SKF, a supplier of bearing and seals in the Middle East recently discovered that illegal copies of its high-performance grease cans had been distributed, containing inferior lower-grade grease. This could not only have a detrimental effect on the company's sales and reputation but also create potentially dangerous problems for those who purchased the counterfeit grease.
Technologically advanced greases are essential for the lubrication of high-performance machinery and vehicles. SKF lubricants have special formulations and specific qualities for their intended purposes and many of them are valuable products that contribute to optimum efficiency.
"SKF is very thorough when it comes to recommending bearing grease and we take great care to ensure the correct grease is used for efficient and correct lubrication practices," explains Robert McConnachie of SKF's maintenance products division.
The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is a very important and valuable market for one of our types of grease in particular. It is used in the axles and wheel bearings of the big trucks that travel long distances in tough conditions across the desert."
"Late in 2004 and early in 2005 we started to see counterfeit cans appearing," continues McConnachie. "An almost exact copy had been made of our can. Almost – we did an analysis of the contents and found that it wasn't our grease inside.
We discovered our distributors had been approached by very clever counterfeiters. They started by offering samples – bona fide cans of our product – which were substituted with the counterfeit grease after the distributors had placed an order. It was not until later that they realised they were being supplied with fake grease.
The counterfeiters had devised a scam to sell low-grade, inferior grease, unsuitable for the stringent demands that would be placed upon it," explains McConnachie. "Initially, it is difficult to identify a problem with a lubricant, it is not until early failures occur that a problem becomes apparent."
"Of course, this is also very hazardous," admits McConnachie. "If a big truck had a wheel bearing seize, it would be extremely dangerous. This is particularly important in the Middle East, truck operators do not want to break down half-way across the desert.
The difficulty we faced was the attractiveness of the cheap grease to consumers. The price difference was so great. They were offering their counterfeit cans for a significantly lower price than SKF. That created us a big problem in the market.
That's when we thought about including something on the packaging that would be very difficult to counterfeit. The counterfeiters had made a really good job with the can – they made a couple of spelling errors in foreign languages and even copied one misspelling from our genuine can. Even for us it was very difficult to spot the difference between the fake can and the real can. It was very high quality."
The solution to the counterfeiting problem was discovered in a product presentation, watched by Omer De Belie, sales development manager of Crown Speciality Packaging, Antwerp, a company that has been involved in supplying cans to SKF for over 20 years.
"Until this point we had considered various potential options including embossing on the bottom of the can or putting special texts on the lid, but these were not considered to be effective enough," explains De Belie. "We even considered alternative, more complex designs of cans to put a stop to the forgers."
He goes on to explain, "Last year I was at the Corus presentation explaining Protact® Holographic products and applications including holographic material.
When I heard this was intended for tinplate and there would be no-one else besides Corus who would be able to produce this material in the near future, I took up the idea with SKF."
A BRANDED HOLOGRAM
Robert McConnachie explains, "Our supplier suggested that Corus place a hologram on the base of our grease cans, so we worked with Crown and Corus to create a hologram design with our own SKF company logo on it.
When we realised it would be very difficult for a counterfeiter to create the same hologram security, the concept became even more attractive. There aren't that many companies around the world who can do what Corus has done by putting this hologram on the bottom of the can. There was of course a cost to us – the can is more expensive but it was well worth the additional cost to protect our sales and reputation.
Virtually overnight it killed the sales of the counterfeit grease," says McConnachie. "We embarked on a marketing campaign saying if the hologram wasn't on the bottom of the can, then it wasn't SKF grease. And that's when the problem began for the counterfeiters.
In our product range this is the only instance of counterfeiting that we have experienced, and it's a high-volume product. Using Protact Holographic has certainly worked this time around and if something happened again in the future then I'm sure we'd look at it again".
In the production of Protact Holographic cans for SKF, Corus worked closely with CFC International, a worldwide speciality coated-film company that designs, manufactures and markets chemically complex, multi-layer, transferable coatings, laminates and sophisticated holographic technologies.
These innovative coatings and holographic products are not only decorative in nature, but also provide invisible, value-added functionality such as industry-leading abrasion and chemical resistance, as well as offering new levels of product identification.
Protact Holographic is a combination of high-quality PET film that is heat sealed to an ECCS substrate. The film layer carries a technically advanced micro-embossed aluminised resin that captures the holographic images. It is possible to create over 50 standard patterns, plus technical design support is available to help create a personalised pattern, incorporating text, logos, pictures and short animations.
Anti-counterfitting measures such as these will continue to protect the interests of producers and also ensure the safety of consumers.