How to detect and avoid counterfeit electronic components?

The component market has experienced volatility, with a global component shortage at the end of 2022 and a surplus in 2023. This article from TechSparks explores the proliferation of counterfeit electronic components during times of component scarcity. 

Counterfeit components are products that appear similar or identical to genuine components, but their internal structure and performance are different. Due to various factors, this issue is common in the electronics industry and can lead to circuit instability, equipment failure, and safety hazards, making it important to establish effective preventive measures.

Table of Contents

Types of Counterfeit Components

Empty Package

Empty packages are frequently used by criminals to produce fake components. This process can be performed manually or by machine, where the original packaging or casing of the genuine component is removed and replaced with a new casing. The components are then sold as genuine products, often with a similar appearance and packaging.

These empty packages are designed to appear sealed and properly labeled, but upon opening, it is revealed that components are missing or have been replaced. This can lead to serious problems when the components are integrated into electronic devices, as missing features can render the device inoperable or cause damage to the device. In the worst-case scenario, it can even pose a safety risk to the user.

Low-Price Label Swap

The act of swapping labels with lower-priced tags is a common tactic used by counterfeiters to deceive unsuspecting buyers. This fraudulent practice involves changing or altering a product’s label, markings, or packaging in order to make it appear as though it came from a different manufacturer, source, or date code. As a result, unsuspecting buyers are often sold lower-performing and less expensive components that are mixed into volume products.

Poor Quality Improvement

One of the most complex and dangerous methods is known as the Inferior Quality Improvement Method (IQIM). Counterfeiters use this method to alter the appearance of electronic components or replace them with new features. The process often requires advanced technology and equipment to support surface or interior treatments, making it difficult for consumers to detect any irreversible or hidden damage until failure occurs.

Another method counterfeiters use to create fake electronic components is refurbished electronic assemblies. This involves cleaning, sanding, polishing, recoating, or resoldering the surface of an electronic assembly to remove signs of wear and tear, creating the illusion of a brand new product.

Counterfeiters also use reprogrammed components, where they modify the firmware or software of electronic components such as microcontrollers, memory chips, or sensors to change their functionality or compatibility with other devices. They may even transfer data from the real component and copy it onto the fake component to make it appear genuine.

Counterfeit Replication

The piracy imitation method is considered one of the most advanced and difficult-to-detect counterfeiting methods. Counterfeiters need an in-depth understanding of the product to replicate the same parameters, appearance, and even functions as genuine components. This makes it extremely challenging to identify and detect counterfeit products.

Counterfeiters begin by reverse engineering the product, deconstructing and analyzing the design and construction of the genuine product. The counterfeit component is then manufactured by duplicating the design, drawing or sample of the genuine product from the parsed data. The amount of time and effort required for piracy and imitation makes these methods commonly used in high-end industries like electronics, pharmaceuticals, luxury goods, automobiles, and aviation. These industries are often targeted by counterfeiters due to supply shortages and high-profit margins.

Counterfeit Electronic Component Detection & Avoidance

counterfeit electronic component detection

Check Component Tags

  • Part number: The part number should match the manufacturer’s specifications and identify the specific component.
  • Manufacturer’s logo: The manufacturer’s logo should be clearly visible and match the official logo of the manufacturer.
  • Date code: The date code should accurately indicate the date of manufacture of the component.
  • Lot number: The lot number should be present and match the manufacturer’s records to ensure traceability.
  • Country of origin: The country of origin should be indicated and match the manufacturer’s official location.
  • Pin configuration: The pin configuration should match the manufacturer’s specifications and indicate the correct orientation of the component.
  • Quality grading: The quality grading should be indicated if applicable, indicating the level of quality of the component.
  • RoHS compliance: The RoHS compliance marking should be present if the component is compliant with the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive.
  • Serial number: A serial number may be present on the component for traceability and quality control purposes.

Check Component Packaging

  • Date code: Check that the date code on the packaging matches the date code of the component inside. A mismatched date code could indicate that the component is old, counterfeit, or has been refurbished.
  • Seals: Look for tamper-evident seals on the packaging. These seals should be intact and not broken. If the seals are broken or missing, it could be an indication that the component has been tampered with.
  • Barcodes: Check that the barcodes on the packaging match the barcodes on the manufacturer’s label. Barcode mismatch could indicate that the component is counterfeit.
  • Quality of packaging material: Check that the quality of the packaging material is consistent with the manufacturer’s specifications. If the packaging material is of low quality, it could be an indication that the component is counterfeit.

