Counterfeiting, by its nature, depends on secrecy and misdirection. Shining a spotlight on the nature and methods of counterfeiting is one step toward battling the problem.
I’ve been covering this topic for 20 years, and there are still things that surprise me. Anti-counterfeiting efforts are being spearheaded by the best minds in the US government, by trade associations, manufacturers, sales channels, scientists, and technology companies… and yet, it remains a huge problem. Here are a couple new things I learned from last week’s Webinar on counterfeit components, sponsored by Rochester Electronics and EBN:
A component can be “authentic” and “counterfeit” at the same time
As odd as this sounds, the designation of “counterfeit” encompasses form, fit, and function as well as the device itself. For example, a chip manufactured prior to RoHS may be in a package containing lead. If the chip is removed and repackaged lead-free, the repackaged device under some qualifications would be considered counterfeit. Rochester Electronics director of quality Dan Deisz explains in EBN’s comment section:
- With regards to your question about not meeting specs enough to call a part counterfeit. Yes and no. It depends on the spec because the original part may not have met the spec either. We see this all the time with components controlled by source control drawings. If you do a comparative analysis (like we do at Rochester) on every single pin for every single parameter in a dynamic test environment on every replicated part, you have something on which to base the judgment. When it comes to products not governed by an SCD (standard product offering), [not meeting specs is enough to consider a part counterfeit] your statement is correct… most of the time.
Marking a part is just that — marking a part
I have long been under the impression that making a part with a unique identifier — such as DNA tagging or RFID — would solve the counterfeiting problem by proving the part is authentic. That’s not the case. Even if the original component manufacturer marks a part, that part can be manipulated later down the line. If a part is blacktopped or repackaged, the original device still exists, but now it is being misrepresented. Technically, it is a counterfeit. Additionally, if a part is sourced through unauthorized channels, many manufacturers will not honor its warrantee. Proving the provenance of a device is important, especially if it fails in the field. Deisz explains in an email:
- DNA tagging is not a solution for counterfeit. DNA tagging is simply marking a part. That marking is unique and technically elegant, but that marking bears no legitimacy toward being an authorized product. DNA tagging tells you nothing about product handling. It only tells you who marked the part at one point in time.
Check out the archived Webinar here. You may be surprised at the things you don’t know about counterfeiting.