News


From the editor's desk: Fake chips aren’t going away

16 August 2017 News

Anyone who’s designed and tested electronic circuits will tell you, having a circuit that doesn’t work is not the worst that can happen; it’s the intermittent faults that really hurt. For a product that’s gone into full production, having those products begin to fail in the field is about the worst outcome the manufacturer can face, necessitating repairs, recalls and possibly even redesigns. All of these problems, and many others besides, can be caused by fake or counterfeit electronic components.

It’s important to have a clear definition of what exactly makes a fake component fake, and the US Department of Commerce provides a definition of a counterfeit electronic part as “one that is not genuine because it: is an unauthorised copy; does not conform to original OCM (original component manufacturer) design, model or performance standards; is not produced by the OCM or is produced by unauthorised contractors; is an off-specification, defective, or used OCM product sold as ‘new’ or working; or has incorrect or false markings or documentation, or both.”

You may imagine these counterfeit chips being manufactured using cobbled together or out-of-date manufacturing equipment in a factory off some back alley in Shanghai and loaded into the back of an unmarked truck in the dead of night, but there are in fact several ways for them to find their way into the supply chain. While many are indeed made on illegal production lines, they are not always of such poor quality as to fail immediately, or at all, but substandard or non-existent cleanliness, packaging and testing means they almost never meet the guaranteed specifications of the ‘real McCoy’.

Other ways for them to be dispersed is by being salvaged from electronic waste, cleaned up and sold on the grey market. Buyers in particular risk of this tactic are those looking to obtain obsolete parts that are critical to their product’s design. Your best bet is always to buy from the original component manufacturer or one of their authorised distributors/resellers. Some companies even buy up stock of soon-to-be-obsolete parts and stockpile them, providing a legitimate supply source far beyond their obsolescence date.

There have also been claims of manufacturing rejects being packaged, marked and interjected into the supply chain as fully tested devices, by someone with access to the production facility. Amazon had a scare recently with stories of fake AMD processors showing up for sale, supposedly originating from a case of a customer who returned one as faulty, in its original and apparently unopened packaging, only to be resold to an unsuspecting buyer.

It’s not only unscrupulous or desperate electronics manufacturers who fall victim to counterfeit components. Last year three Chinese men pleaded guilty to conspiring to buy genuine field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) stolen from a US Navy base and replacing them with fake versions. An undercover agent foiled the plot before the duds could find their way into critical weapons systems.

The problem of counterfeit components has reached such proportions that the Silicon Industry Association (SIA) in the USA has set up an anti-counterfeiting task force which works continuously to curtail the supply and demand for these illegal products and to educate customers on how to avoid purchasing counterfeits. The association produced a 28-page white paper in 2013 which described the size of the problem and methods to mitigate the dangers. While it goes into much detail, the upshot of that white paper amounts to what should be considered common sense:

“As compared to the authorised market, the open market, including independent distributors, brokers, and Internet-based component exchanges, has far fewer controls over proper handling, storage and transportation of components, and often lacks component traceability to the manufacturer. This lack of controls and traceability, along with the frequency and ease at which components move through this non-authorised supply chain make the open market an easy target for counterfeiters to infiltrate to sell their illegal products that often have poor reliability. Semiconductor products purchased on the open market may be cheaper in the short-term than those bought from authorised sources, but they can be far more expensive in the long-term if they are counterfeit and/or were improperly handled and stored, thus potentially resulting in major rework costs and high warranty or liability claims.”

Postscript:

Have you ever been the victim of counterfeit components, or do you know of anyone who has? Send me your story – anonymously if you wish – to brett@technews.co.za

Brett van den Bosch

Editor



Credit(s)



Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

From the editor's desk: Yes, it’s that thing everyone’s talking about
25 March 2020, Technews Publishing , News
Call me a pessimist, but I’m absolutely, 100% certain that I’m going to catch COVID-19 (or the ‘novel coronavirus’ if you prefer to call it that) – if I haven’t done so already. At least the mortality ...

Read more...
Electronics news digest
25 March 2020 , News
Overseas    Business • ams reported record revenues and results for full year 2019, with revenues up 32% year-on-year, and fourth quarter revenues exceeding expectations with strong adjusted operating ...

Read more...
XinaBox – Reaching for the stars
25 March 2020, RS Components (SA) , News
From collecting data in sub-zero Antarctica to rapid circuit prototyping on the International Space Station this South African company is reinventing the way we approach IoT while inspiring students to follow STEM careers.

Read more...
Electrocomp launches new website
25 March 2020, Electrocomp , News
Electrocomp is inviting visitors to explore its new website, which has been designed to offer a user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality while allowing customers to see their ...

Read more...
Looking beyond radar, the car’s virtual eye
25 March 2020, Altron Arrow , News
Faster, higher-resolution radar sensors have enabled the next generation of driver assistance technologies through improvements in vehicle safety and comfort in view.

Read more...
Disposing of e-waste in space
26 February 2020 , News
According to BBC, there are over half a million pieces of debris floating around the Earth’s orbit. Most debris within the atmosphere are lost parts from space crafts, disused rocket stages or waste from ...

Read more...
IPC revises five standards
26 February 2020 , News
IPC announced the release of five newly revised standards covering several areas of the supply chain:       · IPC/WHMA-A-620D, Requirements and Acceptance for Cable and Wire Harness Assemblies. · IPC-2223E, ...

Read more...
Testerion to represent ITW EAE in SA
26 February 2020, Testerion , News
ITW EAE announced a new extended partnership agreement with Testerion South Africa to represent and distribute all ITW EAE equipment including MPM printers, Camalot dispensers, Electrovert soldering systems, ...

Read more...
From the editor's desk: Interesting people, politicians, and viruses
26 February 2020, Technews Publishing , News
In this edition, in the first of a new regular highlight in Dataweek, we go behind the scenes with Peet Smit, the founder and owner of Centurion Micro Electronics, a well-known specialist embedded and ...

Read more...
Electronics news digest
26 February 2020 , News
Overseas    Business • Maxim Integrated Products reported net revenue of $551 million for its second quarter of fiscal 2020 ended 28 December 2019, a 3% increase from the $533 million revenue recorded ...

Read more...