Counterfeit electronic parts affect safety and national security, pose long-term reliability risks, and drive up sustainment costs. While military and aerospace industries are regulated, electronics producers in all industries need to be aware of the issues that are caused when unauthorized copies or previously used parts are sold as new.
Those and related issues will be discussed at the SAE 2012 Counterfeit Parts Avoidance Symposium, co-located with the SAE 2012 Aerospace Electronics and Avionics Systems and Power Systems Conferences slated for Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Phoenix.
Kevin Sink is Vice President of Total Quality at TTI Inc., an industrial and consumer electronics distributor, and a member of the SAE G-19 Committee developing standards for counterfeit mitigation. He said the symposium is important "since the SAE controls the industry’s best-received standards documents—the Aerospace AS5553 Standard, covering avoidance, detection, mitigation, and disposition for OEMs, the anticipated AS6081 for independent distributors, and the forthcoming AS6171 for test and measurement procedures. The defense industry highly anticipates these standards as they will probably mirror quite a bit of what these committees have done as opposed to starting from scratch.”
Trends and challenges
Section 818 of the recently enacted 2012 National Defense Authorization Act is putting time pressure on the U.S. Department of Defense to revise the DFARs to address the detection and avoidance of counterfeit parts by the end of September. This regulation imposes new requirements on contractors, who must now establish robust compliance policies and procedures and are made responsible for the costs of counterfeit electronic parts, rework, and corrective actions.
Another challenge facing the industry is the definition of “trusted supplier” when purchasing from someone other than the original manufacturer or its authorized distributor. Sink says that in these circumstances, DoD requires that electronics be purchased from a trusted supplier. The DoD plays a large role in defining the term but hasn’t yet finished.
Counterfeiters are getting better at their job, so it’s harder to detect counterfeit parts during an incoming inspection. Said Sink: “Some are going so far as to take an IC die out of the plastic package. They melt the plastic away and send it out for re-packaging, so it looks like a new part. You have no confidence in the lifetime of the part or that it will function as it’s supposed to, since they’re not meant to be extracted. Counterfeiters never extract them in a cleanroom or assembly environment. It’s in a dirty garage if it’s even indoors.”
Another related issue is the way companies dispose of their scrap materials. E-waste recycling is a large source of counterfeits. “How we handle our e-waste is a big issue for us all," Sink said. "You think recycling your scrap boards and e-waste is a good thing because it keeps it out of landfills, but it’s not always disposed properly. Unfortunately, it is sold to other countries where it’s taken apart. The pieces are extracted and re-sold as new. Parts re-entering the supply chain may harm you later.”
Sink said the symposium’s main goal is to inform about the SAE standards and how to apply them. There is one standard for electronic component purchasers and end-use manufacturers, one for independent distributors and brokers, and a third coming for test and measurement that will help people understand if potential suppliers comply.
The event will cover risk mitigation, explaining how to look at one's supplier base and simple things one can do to stratify suppliers into high- and low-risk categories. It will also present avoidance protocols. After one has characterized its suppliers, its primary avoidance protocol is to stick with those with the lowest risk.
“If you have to go to higher-risk suppliers, there are things you can do, like request full traceability," Sink said. "Many people want it, but it’s often not available when purchasing from surplus inventory. But, you still need to be careful. A recent government investigation showed that you can get products from higher-risk areas of the world with a date code two to three years after it was discontinued.
“If you’re looking for an obsolete part, a simple way to lower your risk is require it come from the U.S. or a European country. This helps not only for assessment but also avoidance. If you can, use the product’s manufacturer or an authorized distributor who has contracts to promote, inventory, and sells in a specific territory, to reduce risk as well.”
Sink recommends “sticking with authorized distribution channels and to carefully consider the potential costs of purchasing from an unreliable source. Many people are timid about redesigning their product or considering another product to replace an obsolete part when funding isn’t there on a contract. But it’s a lot easier to redesign than run the gamut with counterfeit parts.”