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Identify Imitations To Avoid Counterfeit Parts
Counterfeit parts can look genuine, but often small differences in a package or in labeling will show them not to be authentic.
By Kenneth Bradley, Vice-President of Supply Chain — Allied Electronics
Counterfeit merchandise is a growing, global problem across almost all industries. The broad range of counterfeit parts and products indicates that counterfeiters are increasingly targeting markets for luxury items and consumer goods. Counterfeiting costs Americans billions of dollars a year and has harmful effects throughout the economy. Fake products can expose consumers to serious health and safety risks. Moreover, terrorist networks often use counterfeit sales to finance their operations.
As with other industries, counterfeiting has become a serious obstacle for manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of electronic components. How can consumers of electronic components protect themselves from the glut of imitation components flooding the market? The simplest answer is to not buy or use counterfeit components, but this requires the capability of identifying counterfeit components. Avoiding counterfeit components requires developing the capability to identify the imitations, and to only buy from authorized distributors and/or the manufacturers they represent.
According to industry standard SAE AS5553, a counterfeit part is a copy or substitute without legal right or authority, or one whose material, performance, or characteristics are knowingly misrepresented by a supplier in the supply chain. Examples of counterfeit parts include electronic devices lacking the proper semiconductor die or wire bonds; parts that have been used, refurbished, or reclaimed and are represented as new; and parts with different packages or finishes than the genuine component. In addition, counterfeit parts are those that have not successfully completed the Original Component Manufacturer’s (OCM) full production and test flow but are represented as completed product; they might be parts sold as upscreened parts that have not successfully completed an upscreening process; or they might be parts sold with modified labels or markings intended to misrepresent the form, fit, function, or grade of the component.
Counterfeit components can originate from a number of different sources, including from the hundreds of thousands of computers that are disposed of daily in this country alone. The electronic waste is typically exported to China by way of Hong Kong, where recycling of chips and other electronic components is a multibillion-dollar-per-year industry. Recycling houses work to make these salvaged components look new again for resale to unknowing customers. A way to avoid counterfeit components is by learning how to spot them. Knowing what constitutes a real component can be helpful in identifying phony parts.
Inspection of documentation and packaging information can help uncover counterfeit parts. For example, lot and/or date codes on packaging may not match the lot and/or date codes on the parts. A manufacturer’s logo may be missing from the parts, or poorly drawn. The documentation may contain poor English or misspelled words. Bar codes on documentation may not match the printed part numbers. The package materials may also be inconsistent with descriptions provided on the product data sheets.
Performing a visual inspection can also help reveal counterfeit parts. For example, a counterfeit may suffer from poor-quality ink or laser marking, or the package may have scratches on the surface, or bent leads or inconsistent or incomplete plating on the package leads. The part may show uneven top and/or bottom coating or inconsistent texture or color between the coating on the top and bottom sides. Carefully examining a part can expose the tell-tale signs of a counterfeit component.
Of course, the most important protection against counterfeit parts is to buy only from authorized component sources. As a product moves down the supply chain, away from its manufacturer, traceability of the product’s origin becomes more difficult to establish. Buying from a manufacturer ensures that the product is genuine. But manufacturers often do not sell directly to consumers, selling them instead through distribution channels.
Authorized distributors have been formally authorized to sell products from specific manufacturers with which they have a distribution agreement. When buying from an authorized distributor, such as Allied Electronics, a customer can be confident that the distributor and manufacturer of the part are working closely to provide a genuine part. But the term “authorized” can have different meanings to different people. For those who may be unsure if a distributor is truly authorized for a particular manufacturer and its part, numerous steps can be taken:
Contact a supplier for proof, requesting a manufacturer’s certificate of compliance. Any supplier committed to combating counterfeit products will have a counterfeit mitigation policy in place and any hesitation to provide this policy would send up a red flag.
Check with the manufacturer for validation of the distributor. In many cases, a list of authorized suppliers can be found directly on a manufacturer’s website.
Visit the ECIA Authorized Website (www.eciaauthorized.com) for a comprehensive list of authorized distributors serious about keeping the integrity of their supply chain and selling only authentic parts.
The pressure to deliver parts on time and within budget can be tremendous. In many industries and applications, demand for obsolete parts can further add to manufacturing pressures. Some handy tips can help make sound decisions when procuring electronic components. An important practice is to negotiate prices. Pricing should never become enough of an issue to prevent working with an authorized and trusted components distributor. If pricing is a concern, then it is time to contact an authorized components distributor on how it will be possible to work with them for the authentic version of a required component at a competitive price.
Differences in date codes can indicate a counterfeit part.
Another useful tip is to purchase required parts from an existing line card. A customer may at times ask an authorized distributor to go outside their line card for various reasons, but such action can increase the risk of dealing with counterfeit components. If an authorized distributor must go outside their usual line card for a specific component, steps should be taken to ensure that the additional source supplying the needed component is authorized or is the actual manufacturer of the component.
Know Your Supplier
A third tip is to take additional precautions when authorized components suppliers are not available. If obsolete components are needed for an existing application, an authorized supplier simply may not be available. In such a case, having some familiarity with a supplier for the obsolete component can improve the chances of avoiding a counterfeit component. The supplier should be willing to supply a copy of their counterfeit mitigation policy and information about how the component has been verified as authentic. The supplier should be willing to provide documentation regarding the component’s origin, and allow full inspection of the product upon receipt.
Labels for parts can also be counterfeited, which may be revealed by inconsistent coding schemes.
In many applications, counterfeit parts can introduce issues of reliability and unwanted risk, in addition to compromising the performance of a final product. Knowing how to identify counterfeit parts is one way to eliminate them from the supply chain. Buying components only from authorized sources is another way. Manufacturers, distributors, and customers who are members of the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA, www.eciaauthorized.com) are quite serious about eliminating counterfeit components and maintaining the integrity of the supply chain, for the good of this nation and for the good of the world.
Contact: Allied Electronics, Inc., 7151 Jack Newell Blvd. South, Fort Worth, TX 76118
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