Obsolescence, market shortages and price hikes are the key motivational factors for counterfeiters to target a part and make a quick buck, according to data compiled by electronic components database firm SiliconExpert Technologies.
Currently, the government-industry data exchange program and other electronic community forums only really get reports of counterfeited components once the damage has already been done, with flagging typically occurring too little, too late.
The reason for this is mostly liability. Manufacturers worry that reporting the discovery of counterfeit parts will dissuade customers from buying future products, and in some cases, may result in law suits. Therefore, many prefer to deal with the issues internally, with as little publicity as possible, though this does the industry no real service.
In a highly competitive environment, the threat of counterfeiting is also wreaking havoc on the bonds of trust between suppliers, manufacturers and customers.
“We’ve had suppliers tell us ‘this is our part’ and it turns out that it’s not. Even they sometimes can’t tell the difference,” said one engineer at the SiliconExpert summit, pointing out that even usually reliable suppliers could get caught out by clever fakes.
“Even if we test we can’t always tell. In fact, sometimes it’s only after it fails on the customer’s end that we have to go back and really dig,” said another, explaining how hard it was to prevent bogus parts making it onto boards.
“We’ve also had cases where customers scream counterfeit and we pull all the boards, only to find the parts were fine, but the customers had simply put too much stress on it,” she continued.
“The industry is in disarray over this because companies can also use counterfeit flagging to snitch on one another, making it very difficult to focus in on the really serious incidences,” another engineer confided in EE Times.
Despite the seeming hopelessness of the current counterfeit situation, SiliconExpert is hoping its algorithm will be able to provide at least some guidance allowing manufacturers to focus their testing efforts on parts most likely to be counterfeited.
“At the end of the day, every manufacturer has to ask themselves which end products are most likely to be affected by counterfeit parts, know where to focus their counterfeit mitigation efforts and how many resources they can dedicate to combating counterfeits through the use of quantifiable data points,” said Chaudhary.
It may not be a silver bullet, but while test-houses grapple to keep up with the increased pressure, knowing the risks in a BOM going in can save a lot of time, resources and money in the long run.