Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Publication Date: 09/1/2009
ARCHIVE >  September 2009 Issue >  Special Features: PCB and Assembly > 

Detecting & Avoiding Counterfeits
Incoming testing and visual microscopic inspection are often a starting point for finding counterfeit components.

While the majority of counterfeit cases reported are associated with independent distributors, it's important to not label them as the cause, but rather to look to them for solutions. Understanding their processes and the measures they take can help any organization address issues associated with counterfeit and sub-standard product. Knowing where the product originates, what to look for, and the advanced screening processes that should be applied will help your organization properly select trustworthy suppliers and mitigate risk.

Electronic manufacturers continuously face issues of part obsolescence and short supply, forcing them to source product outside their normal supply chain. Independent distributors can be valuable partners to help fill this need. However, it is at this point that component counterfeiters seize the opportunity to supply illegal and sub-standard product. Counterfeiters take advantage of the inability to police millions of different components. RoHS requirements and the difficulties associated with Pb vs. Pb-free create additional avenues for counterfeiters to exploit. As we see a shift from a buyer's to a seller's market, shortages will occur, creating even more opportunities for the counterfeiters. There is no single method, test or device that can quickly and easily determine if a component is counterfeit or re-marked. There are efforts being made to create a low-cost authentication solution like Verayo's silicon "biometrics" technology which is a type of electronic DNA or fingerprint for Silicon Chips, called Physical Unclonable Functions (PUFs). It could be a decade or more before this type of technology trickles down and has an impact on counterfeit components.

Where There's Demand
Counterfeiters troll the industry searching for parts in high demand. Most of the industry-specific search engines provide a list of most popular or searched parts. Counterfeiters watch these lists, looking for cheap alternatives or use product that has been designated scrap as a result of recycling initiatives in the EU and North America. They match the physical attributes, clean up and/or remark the components to match the appearance of the specified product. Product is also making its way into the market as a result of outsourcing by the component manufacturer, creating opportunities for legitimate factories to do production overruns, illegally moving it to the gray market without the knowledge of the OEM.

What to Look for
There are a number of things you should look for and do to help limit your risk. Partnering with a few independents is a good start. As we mentioned earlier not all brokers are created equal. There are differences, so creating a list of qualifications for any independent supplier should be a priority. A good place to start is asking for their certifications, ISO9001:2000, AS9120, ANAB, ERAI, and ESD all demonstrate a commitment to quality. The supplier should also be open to site visits and be willing to extend terms. But before you go too far, have you looked at viable replacements that may be readily available?

OK, now that you're sourcing outside your normal supply chain, there are dozens of pitfalls. Most of them can be avoided by being diligent and by properly training your purchasing and inspection teams. There are some great opportunities in the market and a particular component may be significantly cheaper in one region than another, but if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Look closely at the labels, looking for misspellings, logos and date codes on obsolete parts. Is there a PB with a strike-through it on a leaded part or vice versa? Have the reels been tampered with? Do they appear to be from the factory, or has the label been changed? What about the components themselves? Are the physical attributes like lead-type, length, body height and width, lead pin indicator, lead finish all consistent with your expectations and the manufacturer's specifications? Not sure? Look into SiliconExpert Technologies (www.siliconexpert.com), a subscription based product for datasheets, PCNs, environmental material declarations, cross-references and other component details vital for part validation. What about the components themselves? Is there any grinding on the surface? What about scratches or residue where the leads meet the body? Are the fonts and logos consistent within the lot and other devices from the same manufacturer? Do the markings come off easily in a smear test? Were the tops painted or over-molded? Does the grain (direction) in the etching go in a consistent direction? Remember, no product category is immune to counterfeiting, and with each component comes a unique set of parameters, circumstances and testing that should be preformed.

Have a Plan
Now that you're buying from the open market, a documented counterfeit mitigation program should be put in place. This program should include vendor management, in-house testing and training of your purchasing, engineering and quality departments. If your company has testing equipment in house, you should consider using it as part of the incoming inspection process. Equipment like XRF Analyzers, program testers, and x-ray equipment all can play a significant role. Anything used for failure analysis or to detect defects should be considered. This will improve your ROI on capital equipment and it will also provide you with the documentation needed should an issue arise when a part fails quality control. For the majority of manufacturers, this is not an option. You'll need to properly select and partner with independent distributors that have the proper testing equipment, procedures and experience to prevent counterfeit products from reaching your production lines.
Visual inspection showed country of origin on the top did not match what as shown on the bottom. An acetone test removed an over-marked part number and revealed a laser etched part number. Random decapsulation of two parts revealed multiple dies were found, none which were the correct part number or manufacturer.

Most reputable distributors will offer an extended warranty and favorable terms. Historically 30 days has been standard, but counterfeiting and production schedules have now pushed this out to 60-90 days. Your PO should clearly state the terms. Whatever the terms or warranty, it is best to test product immediately, as this will make reverse-logistics and any RMA requests easier for you and your supplier. When selecting your suppliers, you should be asking what type of testing services they offer and be open to adding new suppliers that have the testing capabilities, experience and equipment meeting the criteria set forth in your "New Mitigation Strategy".

Many of the independents that are committed to quality have started a "component repository" that includes photos, datasheets and a sample size of known authentic product. This is determined by strict visual inspections, but also more advanced equipment. It usually starts with a test to check the permanency of the component markings and a high powered microscope which aids in the viewing of leads and surfaces, looking for inconsistencies. They also use a variety of program testers, multimeters, oscilloscopes, LCR meters, and solderability testers. Usually anything that passes through these tests must still pass a DECAP (decapsulization test) which is a destructive test usually done in a random sampling of an entire lot. Usually between 5 to 10 percent of a lot is tested. Depending on the results of other tests and the visual inspection, an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer may be used to validate the chemical composition of the components, checking for the presence of PB in a PB-free device. An ORAFEC-09 (
http://www.orafec.org) applies electrical signals to a component and records the electrical characteristics of these pins and forms a PinPrint, which is then compared to a known genuine component.

The most effective and most expensive method is to use a digital X-ray inspection system which will see inside the package, confirming any markings and the electrical configuration when compared directly to a known "authentic" sample. All of these methods are very effective, but used alone can only test certain parameters.

Legitimate Distributors
A legitimate independent distributor, as previously mentioned, will have proper certifications and will have taken proper ESD precautions when receiving, storing, processing and shipping product. Legitimate independent distributors are making greater efforts at expanding their counterfeit detection capabilities and are working closely with certified independent labs to further inspect and recertify product.

As much as there is a serious problem and concern for counterfeit product, there is still substantial legitimate inventory in the independent marketplace. A reputable and established independent distributor can help source and supply real product from OEMs and legitimate independent suppliers, while at the same time filter out unreliable and shady sources. Legitimate stocked inventory offers cost and time savings, as opposed to aftermarket manufacturers, who offer product at up to 10 times the original cost and generally have long lead times. As a supplier, an independent distributor is not limited to production or franchised lines. Independents offer the flexibility of having on-the-shelf inventory, OEM and independent availabilities, as well as relationships with virtually all franchised distributors and some factories. These multiple avenues of supply and flexibility make a legitimate independent distributor a necessary resource in a manufacturer's supply chain.

Manufacturers and suppliers must control their sources of supply and work with companies who have measures in place to avoid, inspect and combat counterfeit product. Be diligent and make sure your independent distributors are making their suppliers accountable!

Contact: Concord Components, Inc., 1700 Industrial Drive, Wayne, NE 68787 402-375-5000 fax: 375-5004 E-mail: sales@concordcomponents.com Web: www.concordcomponents.com

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