In a previous blog, I discussed some of the factors behind the growing incidences of counterfeiting within the electronics industry. As noted, the industry has been teaming up with experts to fight the scourge with some modest success, but obviously there's more that can be done at the individual enterprise level. In this concluding blog on the subject, I offer eight steps companies can take to avoid buying fake parts and what they can do if they discover counterfeits in their inventory. (See: Steps to Creating a Counterfeit-Free Supply Chain.)
- Procurement (supplier selection): As part of your supplier selection process, you should seriously consider the type of supplier you want on your approved vendor list. No source can claim to be 100 percent secure, but the different component sources also have varying levels of risks. The Cyclops Electronics guide offers a series of questions that we would encourage buyers to ask their prospecting component suppliers, to help in understanding their background and history of counterfeit detection.
- Receiving, inspecting, and examining goods: Step 2 introduces potential buyers to the methods of counterfeiting, which are known to us and the ways in which we may be able to visually identify suspected parts. What we look for are methods used to disguise the counterfeit components as genuine pieces. Counterfeits can be difficult to spot at first glance and may often require more inspection. However, there can be clues on the components or in the accompanying paperwork that might help you. Be on the lookout for impossible date codes, discolorations, and any corrosion or peeling on the parts.
- Quality specifications: The Cyclops Electronics guide gives an overview to some certifications that you should expect a supplier to have, such as ISO 9001:2008 or AS5553 accreditations. These are designed to be strict requirements that distributors must conform to in order to mitigate the chances of receiving counterfeits in the supply chain.
- Traceability requirements: To protect themselves and their customers, component distributors should be 100 percent honest about the origin of the parts that they sell. Records regarding procurement should be maintained and kept accurate according to quality standard procedures. This information should be made available to customers when requested.
- Testing for counterfeits: There are many tests that can be done to detect counterfeit parts, and any serious component distributor should offer these services to customers. This could include electrical testing, such as the ABI electrical Sentry testing machine, or x-ray inspection. Alternatively, other methods include scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and XRF analysis, which is used to determine the chemicals found in a component to identify the RoHS status.
- Training and certification: Companies should be proactive in developing their own quality procedures to help curb the number of counterfeits in the supply chain. There are many organizations that can help you develop staff training programs that will give them an advantage in counterfeit detection. These organizations include the IDEA (Independent Distributors of Electronics Association) and the UKEA (UK Electronics Alliance).
- Planning, systems, and procedures: Develop an obsolescence program to manage product life cycles and assess the availability of genuine parts. Look at all the "trusted suppliers" of the parts and keep an eye on the availability of the parts. This will help you plan for obsolescence issues and avoid having to rely on "unknown suppliers" that make unrealistic claims about the availability of the parts you are looking for.
- Reporting counterfeit components: As mentioned earlier, many incidents of counterfeit parts in the supply chain go unreported as companies are concerned about refunds and reputation. Have the parts impounded or destroyed in order to break the cycle of counterfeiting. There are several associations that you can report suspected counterfeits to, including the ERAI (Electronic Resellers Association International) and the IDEA (Independent Distributors Electronics Association).
Components buyers have a moral obligation to report counterfeits if they discover them. Similar fake parts may have gone undiscovered in other supply chains and may have been used in electronic manufacturing elsewhere. These tainted products may prove highly unreliable or even dangerous. By reporting the discovery of counterfeits to one of the associations mentioned, they can inform their members to take extra precautions when buying those parts.
For a free copy of the "8-Step Guide to Buying Electronic Components With Confidence and Avoiding Counterfeits," visit Cyclops Electronics.