Counterfeit electronic components

While counterfeiting has existed for centuries, the appearance of counterfeit electronic components is a relatively new phenomenon, unique to the 21st century[citation needed] and the digital age. Mankind has become increasingly dependent on technology and semiconductors in all aspects of people's day-to-day lives. The seemingly simple decision to drive to the grocery store demonstrates man's unconscious dependence on the semiconductor, from using the internet to see if the weather will be appropriate for a barbecue, to pressing the button the on the remote control which powers the garage door, to the keyless ignition found on many of today's cars (not to mention the anti-lock braking system), to the traffic light, to the wireless scanner which facilitates self checkout, to the card swipe machine required for payment. As man has become increasingly dependent on semiconductors, the marketing of electronic components has been commoditized, making it easier and easier for the counterfeiter to introduce substandard and counterfeit devices into the supply chain.


Supply chain for electronic components

  • OCM (Original Component Manufacturers)
Original Component Manufacturers are design, market, and manufacture individual components
  • Franchise Distribution
Wholesale Distribution Companies who governed by a contract with the OCM's are engaged to sell electronic components
  • Independent Distribution
Wholesale Distribution Companies who speculatively purchase excess inventories from component end-users and facilitate the redistribution of surplus, excess, and obsolete inventory.

Market forces facilitating trends

According to a January 2010 study by the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security the number of counterfeit incidents reported grew from 3,868 in 2005 to 9,356 in 2008. Respondents to the survey cited the two most common types of counterfeit components were blatant fakes and upscreened functional product. This survey had 387 respondents representing all facets of the electronic component supply chain. All facets of the supply chain reported instances of counterfeit product.[1] The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics estimates the global TAM for semiconductors will be in excess of $200 billion, thus the 387 respondents provide quantitative results for only a small portion of the total market.

This increase in instances of counterfeit products entering the supply chain has been made possible by fundamental changes to the supply chain for electronic components as characterized by the following:

  • Globalization
    • Dot-Com boom-Bust – The massive investment in telecommunications and data bandwidth during the dot-com bubble made communication tools and services available at a very low cost to business.
    • Outsourcing and off-shoring – The gradual shift of manufacturing from North American and Europe to the Far East facilitates technology transfer and awareness.
    • IT System interoperability – Adoption of the Windows operating system ensured that all computer users could easily and efficiently share information.[citation needed]
    • Global shipping companies – FedEx, UPS, and DHL refined their business offerings to provide relatively inexpensive shipping for small packages.
  • CHINA and the WTO
    • December 11, 2001, China was admitted to the WTO which would ultimately result in lifting the ban on exports by non-government-owned and controlled business entities.[2]
  • Global E-Waste handling
    • In late 1989, in response to public outcry against exporting and dumping of hazardous wastes from developed countries to developing countries, the Basel Convention was adopted in Basel, Switzerland.[3] In the decades following this convention, most of the developed countries have adopted this convention with the major exception of the USA. During this period the United States has continued to export its hazardous e-waste to the developing world, primarily China, where e-waste recycling has become a way of life, despite its toxic effect on the people processing this waste.[4] This e-waste provides the valuable raw materials for today's counterfeiter.

Examples and counterfeiting techniques

  • Sanding & Remarking*
  • Blacktopping & Remarking*
  • Upscreening*

Counterfeit avoidance strategies


By utilizing multiple different types of incoming inspection most counterfeit components can be discovered.

    • Visual External Inspection for Signs of Resurfacing
    • Visual Microscopic Inspection of Encapsulant Finish and Lead Surfaces
    • X-Ray Inspection
      • By comparing the internal structure (of a homogeneous sample, same date & lot code) of electronic components certain types of counterfeit parts can be discovered. The "blatant fake" counterfeit devices exhibit vast differences in internal structure including, but not limited to different Die Frames and Different Wire Bonding.
    • X-RF Inspection
      • In the wake of the RoHS initiative, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy can be used to confirm RoHS status which is often overlooked by counterfeiters.
    • Decapsulation
      • By removing the external packaging on a semiconductor and exposing the semiconductor wafer or die microscopic inspection of brand marks, trade marks, and laser die etching can be used to determine authenticity.
        • Chemical
          • Technique utilizing heated acid to expose wifer or die packaged in plastics or resins
        • Mechanical
          • Technique utilizing cutting, cracking, or chipping the ceramic or metal to expose wafer or die for inspection.
    • SAM (Scanning Acoustic Microscopy)
      • A Scanning acoustic microscope can be used to discovered evidence of resurfacing and blacktopping by revealing laser etching below blacktop material
    • Parametric Testing a.k.a. Curve Tracing
      • An inexpensive and expedient method to determine of a sample of product has identical electrical characteristics.
    • Gross Leak and Fine Lead (Hermetically Sealed Components)
    • Functional Electrical Testing

Purchasing policies and procedures

As the instances of counterfeit and substandard products continue to increase, industry is beginning to address these issues through development and implementation of industry standards. As the majority of the counterfeit components were entering the supply chain though unknowing, unsophisticated, and unaware Independent Distributors, the IDEA[5] was the first group to respond to this challenge by releasing IDEA-STD-1010A in September 2006.

Continued work on awareness and industry standards continued with the formation of the G-19 Counterfeit Electronic Components Committee with representatives from all components of the supply chain.[6] In April 2009 SAE International released AS5553 Counterfeit Electronic Parts; Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation, and Disposition.[7]


External links

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