter will purchase low value, low grade electrical components and simply change the part number printed on them by pasting over the originals and printing over the top (known as black topping). Any accompanying paperwork is simply forged.
What can train operators and OEM vendors do to prevent poor quality counterfeit parts or refurbished obsolescent parts entering the market?
- Authorize - insist that your suppliers are obtaining parts from the sources you have approved.
- Audit - check that your suppliers are checking the ultimate source of the parts and that they are auditing quality and the paperwork thoroughly.
- Investigate - by undertaking inexpensive online investigations the extent and sources of even specialist parts being offered for sale or manufacture can rapidly be determined.
If, like me, you are a train commuter, you can still sleep soundly in your bed, safe in the knowledge that, in all likelihood, the train you ride to work in is free of counterfeits - apart from the counterfeit clothes, sports shoes, mp3 players, mobile phones, headphones, PCs, luggage, all the pirated movies and free music downloads of course!
Written by Andy Churley, Marketing Director, NetNames
28 September 2012