AEMT - Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades

17 December 2018
Exposing Counterfeit Bearings with NTN
Globally, product counterfeiting is on the increase; the EU estimates that fake goods costs the UK economy £30m and 14,800 jobs. Not just in consumer goods such as music, film, home electronics and designer clothing, but also in industrial, safety critical products such as bearings.
Packaging which could be used by Counterfeit bearing producers
Packaging which could be used by Counterfeit bearing producers

In China, there has even been an explosion for shanzhai (fake) products, fuelling the problem. In some markets, counterfeiters’ have even been known to produce a product the brand they are copying doesn’t even make. A good example of this is the iPad mini, which counterfeiters produced a year before Apple even had.

What may be considered by some as an activity that “happens elsewhere”, is a growing problem in Europe as global trade has become easier, and shipping costs from all over the world have become more acceptable.

Mark James from PwC's anti-counterfeiting team notes, "Ultimately, companies are seeing their brand, reputation and revenues stolen".

As bearings are widely used in many fields, they are a prime target for counterfeiters, and by copying the trademark of a leading manufacturer, they can greatly raise the perceived value of their product and therefore their selling price.

As the internet has flourished, so have the opportunities (and risks) for purchasers to buy bearings from non-authorised sources.

Risky business

Counterfeiting presents significant risks to the user. Safety is the number one reason for buying a genuine bearing. While counterfeiters are good ‘copy-cat’ manufactures’, their ability to reproduce the advanced metal technologies, lubrication and finishes in genuine bearings is minimal. A faulty bearing can have devastating consequences. In a pumping station, severe flooding could cost people’s lives and ruin ecosystems; or in the utilities sector, outages can create hazardous environments and cost the economy. In transport, a faulty bearing can cause havoc on the rail network, motorways, or at its worst, bring down a passenger plane from the sky. 

Ensuring the bearing is not a fake provides the user with 3 key assurances:

Safety: as we’ve seen, counterfeit bearings jeopardize safety, and therefore the life of people and products. 

Availability: counterfeit bearings can cause breakdowns resulting in a loss of production and profitability.

Reliability: counterfeit bearings do not have the expected quality level and are likely to fail, degrade your equipment and shorten its service life. They will be repaired or replaced more frequently and therefore significantly increase the costs, expenses, and workload associated with them.

In turn, the financial impact fakes have on premium bearing manufacturers means investments dedicated to innovation are otherwise spent on counter measures to the counterfeiters. In addition, counterfeiters sell old technology, meaning lower efficiencies and reliability, in turn tarnishing the reputation of the manufacturer’s brand.

The risk to the purchaser of the counterfeit product, also comes with its own array of penalties. As a reliable service centre, quality will be in the heart of every machine leaving the workshop. When a fake bearing is used, the company’s reputation can be tarnished, and accused of being ‘cheap’ for using sub-quality products, in the worst case, it could lead to claims for damages or injuries caused by failure. So, learning to spot a counterfeit bearing is beneficial many times over. 

Spotting a fake

In July 2018 NTN, an associate member of the AEMT, received a bearing from a member, suspicious of its authenticity. As a standard procedure, the bearing should be sent directly to NTN, 11 Wellington Cres, Fradley Park, Lichfield WS13 8RZ. Once received, the bearing was inspected by the team and 4 key tell-tale signs of a counterfeit were spotted:
  1. Irregular packaging also showed a copy of an outdated NTN logo.
  2. Identity markings etched on to the bearing was not in keeping with NTN method.
  3. Raceways were not super finished, meaning the bearing would give a poor performance and service life.
  4. Cage retainer was poorly finished.
3 tips to identify a genuine product:
  1. Always buy through authorized sources who purchase the product directly from the manufacturer.
  2. Request an invoice with all the legal information.  This will aid traceability in the event of a dispute.
  3. Beware of those "too good to be true" prices that are below market value and have unusually high availability. There has been an increase in more sophisticated pricing just below market value, but with a large enough margin to raise suspicion.
If in doubt contact Michael Wooldridge, Head of Industrial Aftermarket, on +44 (0)7795 037883 or email for help and advice.

Usually the bearing is destroyed, however this one was kept as an example for demonstration purposes. At an AEMT meeting in September, members were presented with both a fake and a genuine bearing and asked to tell the difference. It wasn’t easy! Some got it right, but others mistook the fake for the genuine article. As handlers of bearings every day, one might assume it would be easy for a fake to spotted by the trained eye of an AEMT service centre employee. Clearly, though, the copies are so good that they  can easily fool the most experienced among us! 

As an active member of the World Bearings Association (WBA) NTN are committed to combating counterfeiters. Established in 2006, the WBA and its participating companies assist local law enforcement with information and identification of counterfeits, to help find and prosecute counterfeiters. Together they promote the common, lawful interests of the world bearing industry, and have committed themselves to a series of actions:

  • To raising awareness among industrial manufacturers, distributors, and professional associations of the risks. 
  • Training of customs staff, distributors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), to identify counterfeit bearings. 
  • Constant innovation to develop improved products that are not easily counterfeit. 
  • Issuing accreditations to endorse businesses as reliable suppliers to the market. 
  • Using sophisticated identification markings to supress counterfeiting.
In 2017, NTN introduced a new anti-counterfeit label and app using three ways for a customer to authenticate an NTN bearing:

  1. White micro-characters repeating the name “NTN” can be seen on the label’s blue band with a magnifying glass. On authentic NTN bearings, these characters should appear sharply outlined and distinct.
  2. Blue micro-characters, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, are randomly placed among the blue circles on the section of the label with the white background. On genuine NTN products, these letters are sharply outlined and distinct.
  3. A hologram, with diagonally-placed strips containing the letters “NTN” running continuously along the strips, appears on one edge of the label. On genuine NTN products, these letters change from black to white, and vice versa, when the label is tilted ninety degrees.
Additionally, NTN has developed the “AuthentiBear” app that assists purchasers to determine, by scanning a QR code, if bearings are genuine NTN bearings.  The app may be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.


In this story: NTN Bearings UK Ltd
11 Wellington Crescent, Fradley Park, Lichfield, WS13 8RZ, UK
01543 445000
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