Counterfeit products are a real problem in many industries. Imagine buying a high-value collectable, only to find out it’s a clever counterfeit or believing you have a genuine brand-name product when really all you have is an imitation.
The steel industry is no different: More than half of all steel industry personnel have come across counterfeit steel at some point. There are very real counterfeiting concerns that suppliers and buyers alike have to deal with. And, in the case of impure or below-grade steel, there may even be very serious legal consequences affiliated with counterfeit material.
What is counterfeit steel?
Counterfeit steel is classified in two distinct ways. First, it’s steel being sold under a reputable brand name, but has not actually been produced by that brand. For example, you may buy 10 tons of Company ABC steel, only to receive 7 tons of ABC steel and 3 tons of XYZ steel—all being sold under the guise of Company ABC’s name.
Second, is the outright fraudulent representation of steel. This often happens when reclaimed steel is sold as new or when grades are falsified by manufacturers in order to demand a higher price. In this situation, Material Test Certificates (MTCs) are often falsified.
Why is counterfeiting so widespread?
Counterfeiting is abundant, largely because it’s so hard to catch at the point of occurrence. Using the example from above, you can’t test every single piece of steel you buy, so you have no real way of telling if it’s from ABC or XYZ company. Documentation can be easily falsified and buyers are none-the-wiser unless they have in-house testing and take the time to perform extensive quality control.
Another reason counterfeiting is so rampant is because competition is fierce. Countries like the United States, China, Canada and others are all vying for international business with each other, which means trying to compete on both price and quality. Many times, producers will falsify quality in order to compromise on price, so as to remain competitive on a larger stage.
What can you do to avoid counterfeit steel?
The counterfeit steel conundrum may sound hard to avoid, but there are things buyers can do to make sure they’re steering clear of knockoff materials:
- Buy only from reputable suppliers who stand by their products and provide quality guarantees.
- When in doubt, ask for traceable MTCs and chemical testing analysis documents that prove the legitimacy of the product you’re buying.
- Conduct a Positive Material Identification (PMI) to determine the validity of the materials you’re purchasing.
- Be aware of products and industries where counterfeiting is more prevalent, including construction-grade steel, fasteners, valves, electrical equipment and more.
Counterfeiting may be hard to detect, but it’s not impossible. The biggest thing you can do is work with a supplier that has a proven track record of excellence and who is thoroughly vetted within their industry.
Purchasing authentic steel products and successfully avoiding counterfeit materials will save you a tremendous amount of grief in the long run, resulting in products that pass your specification, as well as any quality checks they may be subject to within your industry.