The raw material for such counterfeit parts often
begins with electronic recycling programs. According
to a 2013 SIA report, a typical “manufacturing
• Remove the components from the board by heating
it over an open flame.
• Sort the components by function.
• Remove the original markings and add new
markings to make the parts more marketable.
• Reworking pins on the package so that they appear
new, sometimes with chemicals that may work
their way into the part over time.
Such components may pass initial inspection and
sample testing. They may not fail until months or years
after they’re installed, leading to an increased incidence
of field failures, government-mandated recalls, loss of
reputation, and even life.
Positively identifying a functional part as a
counterfeit is a difficult task, especially since the
original manufacturer is often unwilling to release
specific data on their products.
ERAI (Naples, FL) can help: it’s an information-services organization that monitors the global
electronics supply chain. Among other tools, the
company offers a searchable database of high-risk and
suspect counterfeit parts, a nonconformance library
with photographic of examples of counterfeiting, and a
comprehensive list of resources.
Kristal Snider of ERAI provided me with a couple of
counterfeiting examples. The two devices in Figure 1
appeared genuine when they were purchased on the open
market, but decapsulation showed that the genuine part
had the TI logo and the part
number, and the counterfeit
version had the “Atech” logo
and no part number.
Use Authorized Distributors
The distribution channel takes
counterfeiting very seriously.
Every distributor has an anti-counterfeit policy, and many,
such as Mouser and Arrow,
have published white papers
to assist their customers.
If you’re looking for a
discontinued part, start with
a distributor who’s authorized
by the manufacturer:
As parts of their efforts, Rochester Electronics
has even produced a video showing the heroic
Captain Rochester springing into action to foil Count
OerFitter’s dastardly plans. Boo! Hiss! Something else
to blame on Europeans.
Non-authorized Stocking Distributors: Care Needed
If an authorized distributor doesn’t have what you
need, the next step might be a non-authorized stocking
distributor—a distributor without a legal agreement
with the OEM to sell their products.
Non-authorized stocking distributors have acquired
components from various channels, including unused
excess inventory from other distributors, OEMs, or
contract manufacturers. Reputable non-authorized
stocking distributors do everything they can to clean
their inventory: they operate counterfeit-detection
programs, and are certified to standards such as
AS9120. However, more caution is required: be sure to
verify the certifications, qualifications, and programs.
What if conventional distributors (of any stripe) can’t
help? If a product is low-volume, or any design change
is subject to a lengthy or expensive requalification
process, it’s tempting to look for any source for that
Non-authorized dealers, often called brokers,
don’t have stock but procure a component from an
undisclosed source. They often specialize in hard-to-find parts and ply their trade on websites such as
Alibaba or even E-Bay.
This is the infamous “gray market” and you’re in
dangerous territory: utmost care is required. If you’re
considering buying from a dealer, do your homework.
Ask lots of questions such as:
• Where are they located? Can you visit their
• Do they belong to an applicable trade association
such as the Independent Distributors of Electronics
• Do they possess relevant certifications such as
AS6081, AS9120, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS
18001, and ESD S20.20?
Getting straight answers might be difficult. Many
counterfeit components reach their end-customer
through a convoluted supply chain: one of the military
examples quoted above traveled from the originating
source in Shenzhen to a distributor, a subcontractor,
and finally the prime contractor before ending up in
an aircraft. ECN
Figure 1: Comparison
of a counterfeit (top)
and genuine (bottom)
versions of TI’s
SN74LS595 8-bit shift
register. Inspection of the
die revealed the truth.
(Image Source: ERAI)