Electronics Assembly Knowledge, Vision & Wisdom
Counterfeit Electronic Components Identification: A Case Study
Counterfeit Electronic Components Identification: A Case Study
This paper provides a brief introduction to counterfeit prevention and detection standards, particularly as they relate to the Aerospace and Defense sectors.
Supply Chain

Authored By:
Martin Goetz, and Ramesh Varma
Northrop Grumman Corporation, Linthicum, MD USA
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Counterfeit electronic components are finding their way into today's defense electronics. The problem gets even more complex when procuring DMS (diminishing manufacturing source) parts. This paper will provide a brief introduction to counterfeit prevention and detection standards, particularly as they relate to the Aerospace and Defense sector. An analysis of industry information on the types and nature of counterfeit components will be discussed in order to illustrate those most likely to be counterfeited, followed a specific case at a major defense contractor.

The case involved two circuit card assemblies failing at test, whereby their root cause for failure was identified as "unable to write specific addresses at system speeds". The error was traced to a 4MB SRAM received from an approved supplier. Fifteen other suspect parts were compared with one authentic part directly purchased from a supplier approved by the part manufacturer. Defects or anomalies were identified but not enough to unequivocally reject these parts as counterfeit as the defects could have also happened in the pre-tinning process, which is a program-specific requirement if the parts were stored for more than 3 years. Through the subsequent analysis, subtle differences between the authentic and suspect parts were identified and isolated. The methodologies and process chosen to identify counterfeit parts will be reviewed and an assessment of the results will be presented along with the defects found in relation to the defect types reported in relevant test standards.
After the analysis was performed, it was determined by the internal Failure Review Board (FRB) that all parts from the Broker were not suspect and therefore, small lot testing may not catch counterfeit parts. It was not clear if suspect packages were harvested or re-packaged since there was evidence that both were possible through previous versions of devices as well as suspected blacktopping of the package surface. It is clear that counterfeit identification by inspection and testing is very difficult unless resources are committed to evaluate virtually 100% of parts being supplied. Records tracking were difficult because the Distributor did not keep the labels and paperwork from the original manufacturer, although they could be found through diligence before re-labeling occurred. Since the SRAMs were used for high reliability applications, the parts were scrapped. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Broker after determining that enough evidence suggested counterfeit parts were sold, primarily to defense contractors. Figure 8 shows a press release of the lawsuit with the following excerpt,

A December 2009 sale of 350 counterfeit OCM Semiconductor ICs to a company in New York in fulfillment of a contract with (major US defense contractor) for integration into a beam steering control module board within the multiple sub-array of a testable antenna for the U.S. Navy Replacement Program (ballistic missile defense).

Through the due diligence process, inspection, analysis and discussions with the OCM, Distributor and Broker, it was found that enough evidence suggested action be taken internally through legal channels in reporting these SRAM components as suspect counterfeit parts. Once the U.S. Department of Justice was notified and action was taken, the Broker was removed from the list of possible sources for electronic devices by at least one defense contractor. Ongoing vigilance would be the only means of protecting defense related assets from being polluted with potentially defective parts from the ever-present counterfeit market.
Initially Published in the IPC Proceedings
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