Counterfeit electronic components are a continuously increasing risk
Counterfeit components are a continuously increasing risk to the quality of electronic products. As a result of counterfeit components, a product’s service life may be shorter than expected. In extreme cases, the product may even become hazardous to its user.
Component counterfeiters are tempted by component shortages, production ceasing or, even simply, high prices. However, counterfeiting is not limited just to pricy components in a narrow specialist field. Affordable components are also counterfeited, as expensive leading-edge components are technologically difficult to counterfeit. Additionally, the identification methods developed for the prevention of their counterfeiting mean that only a handful of counterfeiters have the possibility of counterfeiting these components.
A counterfeited component may be used, copied or marked anew
A component has been counterfeited when, for example:
A used or damaged component is sold as a genuine, good component
The markings of a component have been altered, for example the version,
frequency or date
The component has been copied without authorisation
The component has the correct type of external casing, but the circuit itself
is missing or is an incorrect one
Scheduling pressures and availability are the main causes of component
The main causes for counterfeit components ending up in the production of electronic devices are:
Limited availability of specialist components or a general shortage of
Use of components that are no longer manufactured (this is particularly a
problem regarding products with a long service life)
Use of a single component supplier with long delivery times
A rush to launch a product
A subcontractor uses grey markets in order to meet the customer’s schedule
Production moves abroad and the subcontractors are no longer supervised as
It is difficult to identify counterfeits
Typically, the counterfeit component is in the right casing, but it has been marked anew to match the desired component. In such cases, the original markings have been filed off and the component has been recoated and marked anew.
With regard to recoating a component, counterfeits have become better and therefore difficult to detect. Component legs can also be recoated. Counterfeits are also mixed in with genuine components to make their detection more difficult.
A quick visual inspection without a microscope does not usually reveal counterfeit components. The number of legs is usually correct, and the components have the correct physical dimensions. The certificate possibly delivered with the components is also easy to counterfeit.
The checking of electronic components is key
The safest way to avoid counterfeits is to buy the components directly from the manufacturer or a distributor authorised by the manufacturer. However, this is not always possible, thus increasing the importance of checks made on components.
The checks typically comprise an external visual inspection with a stereo microscope, checking an opened component with a metallurgical microscope, testing of the permanence of markings using solvents, which can also be used to detect recoating. Additionally, the coatings of plastics and legs/balls are investigated, for example through chemical analyses. An X-ray study of components is also a much-advertised method, but this method is not sufficient on its own, because recoating cannot be detected by it.
VTT Expert Services Oy assists with component investigations
We provide assistance in the investigation of suspicious components:
By preparing an inspection programme with sample sizes
The documentation (whether the documents match the delivered components)
The packaging (external packages, humidity indicators, pipes, trays and coils)
The components (appearance, material analyses and internal structure)
- The documentation (whether the documents match the delivered components)
Tel. +358 20 722 4938
+358 20 722 4938