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Copycat contactors `could be killers`
Published:  01 October, 2002

Copycat contactors `could be killers`

Gambica, the trade body representing UK suppliers of control and automation equipment, is warning that potentially lethal copies of branded products such as contactors, overload relays, circuit-breakers and pushbuttons, are on sale in the UK. Although Gambica is not aware of deaths resulting from these imitation products, it is warning purchasers that these items - often sold for much less than the genuine articles - could pose a risk and might not last as long as the real items.

Gambica says that there have been several instances of inferior products failing prematurely. In one case, the star contactor of a starter stuck on and the overload relay failed to operate, blowing a building`s main fuse. In another, a contactor`s auxiliary contact welded, causing a machine malfunction that could have been dangerous.

In both cases, says Gambica, the end-user believed that the contactors were genuine, but on closer inspection, they were found to be copies made in the Far East. The importer claimed that the products met the relevant IEC standard (IEC 60947-4-1) and had been approved by a European notified body. Neither claim was true, and the relevant authorities are investigating the events.

Gambica says that the number of inferior electrical products entering the UK is growing. They usually originate from the Far East or Middle East, but are sometimes made in Europe. In the case of contactors, sales of illicit products are now thought to be worth £5-8m, representing around 3-4% of the UK contactor market.

According to Gambica, any goods offered at an unusually low price, or through an unusual distribution channel, should be suspect. "While it may be tempting to try and save money by using low-cost electrical components, the potentially serious consequences of doing so makes it a false economy," the trade body says.

"Circuit-breakers normally cost £7-10," says Peter Still, standards manager at Schneider Electric, who is involved in the Gambica campaign. "If you see one for £1.50, then there`s something uncertain about it."

Gambica adds that genuine suppliers will be able to provide documentation, usually in the form of a Manufacturer`s Declaration of Conformity or a copy of the EC Declaration of Conformity, to confirm that the goods comply with the relevant requirements.

Gambica stresses that it has "no objection to fair competition". Its campaign has been endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive.

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