Anixter suing cable manufacturer over substandard product

Distributor recalled all the manufacturer's product and now seeks more than $1 million in damages.

Commodity Cables Inc. has been accused in federal court of selling millions of feet of substandard and/or counterfeit communications cable to at least one unsuspecting United States company. The lawsuit alleges that Commodity Cables sold offshore-manufactured cable that fails to meet applicable fire- and flame-resistance standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), even though some of the cables were marked as UL-certified or ETL-verified. According to the lawsuit, Commodity Cables has refused to cooperate in addressing the problem. The plaintiff in the case, Anixter Inc., has informed Cabling Installation & Maintenance that a U.S. government agency launched an investigation into the matter.

The lawsuit was filed in April in the U.S. District Court in Chicago by Anixter, the Glenview, IL-based supplier of communications and security products including electrical and communications cable. Anixter is seeking more than $1 million in damages, as well as punitive damages for false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract and deceptive trade practices. Randy Mortensen, vice president of marketing for enterprise cabling solutions at Anixter said, "We believe we are doing our customers and the industry a valuable service by taking a stand against those who threaten the integrity of the supply chain by selling non-compliant product.

"It's an unfortunate fact of life that we have to guard ourselves and our customers from substandard or counterfeit offshore product, but that is the world we live in today," Mortensen continued. He added that, among other measures taken, Anixter has intensified its new vendor setup protocols, established a definitive short list of recognized communications manufacturers it will buy from, and redoubled its efforts to educate customers on the risks involved in buying products of questionable origin and quality.

Trouble between Anixter and Commodity Cables dates back to last year, when Anixter says it inspected the manufacturer's cable in inventory and discovered numerous boxes labeled with what appeared to be fraudulent UL marks and other safety certifications. Out of concern, the distributor sent cable samples to UL for burn testing and as a precautionary measure, implemented a vendor lockout against Commodity Cables to ensure it did not buy or sell any more of the manufacturer's product. Mortensen said the samples sent to UL failed applicable fire-resistance standards.

On December 20, 2010, Anixter communicated to all its customers who had purchased Commodity Cables product from the distributor that it was issuing a broad recall of the brand. Since then, Anixter says it has worked with many customers to remove and replace Commodity Cables' product with compliant cable.

"We are an industry leader, and if there is a doubt about standards compliance of the cable we purchased from Commodity Cables, we are going to err on the side of caution," Mortensen said. While Anixter has taken the steps described earlier, Mortensen noted that he has been told Commodity Cables product has been supplied to other distribution channels as well. "It is our recommendation that purchasers should proceed cautiously," he said.

We will follow this story and report on any other suits involving these, or other, manufacturers or distributors if they arise.

As we have reported over the past several months, many substandard or counterfeit cables are produced with low-cost and low-performing materials such as insulation, filler, sheathing or even conductors. Counterfeiters and substandard-product producers are able to undercut pricing, sometimes significantly, compared to cables that include the materials needed to meet both flame/smoke-resistance and electrical-performance specifications.

See story: Counterfeit cable exposed, from February 2011.

David Kiddoo is global business manager with AlphaGary Corporation, which supplies materials for wire and cable, including communications cables. He commented, "Each installer of communications cable should take extra precaution to verify the transmission and the vital fire-safety performance of the cables and materials that they use in each installation project.

"By using cable that has protected markings, such as the holographic labels now required by Underwriters Laboratories, installers will minimize the significant risks that are borne by those who choose to cut corners and install non-compliant cable," Kiddoo continued. "The noble efforts of the Communications Cable and Connectivity Association [CCCA] and Anixter to expose importers of cheap, noncompliant cable, as well as the significant global resources that UL have put into field surveillance and routine testing of commercial materials and cables to protect the integrity of their UL mark, and to protect the brand integrity to those that use the UL mark, should be commended and supported by the entire supply chain. with these actions, Anixter and UL are working hard to verify the performance value and the fire-safety impact of communications cable for their customers."

AlphaGary and Anixter are members of CCCA. In August 2010 the association issued a stinging rebuke against the growing epidemic of deficient offshore cable, which you can read here.

Mortensen commented that Anixter's experience with substandard cables emphasizes the need to educate customers about the risks involved with buying low-cost offshore products. He added, "Even though a low price may look attractive initially, products of dubious origin can introduce significant risk due to quality issues and noncompliance with safety and performance standards. When it comes to cable performance and safety, the manufacturing and quality standards adhered to by brand-name companies should matter enormously to buyers and specifiers of structured cabling."

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