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6 Quick Steps to Detect Counterfeit Components

In the electronic manufacturing industry, the ongoing problem of counterfeit electronic components has posed a prominent threat to the supply chain. Counterfeit parts can cause severe quality and safety issues as they are likely to malfunction, which can impact product performance. These performance issues can be dangerous especially if the products are developed for the aerospace, medical and defence industry.

Here are six quick steps you can follow to detect if your component is authentic or counterfeit.

1. Inspect packaging thoroughly

When a component is manufactured, the manufacturing company also creates an accompanying Data Sheet (sometimes referred as Data Book). This document is usually available as a PDF file that provides important information about the component such as,

Label information on packet
  • Marking information,
  • Component description,
  • Measurements,
  • Pin configuration,
  • Traceability details
  • Information on the structure of the component,
  • Packaging information, and more

The document should be easily available on the manufacturer’s website; however, if you are not able to locate it, contact the manufacturer and request one before you purchase the component.

When you receive the components, check for any incorrect spelling or information (eg. Part number) on the packet label. Details such as Manufacturer, Part Number and Serial Number should match the corresponding information provided in the Data Sheet.

2. Check for moisture sensitive packaging

Moisture absorbing packet & Humidity Indicator card

All components should be packaged in anti-static bags. In addition, genuine parts such as Integrated Components (ICs), which are sensitive to moisture should also come with a dry pack (moisture absorbing packet) and Humidity Indicator cards.

Usually, counterfeit parts do not come with any Humidity Indicator cards or forged cards are enclosed in the anti-static bags.

If a component requires a moisture absorbing packet or a humidity indicator card, this requirement will be clearly outlined in the Data Sheet. Check the Data Sheet for any specific information regarding this.

3. Verify information on the component’s top surface

Component Marking Information

The top surface of a component will usually contain information such as logos, part number (in short or full form), production location, date code and more. This information can be used to trace the component back to the manufacturer to verify it’s authenticity. You can also verify the component’s authenticity via the authorized supplier.

If space allows, most of the information will be displayed on top. However, if a component is limited in size, a code is usually printed instead. You can refer to the Data Sheet to verify the code format, location and what it stands for.

In Figure 3 (an extract from the Data Sheet), the component Microchip PIC16F887-I/PT has it’s logo displayed on top of the chip’s surface, followed by the product code right underneath. The date code (YYWW) is displayed right next to the indent along with the traceability code (NNN).

In Figure 4 (the actual component) the letters BSS right next to the date code signifies the traceability code that allows you to verify the authenticity with any authorized supplier.

Component with codes labelled

4. Inspect the date code

The date code of a component is a 4-digit code that corresponds to its production date. The Data Sheet will provide detailed instructions on how to read the date code. The code is usually found in two formats: YYWW or WWYY (WW=the week number of the year; and YY = the last two digits of the year).

For example: The component in Figure 4 has the date code 1815 (YYWW), which indicates the part was manufactured on the 15th week in the year 2018.

Date codes found on counterfeit parts are usually a combination of wrong numbers or are set in the future. For example:

Date code: 9058 (90 = the year 1990, 58 = the week number of the year). This part was manufactured in the year 1990 on the 58th week of the year. This is likely to be a counterfeit part as there are only 52 weeks in a year.

Date code: 2040 (20 = the year 2020, 40 = the week number of the year). This part was manufactured in the year 2020 on the 40th week of the year. This is also a counterfeit part as the production date is set in the future. The 40th week of 2020 is September 28 and at the time of writing this blog post, we are on week 26 (June 22).

5. Check Component Size and Pin specs

Component specs from Data Sheet

Check the size of the component by measuring the length, width and height and compare these to the information provided in the Data Sheet. If the measurements do not match or if there are variances across the same batch of parts received, then further (detailed) investigation will be required (which can be performed with an X-Ray).

In addition, check the alignment of the pins to make sure they are evenly spaced from each other. Measure the distance between the pins if necessary. Measurement specifications can also be found in the Data Sheet (see Figure 5).

Check the exposed metal of the component pins as well. If the component is authentic, the exposed metal will be clean and free from oxidation. The pins must be in uniform shape and should be free from any marks on its surface. The pins should be silver in colour but with a little dim finish. Pins on counterfeit components are often bright and glossy in appearance.

6. Check the surface of the component for any Blacktopping

Acetone Wash

Blacktopping is a technique used by counterfeiters where a thin layer of Asphalt or bitumen (a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid) is applied on the top surface of a component to cover any details such as the original manufacturer part number. The surface is then re-printed with false information and then resold in the market.

An easy way to determine if a component has been altered is to scrub the component’s top surface with Acetone, a solvent that is made up of three parts mineral spirits and one-part alcohol. Once you have secured the component on a jig, apply a little acetone on the top layer and then scrub the surface with a brush (or a cotton swab). If the component is counterfeit, any false information (printed on the top) along with the blacktopping will be removed, revealing the original component details.

Note: Be careful to avoid causing any physical damage to the component while scrubbing the top surface with solvent.

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