The definition of a counterfeit electronic part is one which has had its deliberately misrepresented by the supplier. ‘Identity’ includes such things as manufacturer, cage code, part number, date and lot code, reliability level, testing, inspection etc.

One surprising statistic that was thrown around is that up to 40% of electronic components going into manufacturing OEMs like Apple can be counterfeit.   Depending upon how the components are screened, this can lead to defective, out-of-specification or completely not working end products (ie…an Ipod).  The impact of this can be large, not only from the loss of money from purchasing the counterfeit parts but also downstream from the manufacturing cost, to the testing cost to the eventual rework and discovery of the issue.

Bill Cardoso (Creative Electron Inc), who spoke at the May 2011 Del Mar Electronicstradeshow seminar “Counterfeit Electronic Components Workshop” talked about how some 3rd party companies help OEMs catch such counterfeits through techniques such as x-ray, visual inspection, Encapsulation and Electronic Testing. Unfortunately in some cases, the counterfeit can be subtle in that resistor/capacitor/inductor values or even older generation (but functionally the same) IC parts have been misrepresented in order to get them out of someone’s inventory and sold to an OEM.   In this case, the functionality of the end product may still be there but the performance may have been degraded due to these subtle value differences.

In the case of aerospace, space or medical applications which need very tight performances on critical parameters, another methodology to catch possible counterfeit components is to monitor measurement trends.  The chart below shows a measurement trend (y axis=RF power, X axis=date range of serials tested). As you can see on 8/09 something happened with the measurement which shows that perhaps some component value had changed. Was this a counterfeit component that caused this variation or was it normal?  By looking at trend charts like this, at least the investigation can start.