Trust but Verify. Why Take the Risk? Detection of Counterfeit Components by K-Shell XRF Technique

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Steve Glass, RMD Instruments, warns that counterfeit electronic components discovered by the defense industry has doubled since 2008. He busts a few myths about counterfeiting, such as “all counterfeit components come from China” and “counterfeits are so crude they can easily be detected.”

Figure 1. XRF inspection of an SMT component.Counterfeit components are a major issue facing the electronics industry. Counterfeit suppliers are getting more sophisticated and are using techniques such as laser etching in production of these fake components that makes them virtually undetectable from real parts. A counterfeit product typically is less reliable than the real thing, if it works at all. Fakes can impede tasks as varied as automotive navigation, medicine dispensing, and intelligence gathering.

Another myth worth busting is the notion that China is responsible for all of the world’s counterfeit problems. Counterfeiting is truly a global problem. One of the most notorious areas that counterfeiters exploit is the provision of hard-to-get and obsolete parts. Their victims are industries exempt from the RoHS Directive such as military, aerospace, and healthcare, which often require parts that have been discontinued by semiconductor manufacturers. In the past five years, counterfeit computer chips, routers, and other electronics products have become an epidemic of sorts. The number of counterfeit electronics products uncovered in the defense industry alone has more than doubled since 2008. According to the National Electronics Distributors Association (NEDA), an estimated $100 billion a year can be attributed to the counterfeit component industry.

In the majority of cases, these counterfeit parts do not contain expensive elements such as gold (Au), bismuth (Bi), tantalum (Ta), silver (Ag), etc. Instead, the counterfeiters often substitute the costly materials with lead (Pb), palladium (Pd), or other low-cost elements. K-Shell X-ray fluorescence (XRF) systems, due to their penetrating and materials analysis ability, are capable of providing qualitative data for the presence or absence of substances through components and packaging without needing to disturb the actual component or the packaging materials.

Baseline comparison software capability-result: good component Baseline comparison software capability-result: suspect component

Figure 2. Typical screen shot from RMD’s counterfeit analysis software.

If you do not take precautions, it can happen to you. Why take the risk?

Steve Glass, RoHS Business Development Manager, RMD Instruments, may be contacted at 44 Hunt Street, Watertown, MA 02472;


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