Crafting an anti-counterfeit strategy

4star-2Counterfeiting risks are magnified when dealing with end-of-life or obsolete components, so buyers need a clear strategy to avoid them, explains 4 Star Electronics.

Organizations throughout the electronic component supply chain continue to struggle with counterfeiting; a struggle which becomes even greater when dealing with end-of-life or obsolete components. As counterfeiting has become more sophisticated, so the processes and tools required to combat it have gotten more complex. Buyers and procurements specialists therefore need to be aware of the risks and develop programs to reduce the probability of receiving counterfeit components.

Follow standards
Thankfully, there are some standards that can help reduce the risk of counterfeit material. For example, revision B of SAE’s AS5553 standard covers counterfeit electrical, electronic and electromechanical parts; avoidance, detection, mitigation and disposition. This standard was recently updated, with the latest edition better addressing the risk-based nature of counterfeit mitigation. It can be effectively used by any organization in the supply chain and is a good starting point to developing a mitigation program by highlighting best practices.

The long awaited AS6171 standard covering test methods; general requirements, suspect or counterfeit, electrical, electronic and electromechanical parts could also be a game changer in the fight against counterfeit components. This standard was primarily developed for use by test labs to ensure consistency of inspection and test procedures, workmanship and training, but it can be used wherever these functions are performed in the procurement process. It is of particular importance when procuring open market components that do not have an unbroken chain of traceability back to the original component manufacturer.

To reduce the risk of procuring counterfeits in this situation, AS6171 fills in the details that are outlined in AS5553. For the test labs and independent distributors who work most closely with obsolete and end-of-life product, accreditation to ISO 17025 shows that the various test methods in AS6171 can be performed with consistency and competence.

Director of operations at independent distributor, 4 Star Electronics, Scott McKee, said: “AS6171 will allow independent distributors and their sub-contracted test labs to provide the risk-based tests that our customers need. Those who choose to be accredited will all be on the same page,
making it easier to choose which suppliers to work with.”

Research options
An effective counterfeit avoidance program includes a preference to source material from authorized sources, including original component manufacturers, their authorized or franchised distributors and authorized aftermarket manufacturers. When these sources are unable to help, buyers can turn to other trusted suppliers that their organization has fully qualified, as well as undertaking risk-based inspection and tests that are appropriate for the end-use of the parts.

For end of life material, it’s important to research and understand the lifecycle and market conditions of any components used. Staying current with product change and end-of-life notices through forecasting and communication with vendors makes it possible to execute last time buys and minimize higher risk purchases.

Analyze risks
Although the AS standards are targeted to the high-reliability world of military and aerospace electronics, the principles apply just as well to the commercial and industrial sectors of the industry. OEMs and contract manufacturers all need obsolete and hard-to-find parts, so it’s important they choose vendors wisely. Limit open market sources to those trusted independent distributors who utilize the latest inspection and test techniques, and who understand the risks inherent in the supply chain.

As a minimum, there are some inspections and tests that should be performed whenever the pedigree of a part is unknown. These are typically performed by independent distributors or their labs and include a review of packaging and documentation, followed by external visual inspections, including surface analysis and marking tests. Tests should also encompass digital photographs and microscopy of components as well as x-ray and XRF analysis.

If the end-use application is particularly high risk, or if any anomalies are found, additional testing may be required such as decapsulation and die examination, functional electrical testing, electron microscopy, acoustic microscopy and others, on a case-by-case basis. AS6171 offers detailed slash sheets that outline the requirements of all of these test methods.

Minimize dangers
In summary, there are a few steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of receiving counterfeit parts. Most importantly, develop a risk-based counterfeit mitigation plan based on AS5553 and/or other industry standards. Buy parts from authorized sources whenever possible and develop relationships with quality independent distributors that can supply critical parts such as end-of-life or obsolete components. For non-traceable parts, specify testing that can be performed by a qualified independent distributor or laboratory. Following these steps can lower risk and lead to a trouble-free procurement experience.