There has been much discussion in recent years about the ever-increasing problem of counterfeit material in the semiconductor supply chain. This is especially acute in the military and aerospace community, where the need for discontinued and obsolete device parts forces contractors to search the globe for them, often resulting in limited choices and leading to risky part acquisition. Over the next few months, we will describe the problem and take a look at a variety of solutions to minimize the impact of this issue.
The existence of counterfeit parts in the semiconductor supply chain is no surprise. Throughout history, anytime windows are left open for opportunistic businesses to take advantage of loopholes and make money, there is always someone who's quick to step in and take advantage of the situation. This is especially prevalent in the semiconductor market where it is relatively easy to produce parts that outwardly appear on the surface to be the original manufactured devices.
Getting access to semiconductor packages is easy. Stripping off incorrect marking and applying the expected marking onto the device is quite simple. Thus, anytime these opportunists see an unfulfilled demand in the marketplace, they are quick to jump into the void and offer a "product," whether or not that product actually fulfills the customer need for a solution.
There is little opportunity for counterfeit devices to affect the market when the original semiconductor device manufacturer or an authorized aftermarket manufacturer is still producing the devices. Military and aerospace contractors will buy the products either directly from the manufacturer or through authorized providers and distribution channels, where the product is safely tracked, stored, and handled.
All traceability documentation, including certificates of conformance and warranty guarantees, are maintained, and the contractor is assured of receiving material that meets all original device specifications. If there is an issue with a device, processes exist to return problematic devices to the original manufacturer for failure analysis, corrective actions, and replacement if necessary.
Once devices are discontinued or go obsolete, the opportunity window opens for unscrupulous vendors to jump into the fray. No longer can the contractor go to the original source to obtain the necessary components. Many times the contractor is unable to purchase enough components to satisfy the long-term program needs. (See: Last-Time-Buy Funding Issues for Military Contractors.)
Now the purchasing departments are forced to look at all alternate sources to try and locate parts to meet the program requirements. There are a number of aftermarket companies claiming to offer devices, and it is often difficult for the contractor to distinguish between suppliers who offer certified and qualified devices versus those pushing counterfeit devices. Often, once the product is purchased from these unscrupulous suppliers, there is no recourse for the contractor who is left with unusable product paid for with valuable program funds.
We have framed the inherent problems in this article. Over the next few months, we will describe several ways that suppliers offering complete Semiconductor Lifecycle Management (SLiM) programs are closing the window of opportunity for unscrupulous suppliers in the market. An effective SLiM program enables contractor purchasing organizations to buy the components needed for their programs with the assurance and confidence that they will meet all their requirements.
[Ed's note: Joseph Bronson covered many important topics on supply chain challenges facing the military and aerospace market in 2011 (see below). In 2012, Dan Elftmann, director of business development at e2v plc
, takes the conversation further with blogs covering additional topics beginning with a series of articles regarding counterfeit part problems.]