Combating Counterfeit Components

June 2, 2009
How to safeguard against counterfeit electronic components.

Joseph Ruggiero Vice President North Shore Components Bellport, N.Y.

Given today’s global supply chain, OEMs, contract manufacturers, and repair facilities must be especially vigilant about counterfeit components finding their way into electronic assemblies. Counterfeit components jeopardize product performance and reliability because the materials and specs are knowingly misrepresented. This could result in costly litigation, product recalls, and loss of customer confidence.

Often, fakes are hard to recognize because part numbers have been remarked or disguised. Or they’re defective products that were removed from the reject pile, or old parts salvaged from scrapped PC boards.

The most-effective way to limit exposure to counterfeit electronic parts is to maintain full traceability back to the original manufacturer. Dealing with an authorized franchised distributor helps. However, when the original manufacturer no longer makes the required item, or it’s in short supply, users must source these

products on the open market and the risk of counterfeiting rises dramatically. Purchasing on the open market warrants special precautions, especially with electronic components made in China, as that country is reluctant to enforce laws designed to combat counterfeiting and protect intellectual property. China’s manufacturing sector also offers the ideal infrastructure to produce complex and high-value counterfeit components.

The best way to ensure product reliability and integrity is to purchase electronic components through reputable distributors with stringent quality-control procedures. Products backed by the original manufacturer warranty and that are properly stored and handled offer the greatest assurance of integrity and traceability.

Whenever possible, get certificates of conformance and/or acquisition traceability dating back to the original manufacturer. When such documentation is not available, the next step is to verify compliance through visual inspection, destructive and nondestructive electrical testing, as well as a variety of counterfeit detection tests.

These include 100% incoming inspection, including internal visual verification using decapsulation, curve-tracer testing, RoHS lead-free compliance testing, and X-ray and microscope inspection up to 1,000× using advanced microscopes and CCD cameras. These and other advanced test procedures have proved useful in spotting counterfeit or cloned products. In addition, it is important to verify how the components were handled, stored, and shipped.

As a proactive measure, component buyers should carefully evaluate distributors. Find out if the distributor is ISO 9001:2000, AS9120, and ESD S-2020- 2007 certified, follows IDEA-STD-1010-A inspection techniques for counterfeit detection, and verifies product authenticity by earning CTI CCAP-101 certification for counterfeit avoidance and detection.

Other hallmarks of reputable distributors include memberships in leading trade organizations such as IDEA and ERAI, ethical business practices, use of escrow accounts and product warranties, as well as offering potential buyers enough time to carefully inspect or test component lots prior to final payment.

Also review the distributor’s past business practices, request letters of recommendation, schedule on site visits, and periodically test components to confirm that they meet or exceed OEM specifications. Not all distributors are created equal, so careful scrutiny in the vendor selection process helps mitigate the potential for counterfeit components.

Edited by Kenneth Korane

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