How to Detect Counterfeit Electronic Components

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Computer Manufacturing Technology

In a world of parts scarcity, sometimes something is too good to be true. When a potential supplier offers you valid looking parts with recent date codes at a reasonable price, when every other resource is coming up dry, a word to the wise: buyer beware. There are malicious suppliers that have invested heavily in equipment and resources with the intention of producing facsimiles of some of the most sought after parts.

Some of the most common counterfeit components include:

  • Low spec parts which have their part numbers removed and replaced with higher spec part numbers
  • Rejects from factories which are re-purposed as good parts
  • Old parts which are recycled and resold as new
  • Low spec dies which are placed into high spec packages
  • Cheap copies of the part

The Ramifications of Counterfeit Parts

Counterfeit parts will cause disruptions in your manufacturing, once discovered. If these parts make it past production and into finished goods inventory, then the repercussion could be drastic. Most counterfeit parts are non-functional copies of the original. Those parts, if they make it past incoming inspection, will normally be discovered during the products functional testing. However, if the supplier provides lower level spec’d parts (temperature, reliability, etc.) that allow your finished products to pass testing, you will have an even bigger problem. This equipment may be fielded in extreme environments that need to meet the high specification requirements. They will eventually fail and potentially cause major problems for your customer. The recovery costs of this event would be enormous monetarily, but the cost to your reputation would be catastrophic.

There is a range of ways to determine if a part is legitimate. There are both simple, obvious, straight-forward ways to check the authenticity to more in-depth, time-consuming or expensive methods.

Best Method of Preventing the Procurement of Counterfeit Parts

The best way not to buy counterfeit parts is to procure from franchised distributors or direct from the manufacturer. The distributors receive material direct from the manufacturer. It is a very rare occurrence that their inventory is corrupted.

If you must buy outside of franchised distribution, buy from a broker you have a long-term relationship with. These suppliers should also have an AS5553 Counterfeit Parts; Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation, and Disposition program in place. They should have a certification from an accredited certification body.

First Level Checks for Signs Your Parts are Counterfeit

If you must buy from companies that are not franchised, reputable or do not have a certified AS5553 program in place, you can mitigate the introduction of most counterfeit product by looking for the following tip-offs:

  • Incorrect part numbers
  • Spelling errors
  • Incorrect date
  • Manufacturer origin
  • Pre-soldered pins
  • Unfamiliar typography or font, including italics or underlines
  • Package is made with the wrong material
  • Laser cut lines in the markings
  • Imperfections
  • Wrong / incomplete logos
  • IC markings are in ink and can be wiped away with acetone

Second Level Checks for Signs Your Parts are Counterfeit

More advanced and time-consuming ways to check on the authenticity include various forms of in-depth testing. While this may affect your timeline, making sure your parts are legitimate and authentic will save you both time, money, and reputation.

  • Blacktopping is a common technique where a counterfeiter will apply a thin layer of blacktopping material to cover details such as an original part number. An acetone wash will help to remove false printing or reveal the remnants of previous markings.
  • Electrical testing compares the results to the tolerances recorded by the manufacturer in order to determine whether the part is genuine or not.
  • Decapsulation involves various techniques, often involving an acid solution, which therefore makes the process destructive. However, once this process is complete you can see the inner workings and get a more accurate view of components such as manufacturer markings, defects to the die, typography, or that the part numbers are accurate and authentic.
  • An advanced scanning microscope uses a narrow infrared laser to examine an electronic chip and gain more information about the chip construction and the function of the circuit at the transistor level.
  • X-ray can be used to inspect the die. X ray-inspections will reveal if the die is in the proper place, if the die are consistent sizes, and if the wire bonds are broken or missing.

Why ACDi is Different?

Creating high-quality electronic assemblies requires the use of the correct components. Our electronics components and devices undergo stringent incoming inspection. ACDi also procures from suppliers that are franchised for the manufacturer. We only use brokers with the customer’s awareness and consent. If we buy from brokers, it is from those with whom we have a relationship and who also have an acceptable AS5553 program in place. We are certified AS9100D/ISO at all of our locations. Our procurement, manufacturing, and test services are subject to these certified processes and procedures. Contact us for more information about our electronics manufacturing services and how we keep electronics supply chain counterfeit clean.

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