Electronic components can have relatively short life-cycles compared to products they go into. Whether due to constantly emerging technology or because there isn’t enough demand to continue production of said components, part obsolescence has always been a headache for those involved with electronic procurement and assembly.
Manufacturers can turn to the independent distribution community for support in procuring such obscure components, however, there can be problems when components do not have direct traceability to the OCM, especially if certain risk mitigation isn’t utilized. Counterfeits are a concern. These fake chips have infiltrated our supply chains to the point where they have even gotten into our military defense systems. The extent of this has been investigated recently and reported by the Senate Armed Services Committee, with shocking findings.
While full traceability or sophisticated electrical testing are recommended to guarantee 100 per cent authenticity, this is not always possible or practical. The good news is: there are many ways to reduce risks when procuring parts from the open market.
Firstly, work with a trusted supplier. There are hundreds of independent distributors out there and they vary greatly in their ability to detect and avoid counterfeits so do a lot of homework before choosing a vendor. The time invested in this task can save a lot of money in the long-run.
1) Audit quality control and testing procedures.
2) Check trade references.
3) Find out if they have ever been reported for trading in sub-standard components on ERAI or GIDEP.
4) Conduct a site visit, if possible. Just because a vendor claims to have certain tests or controls in place, doesn’t mean they actually do, or that they execute them well.
5) In lieu of site-visit, check their certifications, which are audited by a third party to verify whether they have quality control processes in place.
6) Ask where the source of supply is located and whether they are an OEM source or another re-seller.
Next, qualify their counterfeit detection control plan and process. Ask how the parts are tested and verified and determine the appropriate level of testing required. Price is often a factor, but it is equally important to consider the application in which the component will be used. A military or medical life support device should be handled with more advanced testing than something that goes into a consumer device, like an MP3 player.
Find out the options available within your budget and application needs. Some high-end independent distributors offer an array of testing that can be effective in detecting counterfeits in-house and some will even offer these services at no extra cost. Make sure they are qualified to do so by asking specific questions about equipment and the experience of their technicians. If you require a higher level of reliability, for military or medical applications, go to a third party test lab for more sophisticated testing options.
At some point a manufacturer will need to look at all the data points provided and decide if a component procured from the grey market is most likely authentic or suspect counterfeit. Teaming up with an independent distributor that is well-versed on the subject and has a well-developed counterfeit detection process, is a good way to minimize any risks.