As technological advancements with production and materials keep making major leaps forward, the business of counterfeit parts also continues to grow in scale and capability. With many companies outsourcing their production to third parties, the risk of counterfeit components rises, putting the integrity of their designs at stake.
What are Counterfeit Electronics?
While there are many methods of counterfeiting products available, we will primarily discuss the most common method used, “remarking”.
Remarking is when a counterfeiting operation relabels parts as a higher quality product and sells these parts at a higher premium. Using these components can have serious repercussions, especially when they are integral to critical systems.
The Consequences of Using Counterfeit Components
Imagine the resources it would take to replace a part that was questionably sourced. Many companies have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on tracking down and replacing counterfeit components within their products. No matter the scale of your operation, the discovery that your supply source has been sending you counterfeit components can hinder your production schedule and allotted budget.
Performance: Counterfeit components typically have a much lower quality and poorer performance, jeopardizing the integrity of your final product and the reputation of your company altogether.
This can be especially problematic if the manufactured product is an IPC Class 3 system where downtime and lack of performance cannot be tolerated, and the end-users well-being could be in jeopardy. A few prime examples are life support equipment, heavy construction machinery and airplane navigation systems where electronic failures can be disastrous.
Security: Some microcontrollers and complex integrated circuits can be modified to grant unauthorized access to a third party. This can lead to widespread system breaches and malfunctions which can jeopardize people’s security, privacy, and well-being.
Identifying Counterfeit Components
There are many methods of identification available to check the authenticity of the components you are using.
Visual Inspection: The easiest method to start with is a visual inspection of your components. Look for indicators such as sanding, scratches, mismatched paint, or inconsistencies in texture.
Electrical Testing: Manufacturers provide data sheets for all of their products; a counterfeit component will most likely deviate from the specifications provided. Power up the device and make sure the I-V
characteristics match that of the manufacturer’s specs. Don’t forget to inspect switching speeds and noise levels.
Mitigating the Use of Counterfeit Components
OCM Sourcing: Like most things, making sure you receive a quality product starts at the source. Purchasing directly from the original component manufacturer will ensure that your parts do not exchange more hands than necessary, minimizing the risk of counterfeiting.
Authorized Suppliers: Make sure you adhere to your internal databases of approved distributors and avoid the use of independent distributors who cannot provide appropriate documentation on their sources and methods of component acquisition. When authorized suppliers are backed by the OCM (Original Component Manufacturer) you can trust that they are a reputable company.
Quality Inspection: Whether businesses invest in their own in-house quality inspection department or use a reputable third party to check their components, testing the incoming parts before they are assembled is a great way to avoid overlooking quality issues.
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