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COUNTERFEIT DETECTION STRATEGIES Tools for effective counterfeit protection

From Nigel Charig |

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Counterfeit products are a threat to every industry, and electronics manufacturing is no exception. However, training courses are available to help companies - and that should include the use of technology.

Counterfeit semiconductors can cause field failures, financial losses and damage to the brand's reputation. Companies therefore need to protect themselves against these counterfeit products.
Counterfeit semiconductors can cause field failures, financial losses and damage to the brand's reputation. Companies therefore need to protect themselves against these counterfeit products.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay)

Counterfeiting is a worldwide, widespread activity whose targets include electronics parts, particularly semiconductors. Counterfeit components not only threaten the brand reputation and bottom line of legitimate component manufacturers, but can also cause major problems for original equipment manufacturers who unwittingly build them into their own products. Field failures arising from inferior counterfeit components can incur significant financial losses, and, frequently, pose safety risks.

However, resources are available to help organisations seeking to protect themselves from this threat. For example, Michigan State University’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection (A-CAPP Center) offers evidence based research, educational programs, and partners with brand owners, government agencies, and academics to co-operate in protecting brands and products across multiple industries worldwide. A-CAPP uses its resources and experience to offer a Professional Certificate in Anti-Counterfeiting and Brand Protection designed to teach the skills and knowledge professionals need to be efficient, proactive and strategic in brand protection. Areas of focus include:

  • Brand Protection within the Supply Chain
  • Product Counterfeiting
  • Anti-Counterfeiting Strategies
  • Risk Management
  • Enforcement Activities Against Counterfeiters

Making anti-counterfeiting strategies effective

Any manufacturer’s anti-counterfeiting strategy should include measures to control and monitor the quality of their component supply chain, to minimise the likelihood of counterfeit components ever reaching their Goods Inwards. However, unapproved supply channels may sometimes be used, especially if there is pressure to solve a component shortage problem related to production. Accordingly, it makes sense to complement purchasing strategies with equipment capable of testing incoming components, to provide hard evidence that they are genuine and to specification.

To establish the type of counterfeit detection equipment needed, we can start by considering the forms that counterfeit components can take.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) classifies counterfeit parts into the following types:

  • 1. The part has incorrect or false markings and/or documentation
  • 2. It is an unauthorised copy
  • 3. It is not produced by the original component manufacturer (OCM) or is produced by unauthorised contractors
  • 4. It is an off-specification, defective, or used OCM product sold as “new” or working
  • 5. It does not conform to OCM design, model, and/or performance standards

An electronics manufacturer could potentially receive any of the above counterfeit types – and, as they manifest themselves in different ways, they need different techniques to spot them.

Type 1 parts would be clearly identifiable as counterfeits, if we could see inside them, as they won’t have the internal structure implied by their label or documentation. X-ray inspection can supply the solution here.

Types 2 and 3 may not be visually distinguishable – even internally, using x-rays – from good components. However, being of unknown and probably inferior quality, they are liable to field failure, where they’ll create the greatest harm in terms of safety risk, financial cost and reputation damage. Electrical testing becomes necessary, to reveal shortcomings in their performance.

Similarly, Type 4 counterfeits will appear visually like good components. However, as we will see, some can be identified using acoustic micro imaging.

Type 5 counterfeits could respond variously to investigation like types 1 – 4, depending on how they have been falsified.

Accordingly, a truly comprehensive counterfeit-trapping strategy will include x-ray inspection, electrical testing and acoustic micro-imaging working in complement to one another.

X-ray inspection

High-resolution x-ray inspection allows users to instantly see inside incoming components without destroying them, and compare the images with those from known good parts. Components that appear externally identical often have internal differences if they are from different manufacturers or production lines.

Electrical testing

Electrical testing is used to check a component’s performance against its published specification. This is done by analysing the component’s pins’ electrical characteristics under dynamic stimulus. The pin response relates directly to the component’s nature, internal structure and manufacturing processes. This strongly indicates whether or not the component’s bond wire and die configuration conform to the expected specification.

Acoustic micro-imaging

Acoustic imaging complements X-ray techniques by providing information on different aspects of component integrity. The technology works by transmitting high-frequency sound waves into a sample immersed in deionised water. Reflected sound waves help to accurately identify internal dimensions, cracks, voids, delaminations and interface quality issues characteristic of re-used components. A layer-by-layer analysis of material properties as well as material consistency and thickness helps separate the real components from the imposters.

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Affordable access to counterfeit detection

Purchasing all three machines as mentioned above – x-ray, electrical tester, and acoustic micro-imager – represents a significant investment in capital equipment, as well as the operators’ time in using them. In many cases, this can be amortised, as the equipment would also fulfil roles within production and quality control areas. Larger companies may also be able to justify the expenditure by considering the volume of components processed, and the potential cost of a counterfeit contamination.

Alternatively, companies like Cupio, based in Basingstoke, offer inspection and testing as a service. With no ties to any component manufacturer or distributor, they can provide impartial third-party advice and results. And their costs, although dependent on the nature and amount of testing, would be a fraction of any capital machine expenditure.