Counterfeit Part Issues for Military Programs

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 {complink 12935|e2v plc}, takes the conversation further with blogs covering additional topics beginning with a series of articles regarding counterfeit part problems.]

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9 comments on “Counterfeit Part Issues for Military Programs

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 8, 2012

    Dan: taking a look at after-market semiconductor suppliers will be of great value to our readers. One distinction I have seen over the years is that some companies are authorized by suppliers to manufacture obsolete parts. This is similar to companies being franchised to sell current components. The chip maker provides the masks, die and other elements needed to product EOL chips, which is a de factor warranty from the original supplier.

  2. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 8, 2012

    Thank you Dan,

    Conterfeit part issues are a significant challenge for high-end electronic manufacturers that directly impact many industries, and they can turn projects into higher cost as described in this article. It is good to know that actions can still be taken to limit conterfeiting in military programs. 

  3. stochastic excursion
    February 8, 2012

    I can see the original supplier wanting the franchised manufacturer to adhere to specific process guidelines.  Also, a certain amount of parametric testing should go on at each stage of the supply chain to catch any gaps in performance that would indicate counterfeiting.

    February 8, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your article.  Do you have any data to show how big the problem actually is?  I wondered if such data existed as I could imagine the military would not be overly keen to broadcast it.

  5. _hm
    February 8, 2012

    Can this be called counterfeit part or lower quality part?


  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 9, 2012

    Apart from having strciter quality and process control norms for the second source manufactured parts, it is also necessary to have a well defined process to destroy the old and failed parts because they become the source for conuterfeiters.


    It has been experienced that the conuterfeiter remove those failed parts from the elctronic waste and refurbish and repack them to look like brand new parts.

  7. Daniel
    February 9, 2012

    Dan, these types of activities from distributors can ruin the national saftey. Military qualified components are of high standard components based on different parameters like non volatile performance in high temperature, pressure, EMI, vibrations, high altitude etc. if counterfeit components are happened to be there, it may end up with the failure in mission critical projects/applications.

  8. mfbertozzi
    February 9, 2012

    It is true, in addition, I am wondering if, in a such way, the program could receive benefits from ATCA – AntiCounterfeiting Trade Agreement program and viceversa.

  9. William K.
    February 9, 2012

    The one “foolproof” method of avoiding faked, deffective, or substandard parts is incoming component testing. Several of my previous jobs have been designing test equipment to verify that components met standards prior to inclusion in a product. Of course this adds expense, there is no question about that, but our customers had always decided that it was less expensive to catch out of spec components prior to assembly than to have the customers find them. Of course, our testers had to be very reliable and quite accurate, and extremely robust, since if they failed our customers production lines would stop fairly quickly.

    The one thing that I did have to remind some of our clients of early in the process is that it is simply not possible to test quality into a product. The testing is merely to verify that it is there.

    Testing was often challenged as not being a value-added part of the production process,  and so sometimes I did have to point out the prices of the alternatives.

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