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The Supply Side: Counterfeit? But They Passed Testing!
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | Christopher Torrioni, Sensible Micro Corporation

Editor's Note: This article oiginally appeared in the February 2012 issue of SMT Magazine.

Substandard and counterfeit electronic parts have flooded the market during the past decade, sparking a national movement from industry players and market experts to address an effective solution. Although a few industry groups have implemented best practice anti-counterfeit procedures (IDEA-1010 and CCAP-101) and defined what classifies under the “counterfeit” umbrella, it is the United States government that is subsequently applying intense pressure to get the growing problem under control.

This past November, the Senate Armed Services Committee completed an investigation into occurrences of counterfeit electronic parts in the military supply chain. Lead by Chairman, Senator Levin and Ranking Member, Senator McCain, the committee held their first hearing to explore the shocking results and question industry experts. On the surface, it seems major changes are finally underway. Congress has since approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which includes requirements to define the term counterfeit and establish a standard for the detection and avoidance of counterfeit parts. The standard will be issued by SAE, similar to AS5553 already in existence for electronic manufacturers, but will pertain to distributors only. The new standard, AS6081, is still being developed by the G19 Committee and is expected to be released sometime in 2012. 

Last month, SAE released ARP6178, Fraudulent/Counterfeit Electronic Parts; Tool for Risk Assessment of Distributors. According to SAE’s website the scope of the standard is “for all organizations that procure electronic components from sources other than the original component manufacturer. It is especially applicable for assessing distributors that sell electronic components without contractual authorization from the original component manufacturer.” 

With all the awareness and large improvements in counterfeit avoidance practices, why are so many companies still getting burned with substandard or bogus components? My quick and easy answer is they aren’t being thorough enough in terms of strict sampling and supplier evaluations. But, as we all know, there is nothing quick or easy about stopping the wave of counterfeits entering the supply chain. In the meantime, more and more OEM and EMS providers are running super lean, keeping long-term forecasting at bay and still supporting legacy builds. Critical shortages that require non-franchised solutions are consistently abundant, opening up a slew of quality issues for those that are sourcing from bush-league suppliers who do not care or do not know how to navigate an ever-graying market of trouble.

With so many layers of mitigation that can be applied to ones checklist, I suspect most companies get lost on what inspection and test efforts should be focused. For instance, we see a large number of companies strictly performing a basic parametric electrical test while de-capping one or two samples out of the lot to verify die authenticity. Although there is value in these procedures, they simply are not 100% effective in the determination of a component’s integrity. 


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