Until a few years ago, counterfeit products weren’t consider a major issue for the sector.
But since 2006, Tronico has had a counterfeit detection procedure in place, resulting in 16% of component batches purchased from brokers being unusable.
The breakdown in numbers is subject to change. In recent years, the rejection rate has gone down slightly to 16%, and the number of counterfeits detected by visual inspection and X-ray has somewhat increased. The number of components noted has however still been significant. Counterfeiters tend to "homogenise" batches by noting together parts from different Date Codes to form one batch; extensive electrical tests are now being required more often in order to detect defects that generally appear at temperature. The two previous points are indicative of a greater division between "amateur" counterfeiters who are easy to detect and "professional" counterfeiters. Products from the latter require comprehensive tests to be identified.
What is counterfeit detection?
A suspect component that is a copy or substitute and which lacks the relevant legal authorisation or permissions and/or a component whose material, performance, or other characteristics are knowingly distorted (or not) by a supplier in the supply chain.
Examples of counterfeit components include, but are not limited to
- Components where the internal construction (chip, foundry, bondings, etc.) does not match the desired component.
- Used, refurbished or disassembled components presented as new.
- Components that have a different casing or finish than that expected on the desired component.
- Components are falsely sold as having passed the manufacturer's production and test cycle, when they have not done so.
- Components with a tested electrical characteristic that does not meet the manufacturer's specifications.
- Components sold as sorted components but which have not passed the sorting process.
- Components where the marking and/or part number has been altered with the intention of matching the desired component.
- Components that are identified as having undergone a change in pin finish, temperature sorting or electrical characteristics are not considered to be counterfeit components.
However, the tests performed are not completely exhaustive. Whatever procedure is used, it is based on the absence of evidence of fraud, or rather the non-detection of evidence of fraud. The more testing that is done, the lower the risk of the item being fraudulent. Ultimately, at a certain point it is believed either that the component is not counterfeit, or that it is good enough to work in the application. Some tests are however common to all procedures:
- External visual inspection (checking for oxidation, sanding, marking, camouflage, etc.)
- X-rays (checking the assembly’s homogeneity, checking the chip’s presence, bondings...)
- Electrical tests (parametric tests, functional tests, etc.)
- Destructive testing (opening, chip marking, solderability, etc.)
Between procedures the depth of testing may vary, as may the number of samples. Other analyses can also be added, such as determining the legs’ alloy finish, checking the packaging hasn’t been tampered with, etc., the tests often vary depending on previous cases of fraud that have been encountered.
Although visual inspection and X-rays can detect more than 70% of counterfeit cases, destructive and electrical tests are still necessary for the remaining 30%. However, no matter the outcome, it must be remembered that even new components are subject to wear and tear.
Benefits of counterfeit detection
Reduce the number of failures when a product is first used and during its life cycle.
Testing the product's operating conditions means that counterfeits can be detected at an early stage.
It also enables real components to be sorted from the fake ones during the production phase, thus avoiding failures at the beginning of the product's life or in the middle of its use.
A reliable long-term picture
End-users may experience technical failures or malfunctions while using the system. In this case, products must be returned to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. But those returns entail additional costs. Furthermore, customer returns are generally badly perceived, particularly by users, and often generate significant additional costs for industrial manufacturers. It is therefore advisable to deal with these technical problems as early as possible.
Testing your components in advance will allow you to improve your product quality rate and produce more efficiently. Improving that rate results in satisfied customers, allowing you to grow your brand and have your company known and respected for the reliability and quality of your products.
Counterfeit detection procedures may involve the following analyses:
- External visual inspection
- Acoustic microscopy
- Verification of the hermeticity level of packages (thin cover, microcavities...)
- Electrical test
- X-ray fluorescence to determine the finish of component legs
- Internal visual inspection
- Marking resistance...