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Dealing with counterfeit components

Obsolete components are an ongoing problem for manufacturers across the globe. Often, a design is unable to be improved due to restrictions with approvals and high costs. In this case, customers will insist that no changes can take place to the approved bill of materials, regardless of whether there are obsolete components. Manufacturers needs to ensure that all necessary steps are in place to ensure that genuine components are purchased at all times, regardless of whether they are obsolete or available from authorised distributors.

When components become obsolete, counterfeiters start moving in and selling at what appears to be a discount. Once the authorised distribution channels have expired all of their stocks, the counterfeiters will have a free ticket to sell to unsuspecting OEM's.

It is essential for all obsolete components that the right tools are used to test for counterfeit integrated circuits (IC). At Circuitwise Electronics we use a variety of tools with highly trained staff to ensure that that counterfeits are identified upon receiving and rejected immediately. Below are a list of the tools which are used.

X-ray inspection

X-ray inspection is a good way to check for a counterfeit. In most cases you need a good (golden) IC to compare to, but in others instances its just obvious . Below are some examples of X-rayed counterfeits . Have a close look at the X-Rays, each one of the pictures details a different circumstance and show that the counterfeiters are actually getting more and more clever with their concealment's.

During X-ray, trained staff at Circuitwise identify whether the component is identical to the golden sample and identify any differences between the two samples. Once the comparisons have been made an accurate conclusion can be drawn on whether the component is counterfeit or genuine.

Acetone test

Some counterfeit ic's are actually an inferior brand ic that have been painted over and printed, as you can see by this picture using common Acetone you can actually rub the print away .

This instance of counterfeiting is a real issue in manufacturing, as they often pass test however the long term affects of using an inferior product to the one originally designed may result in reliability issues. Trained staff pick up these subtle differences and ensure that this form of counterfeiting is picked up on inspection.

IC Testing

At Circuitwise we have a Counterfeit IC Tester which can detect the functionality of the IC without damaging it. In operation we place a good (golden) IC in and it will create a unique internal schematic signature of the IC using a sophisticated Boundary Scan program and save it to a library. After a known golden sample is stored we can put any suspect IC to compare. The system will automatically detect even a slight change in the functionality of the device under test.

The link below will open an example test result from a counterfeit IC test. In this example the test report shows the expected results in blue for each of the pins of the IC and the red is the results of the device under test. It clearly shows a distinct differences on several pins and determines that this IC is either a counterfeit, does not meet the specification or simply is not this IC part number. Any way you look at it this device will not function if it were to be installed on the PCB.

With the emergence of internet searching making it easy to locate stocks all over the world it has made it even easier for "less than reputable" distributors to sell Counterfeit or badly spec'd parts that were rejected from factories.

Modern Contract Manufacturers and OEM's must arm themselves with all of these tools in order to protect the integrity of their products being manufactured.

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