Federal Agencies Launch “Operation Chain Reaction” to Combat Counterfeits – Is that the answer?

While I was presenting the increasing hardware requirements to detect today’s counterfeits at an industry conference, someone asked me the question “Instead of using all of these expensive measures to avoid a counterfeit catastrophe, couldn’t we address the root issue and attempt to stop them being created in the first place?” The key players in the fight against counterfeit components have reflected on the problems root cause, but can we really change human behavior? The root is greed. Greed dates itself back in ancient history, so I am afraid we will be unable to be able to eradicate it anytime soon.

The counterfeit issue has received attention all the way up to the US Senate. The latest news tells us that 9 federal agencies are combining their efforts to launch a crackdown called “Operation Chain Reaction”. We, at American Electronic Resource, hope to be a part of the government’s discussion to create solutions that will encompass the big picture on how to end counterfeiting.

If we are stuck with this counterfeit problem, at least for the short term, then what is the best way to limit the flow of these tiny land mines into our products? There are conferences that spend days discussing topics on the issue, but there are some simple ways to begin protecting your own production lines from facing a counterfeit disaster. Most of the techniques are obvious, but others seem to have equipment manufacturers caught off guard.

We won’t bore you with the obvious need to plan ahead so you are not stuck searching the open market in the first place. It is common knowledge that sourcing from authorized distribution greatly diminishes your chances of receiving counterfeits. What we will tell you is that the typical OEM and CEM is continuing to buy from suppliers that have no have no proven counterfeit detection program. In this climate, it is always a shock to find out that equipment manufactures are not extremely choosy when it comes to their suppliers of hard to find electronic components. Every distributor touts their counterfeit detection capabilities even if their procedures and capabilities are limited. Many buyers take their assurances hook, line, and sinker.

The upper management at OEM’s and CEM’s must create procedures to eliminate the possibility of receiving counterfeits. The most important changes in procedures necessary are the selection of well qualified and capable suppliers in combination with a system that will not allow anyone in the organization to purchase outside of those selections. To select suppliers, an organization should do some research on their current suppliers that are performing well and search out other reputable suppliers which are certified to standards such as AS9120 and ANSI/ESD S20.20. An initial survey should be given to determine that they have in house equipment to detect counterfeit components and their quality control inspectors are certified. Once you have found a small group of suppliers that meet the initial criteria, perform an audit of their facilities.

At a minimum a supplier should have x-ray, decapsulation, XRF, and curve trace analysis equipment. These tools are currently the industry standard for counterfeit detection. The government and industry counterfeit standards, such as AS5553, are all calling out these tools in their requirements. If an independent supplier does not have these tools do not add them to your approved sources. There are enough sources available that do, so you do not need to take the risk purchasing from an unprepared supplier. Some suppliers may say that they outsource these capabilities. The cost associated with doing so is so expensive and time consuming that they will avoid outsourcing it unless you add the requirement to your purchase order and request the results. This will increase your cost tremendously.

If you have selected your suppliers appropriately there is little need to create your own elaborate counterfeit detection capabilities. Although, it would be wise to perform some of the simple tests to make sure that your source is doing its job. I would recommend a visual inspection of a sample group under a minimum of 30X magnification, an acetone rub test, and a surface scrape test to see if there is a top coat. Your inspectors need to be trained properly to perform even these simple tests. The IDEA-STD-1010B document for inspecting parts in conjunction with the ICE-3000 certification is a good way to assure that your QC team is prepared to perform these basic quality tests.

If all of the OEM’s and CEM’s would follow these fairly simple steps, we could wipe out the entire counterfeit component market. There are enough serious suppliers out there now to begin and if the bar is held high there will be more to follow. Fix your supply chain now and be a part of the solution.

If you have any question regarding the counterfeit dilemma in general or specifics to our suggestions in this article, please contact me or our Quality Director, Andrew Lawrence, BSEE.

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