Visual Inspection and Functional Testing

Visual inspection involves examining the physical characteristics of the component, such as its color, shape, and size, and ensuring that it matches the manufacturer’s specifications. Any signs of damage or wear should also be noted, as these may affect the component’s functionality.

Functional testing involves connecting the component to a test circuit and verifying that it operates as expected. This may involve measuring voltage, current, and other parameters to ensure that the component meets the manufacturer’s specifications.

In some cases, specialized equipment may be required to test the component, such as a curve tracer for testing transistors or an oscilloscope for testing electronic signals. It is important to follow proper testing procedures and document the results of the tests for future reference.

Third Party Verification Service

A third-party verification service provider is an independent organization that specializes in verifying the authenticity and quality of electronic components. These providers offer various services, such as visual inspections, functional testing, and documentation review, to ensure that the components meet the required specifications and standards.

The verification process involves examining the physical attributes of the component, including the markings, packaging, and overall appearance. The component is then subjected to functional testing to ensure that it performs as intended. The documentation review involves verifying the traceability of the component and ensuring that all necessary documentation, such as certificates of conformance and test reports, are available.

The use of third-party verification service providers can help electronics manufacturers to mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit components and ensure the quality and reliability of their products. These providers can also assist in identifying potential supply chain issues and developing effective supply chain management strategies.

  • SGS
  • DNV
  • Bureau Veritas
  • TÜV Rheinland

Reliable Component Supplier

For those who purchase components directly, selecting a reliable component supplier is the most crucial step in counterfeit components avoidance procedures. This can completely eliminate the harm caused by fraudulent vendors to your electronic products. However, this may not always be possible. For instance, when carrying out commercial PCBA projects, electronics manufacturers often choose turnkey services to save time and effort, outsourcing component procurement to EMS service providers who are audited for quality. In such cases, it is essential to compare the quality of these services to purchasing components directly.

If you want genuine products, it is best to rely on reliable component suppliers. TechSparks recommends that you consider the following trusted component suppliers:

  • Digi-Key Electronics
  • Mouser Electronics
  • Arrow Electronics
  • Avnet
  • RS Components
  • Newark
  • Farnell
  • Future Electronics
  • TTI, Inc.
  • Allied Electronics

Digi-Key Electronics

Digi-Key Electronics official website

Digi-Key is a well-established company that has been serving the electronics industry since 1972. It is widely recognized as a trusted source for high-quality electronic components that cater to the needs of engineers, hobbyists, and manufacturers worldwide.

With a product catalog exceeding 11 million components, Digi-Key offers a wide range of electronic components, including semiconductors, interconnects, passive components, electromechanical components, power supplies, and much more. Furthermore, they provide value-added services such as custom cable assemblies, kit solutions, and design tools that make the process of engineering and designing much simpler. Digi-Key’s wide selection of components, competitive prices, and fast shipping make it a go-to choice for many people.

Mouser Electronics

Mouser Electronics is a well-established and authorized worldwide distributor of over 1,200 industry-leading manufacturer brands of semiconductors and electronic components. They have been in operation since 2007 and have their headquarters in Mansfield, Texas, USA.

Mouser Electronics is equipped with a state-of-the-art wireless warehouse management system, which enables them to process orders 24/7 and ensures a fast turnaround time for their customers. Additionally, they have offices in 27 key countries around the world, making them easily accessible to a global customer base.

Their product offerings are RoHS compliant, making them suitable for use by design engineers and buyer groups. Overall, Mouser Electronics is a reputable and reliable supplier of electronic components, and their commitment to customer satisfaction is reflected in their high-quality products and efficient order processing system.

Avnet

Avnet is a global technology solutions company that connects electronic component manufacturers and technology innovators with customers and markets around the world. With more than 95 years of experience in the electronics industry, Avnet has a deep understanding of the market and provides a comprehensive range of services, including design, supply chain and logistics, and product distribution.

Avnet’s design services help customers bring their ideas to life and accelerate their time-to-market. Their team of engineers provides support in every stage of the product design cycle, from concept to production, and offers a range of design tools and resources to help customers build their products more efficiently.

In addition to design and distribution, Avnet’s supply chain and logistics services help customers manage their inventory and reduce costs. They offer a range of supply chain solutions, including vendor-managed inventory (VMI), consignment, and just-in-time (JIT) delivery.

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