Combating counterfeit semiconductors

Rochester Electronics’ technical sales manager, Ken Greenwood

Rochester Electronics EMEA’s technical sales manager, Ken Greenwood, discusses how companies can fight counterfeiting and ensure an authorised supply.


In times of supply shortage, or where there is need for a discontinued component, the risk of encountering counterfeits increases dramatically. Counterfeit semiconductors come in many disguises, including the following.


Firstly, non-functional or scrap product, re-marked as good and resold. Next are second-hand original components, re-marked, repacked and claimed as new. Thirdly, functional, yet substandard, product purchased by the counterfeiter, re-marked and resold as a higher spec, higher price product. Then come unauthorised functional copies. Finally, genuine original components with forged traceability/authenticity documentation.


We have moved beyond fraudulent copies of logos and empty packages that can be caught by AS6081 visual testing. Counterfeiters now utilize impeccable component finishes and seemingly perfect paperwork trails, as potential gains are enormous.


Risks to purchasers are many and the misconception that ‘testing’ can provide a 100 per cent guarantee is too common. The question is which tests? Many anti-counterfeiting measures only cover levels of visual, re-marking and x-ray testing. This will catch many counterfeits but more sophisticated examples may not be identified.


In re-marking cases, etching back the original external markings with aggressive chemicals or mechanical grinders can damage internal bonds or substrates. Cleaning residues slowly enter and contaminate the device, damaging bond-pads or bond-wires.


Non-authorised handling and storage can lead to moisture ingress and ESD damage. This risk applies to product purchased through non-authorised routes regardless of date-code.


Recovering previously used semiconductors from old PCBs can result in catastrophic heat and mechanical damage. Recovering ICs from PCBs is normally the last step of a scrap trail, which includes the products’ prior use and a return-for-recovery route through an uncontrolled storage environment. Exposure to excessive humidity, water and salt is common. This produces an authentic used product with questionable reliability.


Third-party testing can never guarantee to identify every counterfeit and cannot offer a guarantee of product reliability.


What does 100 per cent authorised and tested really mean? All product provided by an authorised source has been 100 per cent fault-coverage tested and is guaranteed to meet the original component manufacturer’s datasheet and reliability standards. Products have been fully tested by the OCM or, for ongoing production of discontinued product, by an authorised obsolescence partner. Partners are authorised to use the original test programmes to offer a full guarantee.


Authorised after-market suppliers and manufacturers, as identified by the US Department of Defence DFARS (such as Rochester Electronics), provide a 100 per cent guaranteed and counterfeit-free source for active-shortage and obsolete semiconductors.


Finished devices stored and supplied by authorised sources are guaranteed to come from the OCM and to have been stored in-line with the OCM’s specifications. These products are 100 per cent conformance guaranteed.


As a licensed manufacturer, Rochester Electronics can offer ongoing production of obsolete devices. Built from known-good die, these products are tested using the OCM’s test procedures and, in many cases, the original test equipment. Each component is 100 per cent compliant to the original specifications.


Rochester Electronics is authorised by OCMs to mark products with the original part numbers and the current date-codes. Many devices are still in production 20-years after the original discontinuations.