Today, the electronics industry has developed some comprehensive standards to help manage the problem of counterfeit electronic parts in the supply chain. The two most commonly cited industry standards (AS5553B and AS6081) are hoping to make inroads on the problem and eventually put an end to counterfeit electronic parts for good.
SAE International, through its G19 committee, has created these, the most widely accepted counterfeit avoidance standards. Through these standards, OEMs and distributors are able to place requirements on their suppliers and subcontractors to have a clear counterfeit mitigation strategy in place. In addition, e-waste standards have been created to address the problems associated with the glut of materials created by electronic products being thrown out.
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Counterfeit electronic parts have been an issue for decades, and this problem has only grown as more of these components are needed for commercial, industrial, aerospace and defense applications. In 2007, the SAE held its first meeting with 40 participants to try and create industry standards to reduce the number of counterfeit components that are making their way into supply chains around the world.
The first incarnation of AS5553 was completed and adopted in 2009 and only contained seven requirements:
- Improve availability of authentic parts
- Establish a list of authorized distributors
- Specify contract quality requirements
- Detect counterfeit parts with an inspection
- Detect, verify and control counterfeit parts after inspection
- Prevent counterfeit parts from re-entering the supply chain
- Report detected counterfeit parts to consumers and authorities
The goal of this initial incarnation of AS5553 was to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible. This program was adopted by the U.S. military until 2012, when the Detection and Avoidance of Counterfeit Electronic Parts program were put in place by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement.
In 2013, the first revision to these standards was published, dubbed AS5553A. It included some appendices that were intended to explain and clarify industry best practices to make it easier for suppliers to maintain compliance.
In 2016, SAE published the second revision to these standards — AS5553B. It dramatically reduced the page count of these standards from 43 to eight, removing many of the appendices from the first revision.
AS5553 is designed for organizations that are concerned about counterfeit parts in their supply chain, but until 2012 there were no comparable standards for distributors. That is where AS6081 comes in. This industry standard came about in November of 2012 and was immediately adopted by the Department of Defense as well. It details 13 requirements for electronic parts distributors to adhere to, with the goal of preventing counterfeit parts from entering the supply chain. It also provides a course of action if these parts still manage to make their way in.
These requirements cover everything from in-house quality management systems to control and mitigate the appearance of counterfeit parts to rules about supply chain traceability and transparency. Unlike AS5553, this industry standard hasn't received any revisions since its launch in 2012.
Electronic waste & counterfeit parts
E-waste and e-recycling have both grown as consumers and industries dispose of computers, smartphones and other electronic devices. While this is a good thing for the environment because lithium batteries and other caustic chemicals aren't allowed to leech into landfills, it is one of the main things that is fueling the counterfeit parts industry.
Electronic waste is collected in the United States and other developed countries and shipped to China under the guise of recycling or disposal. In many cases, though, this waste is being harvested for any suitable components — regardless of the state they are in — and these parts are re-marked and shipped as new.
This counterfeit recycling program also creates a security risk. Counterfeit parts could fail when they are needed most. In some cases, like a phone, it might only cost the consumer and the company a couple of hundred dollars to repair. In other cases, like a $12 million missile that could fail because of a single part that only cost a couple of dollars, the expense is much higher. Data miners can pull private or protected information from improperly wiped hard drives or storage materials.
This trend has been fueling the counterfeit parts industry for decades. New domestic e-waste recycling programs are starting to stem the tide by breaking down electronic waste into its component materials, which can then become new parts. However, these programs are only as good as the people who participate in them.
Implementing industry standards
How do AS5553 and AS6081 help companies avoid counterfeit parts in their supply chains? he current revised version of AS5553 was designed to help companies source their parts from reliable distributors by maximizing the availability of authentic items. It also has standards and best practices in place to help companies react to any counterfeit parts that might appear in their supply chain — removing the parts from circulation, reporting fraudulent suppliers, and protecting themselves and their clients in the process.
Companies that aren't working as distributors might not look twice at AS6081, but the two SAE industry standards go hand in hand. AS6081 provides distributors with the tools to ensure they can offer authentic parts to the companies they work with. A company looking for a new supplier should ensure that any distributor they choose is compliant with AS6081 industry standards. It also encourages supply chain transparency, so if some counterfeit parts do appear in the supply chain, it is easier to determine where those components are coming from. This way, changes can be made to prevent these parts from making their way to the consumer.
Until the affected industries figure out a way to stop counterfeit parts from entering their supply chains, SAE industry standards provide a buffer that protects both companies and consumers. If you work with electronic components at all, make sure you are compliant with AS5553B standards. If you are working as a distributor, AS6081 standards are a necessity. When seeking new distributors, ensure they are compliant with all related SAE standards.
Counterfeit parts are costing many different industries billions of dollars every year. These standards help protect companies from having to work with fraudulent parts, as well as the consumers who use these electronic devices. You wouldn't want to find a counterfeit board in your new smartphone, just like an astronaut wouldn't want a fake part that could cause a life-ending product failure in the space capsule.