Article: Dangers Posed by Non-OEM Parts

Bob Boyle, Emerson’s Vice President of the Fisher Parts Business Unit, recently published an article in the June 2022 issue of Hydrocarbon Processing. It is titled “Business Trends: Non-OEM parts—Buyer beware” and it describes how non-OEM parts are posing an escalating risk to the industrial sector, yet becoming increasingly difficult to detect. A summary of the article follows.

The world is awash in fake goods. Knock-off Rolex watches, faux name brand jeans, and counterfeit athletic shoes litter the market. What is the harm? They look real and certainly cost a lot less.

What about fake air-bags on your car, or perhaps counterfeit brake pads? Is it ok for airlines to use knock off parts for their repairs? Or consider even more frightening scenarios posed by the author:

Imagine non-OEM valve body components in 1500# service, as isolation valves for natural gas service, and even in a nuclear power plant. Each of these situations has the potential to create catastrophic damage.

Unfortunately, all the scenarios mentioned above have happened. Twenty percent of car accidents result from substandard auto parts in some markets, and in northern Europe an airliner crashed due to non-OEM engine bolts. The problem continues to escalate as non-OEM valve and valve components invade every industrial sector.

The struggle is real
Spotting fake parts used to be easy. The spelling was wrong, the equipment was poorly packaged, the part looked decidedly sub-standard, and the price was too good to be true. Those tell-tale signs are no longer common, and the fakes are getting much more difficult to identify (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The non-OEM gas valve on the left will not close properly. Other than some markings and a few very minor dimensional variations, the part looks very similar to the authentic valve on the right. (Reprinted from Department of Energy’s Counterfeit Training Manual.)

Non-OEM parts are now shipped in authentic packaging with accurate equipment labels, and they are priced at reasonable but attractive prices. Some plants pay nearly full price for a non-OEM part, never realizing it is not genuine

What is the difference?
Non-OEM valve parts can look identical to their OEM counterparts with the color, dimensions, and labeling appearing to be exactly the same. Some are openly marketed as a “direct replacement” for the original component, while others claim to actually be an OEM part. What is the difference between an OEM and a non-OEM part?

A parts replicator typically starts with an OEM part, which is often used, measures its dimensions, and uses a positive material identification (PMI) gun to identify the alloy of construction. Based on those measurements, they create the part, paint it the proper color, affix an official label, and often package and market it as the real thing.

The part may look identical but there are significant differences. The dimensions usually fall outside the allowable tolerances (Figure 2) and the fabricator has no way to determine subtle, but often critical, material differences like surface finish, hardening techniques, or specific coatings.

Figure 2: The OEM part (left) is fabricated to a design dimension and falls within an allowable tolerance band. The non-OEM part (right) is based on a single dimension taken from a used part. The resulting dimensions will often fall outside the allowable OEM tolerance band.

Figure 3 shows a wide variety of additional areas where a non-OEM part tends to fall short. Ultimately the knock off component either fails outright when placed into service, or it wears quickly, requiring replacement well before its expected end of life.

Figure 3: A PMI gun reading can indicate the specific material of construction, but it cannot determine the host of other critical material specifications, post treatment, and testing a typical valve part requires.

Bob also describes some other failings of the counterfeit components:

The dimensions and material of construction obviously have significant impact on the performance and service life of a valve component. However, another significant benefit is associated with OEM parts: the knowledge and expertise of the manufacturer itself.

Over a part’s life cycle, it is constantly evaluated by the vendor, and often modified to improve its performance. When a replacement is purchased, the user is taking advantage of that refinement and obtaining a replacement that typically performs even better. The OEM also has expertise to recognize when process conditions have changed, and another component might be a better option. Meanwhile the non-OEM supplier simply provides the same substandard component, doomed to fail again and again.

Non-OEM part horror stories
A massive fire in India’s Hazira gas plant forced the immediate shutdown of the plant’s operations, blocked production from several gas fields, and curtailed 40% of India’s gas supply. The cause was traced to a set of non-OEM gaskets and O-rings installed in a gas meter during refurbishment. When the meter was returned to service, the seals failed and sparked the blaze.

In another incident, an end user sent a control valve to an unauthorized repair facility for refurbishment. The valve was repaired and returned to site and placed into service (Figure 4). Upon startup, the valve started leaking and forced the plant to shut down again.

Figure 5: An unauthorized valve repair shop decided to replace the actuator shaft assembly with a reverse engineered version (right picture). The non-OEM part dimensions were incorrect and kept the valve from fully closing.

An investigation determined the repair shop had replaced the actuator shaft assembly with a non-OEM part which was not dimensionally correct. The valve could not close, so the plant ultimately incurred an additional 24 hours of very costly unexpected downtime, a result of trying to save a few dollars on a $200 part.

The case studies presented here are just a small sample of the thousands of non-OEM valve components encountered daily in industrial plants and facilities worldwide. Valve bodies have failed, internal seal components have quickly deteriorated, and control valves and bodies have leaked —all due to the use of non-OEM parts.

Bob concludes his article with this note of caution:

A repair savings of a few hundred dollars can easily result in an unplanned loss and equipment damage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is that deal worth the risk? Certainly not when the results can include extended downtime, associated economic loss, equipment damage, environmental incidents, injury to personnel, civil lawsuits, increased insurance rates, and long-lasting damage to a company’s brand and reputation.

All figures courtesy of Emerson, except Figure 1 which was reprinted from the Department of Energy’s Suspect/Counterfeit Items Awareness Training Manual.

About the Author

Bob Boyle is Vice President of the Fisher Parts Business Unit at Emerson. Prior to joining Emerson, he spent 20 years with Deere & Company in a variety of roles related to aftermarket, precision agriculture, business strategy, and M&A. Boyle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management from the University of Maryland, and an MBA and a Master’s in Finance from Loyola University Maryland.

1 Reply

  • Great article! Thanks.

    Craig Jeane | Business Mgr., Severe Svc
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