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Mitigating the Risk of Counterfeiting: Continuous Certifications & Accreditations

When choosing the right partners to ensure optimal control over the influx of counterfeit electronic parts into the supply chain, industry certifications offer one of the best measuring sticks for quality.  Let's review some of the measures that OEMs should look for when partnering with component vendors and distributors.

On-site laboratory testing & database

A very significant measure of preparedness is the investment a vendor makes to have the capability to perform the latest quality and functional tests on parts that it handles. Smith has two leading-edge quality laboratories, including one in Houston and one in Hong Kong, along with quality control assets in Amsterdam. Our Houston and Hong Kong labs are both certified to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard. This certification entails that the labs' processes for testing and calibration are performed using standard methods, non-standard methods and laboratory-developed methods. This certification is achieved through audits that assure efficiency and competence and must be renewed as with other ISO certifications.

When it comes to counterfeit detection, the equipment and laboratory certifications are not enough, of course. It is important that the professional, quality engineers are also accredited and certified to critical industry standards. Smith has updated its quality standards and now requires that our engineers are certified to the CCCI-101 and 102 standards. The CCCI-102 program – developed by Components Technology Institute, Inc. (CTI), the creators of the strenuous Counterfeit Components Avoidance Program (CCAP-101) – was designed to provide inspectors formal training and certification in the due diligence practices that underpin counterfeit electronic component detection and prevention.

Finally, having the best equipment and training must be coupled with access to extensive part databases. The ability to detect the slightest differences and confirm visual and functional test results to known same part metrics adds another level to the anti-counterfeiting solution. Smith has been compiling its database throughout 30 years of doing business, so that today we have an extensive database covering over three-quarters of a million part numbers. Visual inspection and component testing are vital parts of the equation. Both processes require qualified, trained, and certified inspectors and the latest in testing equipment and technology.

There are many ways to reduce exposure to counterfeit chips, not the least of which starts with ensuring that your sourcing partners and vendors Approved Vendor List (AVL) have passed stringent audits, including on-site visits. In addition, it is crucial that your AVL partners have the appropriate, up-to-date, industry certifications, accreditations both for the business and the quality engineers, and that they have laboratory facilities staffed by those quality engineers with deep databases in order to visually, manually and functionally test parts before they leave their docks and arrive at your doors or back into the supply chain.  

How do you know what certifications to look for? Well, quite simply you want to make sure that quality processes and procedural flow are well outlined, maintained, and implemented. Standards management certifications and accreditations are one of the basic essentials for screening your supply chain partners. This rule of thumb might sound rather basic, but starting with industry recognized standards (certifications and accreditations), then coupling that with thorough, on-site audits of the certifications to ensure the standards are implemented and part of daily business practices is fundamental.

Among the certifications that ought to be in place and kept current is the ISO 9001:2008. This business process standard does require regular recertification by ISO approved agencies and is an essential for ensuring quality business procedures and policies have been implemented uniformly across the company and are in active practice.

Of course, since we are focused on businesses handling electronic components and identifying and removing counterfeit and substandard parts from the supply chain, the ANSI ESD 20.20:2007 certification is another critical piece of the puzzle. Electrostatic discharge (ESD) and static electricity are common events yet can cause serious damage to sensitive electronics during handling. Ensuring product quality and reliability of sourced parts means that having this basic ESD control program in place and regularly renewed and audited safeguards electronic component quality during handling.

Going the extra mile in standards & certifications

There are, of course, many standards and certifications. Those mentioned above are by far the most important and should be required of any sourcing partner with a sound anti-counterfeiting solution in place. In addition, knowing that a company is attending to environmental management systems, attested to through being certified to ISO 14001:2004, is also important.

While the ISO 14001 certification is rooted on traditional environmental management issues, it does demonstrate a dedication to corporate sustainability and an awareness of the importance of active environmental stewardship. As we know, in today's supply chain, there is a real counterfeit threat from illegally reclaimed electronics trash remarked and sold as new. Companies need to be up-to-date and aware of the impact that electronic waste (e-waste) has on the supply chain as well as on the environment.

Similarly, the OHSAS 18001 certification, which focuses on health and safety of employees, is important in evaluating your supply chain partners. While this certification does not directly involve anti-counterfeiting capabilities, you cannot expect careful attention to part handling and verification if employees are not at the core of an organization's quality and care.

Quality throughout is the best counterfeit mitigation

Distributors are not made alike, and neither are counterfeiters. Counterfeiters succeed through opportunism. Distributors who are prepared, skilled, have deep industry and market knowledge, and have invested in internal quality management processes and procedures are the best elements of an anti-counterfeiting solution. Wrapping the latest, high-tech laboratories and leading, certified quality engineers overseeing, informing, and running the quality processes for counterfeit and substandard part detection is the antidote to counterfeit components.

When choosing distributors, suppliers, and purchasing partners, take the time to develop quality requirements and checklists for parts is primary. Next, require the highest industry standards and certifications of your supply chain partners. Finally, it is critical to conduct follow-up, with on-site audits to ensure that what you believe to be in place is really there. The battle cry is “trust but verify.”

Rigor in vendor screening and again meticulousness in testing is essential to ensure that only quality parts are in our global supply chain. Being proactive and collaborating with your supply chain partners in the fight against counterfeit and substandard parts is the real solution.

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