For example, according to an IHS ISupply study, “The risks of counterfeit semiconductors are both financially high and potentially fatal. The components represent $169 billion in potential annual risk for the global electronics business.” And recently Bolaji Ojo, editor and chief of EBN, reported on “the 5 most counterfeited parts.”
I don’t want to minimize the problem but I do want to point out there is a straightforward solution for most companies. The solution is to buy from franchised distributors or direct from the component manufacturer. Yes, it is truly that easy to stop counterfeits.
I’ve seen story after story outlining the costs of counterfeit components. For once, let’s define the solution to this problem simply as “buy from a reputable source.” Like the old saw “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Oh but companies shop the “gray” market to save money. That’s like buying a designer handbag from an internet site for 60 percent off the original cost. Do you really think you’re getting the designer’s product? That’s like buying a high end luxury watch from a street vendor. It’s fun to look at but becomes a waste of money when it stops working. I could go on with the analogies but you know you get what you pay for and this doubly applies to the gray market for components. You are taking a real risk.
But, you say you have to source your components on the “gray” market. The component you need is no longer manufactured and your distributor doesn’t stock the component. This is not usually a problem for most electronics manufacturers. It is, however, a significant and critical issue for military and aerospace companies.
Why are there counterfeit components in the first place? Because someone buys them! The conventional wisdom is that most counterfeit components are very good; some are almost undetectable. In fact, some are original components removed from the assembly (let’s be kind and say their removal is not to any specification) or are scrap products. In both cases, there are unknown effects on reliability.
There are countless ways counterfeit components enter the market. We can petition governments, beef up customs, call out known violators, and shut down websites to try to stop the problem. IPC even developed a counterfeit tool kit for assembly equipment manufacturers to use to combat counterfeit parts. But I believe that counterfeit components will continue to enter the market. Until everyone stops buying them (like those luxury $25 knock-off watches), counterfeits will continue to be manufactured and sold.
So what do you do when you need a component that is no longer sold by the manufacturer or stocked by the distributor? Go to a source that will validate the chain of custody?
That’s one answer. How about redesigning the assembly to incorporate a new, available component – one from the manufacturer or the franchised distributor? Yes, this process certainly costs money and time to re-qualify the component. But to get a reliable product, isn’t worth it? To know you aren’t playing Russian roulette with your product especially if that product plays a vital role in protecting the warfighter?
So let’s stop developing data on counterfeit components; stop developing schemes to try and validate parts — just stop buying parts with questionable provenance. I think it’s worth it to buy the original. Don’t you?