How do you tell if a component is authentic?
Eyeballing the chip is a start, but it won’t be enough. These days, you’ll need a digital camera, a laboratory-grade high-powered microscope, a binocular stereo-zoom reflected-light microscope and, to be on the safe side, an X-ray inspection system. You’ll also need to be trained in the fine art of decapping semiconductor packages, both mechanically and chemically.
As the criminals become more sophisticated, catching bogus parts is becoming increasingly difficult and costly. But catch them you must, especially if your company makes equipment for the auto, aerospace, medical or military markets, where bad parts could mean lost lives. Indeed, if you skimp on due diligence or “knowingly” buy counterfeit parts, you may be held liable.
Conviction for an individual carries a fine of up to $2 million, prison time of up to 10 years or both.
The sheer number of counterfeit parts entering the supply chain is rising at an alarming rate. For example, in June, $852,000-worth of counterfeit SanDisk portable memory chips were discovered and seized by federal agents at the Port of Long Beach/Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found the chips hidden inside 1,932 karaoke machines shipped from China.
In Guiyu, China, some residents scrape out a living dipping pc boards in open vats of acid to harvest parts and materials.
Counterfeit computer hardware, including chips, was one of the top commodities seized in 2010 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Seizures in the category were up fivefold over 2009, ICE reported.
Between 2007 and 2010, ICE collaborated with CBP on more than 1,300 seizures involving a total of 5.6 million counterfeit semiconductor devices. The fake parts bore the trademarks of 87 Asian, European and North American semiconductor companies. More than 50 of the seized counterfeit shipments contained devices that were falsely marked as military- or aerospace-grade.
A 2010 U.S. Department of Commerce study of counterfeit electronics in the defense industry corroborated the trend. Based on responses from original component manufacturers(OCMs), the Commerce study found an increase of more than 150 percent in counterfeit parts in military and government applications between 2005 and 2008.