Confronting counterfeit semiconductors

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

Counterfeit semiconductors come in many disguises. The definition of a counterfeit is ‘an imitation intended to be passed off fraudulently or deceptively as genuine, for profit’. In the world of semiconductors, counterfeits include: 

• Non-functional or scrap product, re-marked as good and resold 

• Second-hand original components, re-marked, repacked but claim to be new

• Functional, substandard product purchased by the counterfeiter, re-marked and resold as a higher spec product at an increased price

• Unauthorized functional copies

• Genuine original components with forged traceability and authenticity documentation

Counterfeiters have moved beyond fraudulent copies of manufacturers’ logos and IC packages with no die inside, that can be caught by AS6081 visual testing. Counterfeiters now have sophisticated operations, utilizing impeccable component finishes, plus seemingly perfect paperwork trails, as the potential gains for counterfeiters are enormous.

Rochester Electronics’ technical sales manager, Ken Greenwood

Quality does not mean reliability 

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

Some examples of when counterfeiting may lead to compromised long-term reliability:

• In re-marking cases, the process of etching back the original external markings with aggressive chemicals or mechanical grinders can result in internal bond or substrate damage. Chemical residues from the cleaning process slowly enter and contaminate the device, causing bond-pad or bond-wire failures

• Non-authorized handling and storage that is not in compliance with AS6496 can lead to moisture ingress and ESD damage. This risk is possible for any product purchased through non-authorized, routes regardless of date-code

• The process of recovering previously used semiconductors from old PCBs can result in catastrophic heat and mechanical damage. Recovery of the IC from the PCB is normally the last step of a scrap trail, which includes the product’s prior use, and a return-for-recovery route through an uncontrolled storage environment. Exposure to excessive humidity, water and salt is common. This process 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 authorized and tested really mean?

All product provided by an authorized source has been 100 per cent fault-coverage tested and is guaranteed to meet the original component manufacturer’s (OCM) datasheet. More crucially, it is guaranteed to meet their reliability standards. Products have been fully tested by the OCM or, in the case of ongoing production of discontinued product, by an authorized obsolescence partner. Partners are authorized to use the original test programs to offer a full guarantee of quality. The ultimate tool in the fight against counterfeits is authorization.

Authorized after-market suppliers and manufacturers, as identified by the US Department of Defense (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 authorized 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 of these components are 100 per cent compliant to the original specifications.

Rochester Electronics is authorized 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.