Some things in life—and music—just won’t go away. In life, we have Kim Jong-un and the IRS. In music,
we have the Beach Boys. Formed in Hawthorne, CA in
1961, they’re still touring and singing about Daddy taking
the T-bird away, even as their members contemplate their
Electronic components aren’t so lucky: many have
more in common with a ‘90s boy band (average
lifespan seven years) than Mike Love and co. The life
of an electronic component follows a well-worn path:
introduction, growth, maturity, decline, phase-out, and
end of production. Original equipment manufacturers
(OEMs) mark the beginning of the end with a product
discontinuance notice: research firm IHS estimates that
about 4,270 product discontinuance notices will go out
in 2017. The number has been steadily increasing over
the last decade: causes include changes in technology, the
introduction of new regulations such as RoHS, and even
Even with notices of two years or more, a product
discontinuance often leaves a customer in a bind,
and a network of authorized and non-authorized
distributors exists to service the demand for discontinued
components. The problem of counterfeit components
affects all of them.
Counterfeiting is Everywhere
Just like the guy selling “genuine” Gucci handbags from
the trunk of his car, counterfeiters are trying to trick
you into thinking you’re buying legitimate products. The
World Semiconductor Council defines counterfeiting as
thus: “Semiconductor counterfeiting is considered the
act of fraudulently manufacturing, altering, distributing,
or offering a product or package that is represented
Counterfeits affect all segments of the market. Even
the military isn’t immune: a 2012 report by the Senate
Armed Services Committee uncovered 1,800 cases
of counterfeit parts involving over one million units.
Affected systems included thermal weapons sights,
missile computers, helicopters, and aircraft.
Although some counterfeit electronic components
originate in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, according
to IHS, over half (53 percent) of the substandard or
counterfeit electronic components come from China.
Although all component types are affected, the most-
often targeted types include dynamic memory and
programmable logic devices, or higher-priced devices such
as microprocessors and microcontrollers. Even connectors
aren’t immune—counterfeiters often substitute aluminum
for copper, or claim bogus UL compliance.
Unsurprisingly, discontinued components account
for around the bulk of the counterfeit activity at 67
percent, but around 19 percent of counterfeits are OEM
Sometimes counterfeit products are simply empty
packages, or packages with the wrong die, or packages
without bond wires. These are non-functional and easy to
spot, but a more insidious approach is to take functioning
parts and alter them in ways that are hard to detect.
Examples include new product codes; RoHS markings on
noncompliant products; high-performance markings on
low-performance products; or automotive- or military-
grade designations on commercial-grade parts.
The Distribution Channel and
the Fight against Counterfeit
By Paul Pickering, Technical Contributor
© 2017 Universe Kogaku (America) Inc.
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