What can I do as a purchasing agent for a small company to ensure I will not get counterfeit or used components from an electronics parts broker? This wasn't a big issue 20 years ago, but it is becoming more and more of a problem with just-in-time purchasing policies and more expensive integrated circuits like systems on a chip (SoC).
For an enterprise to succeed, it has to offer a unique, cutting-edge product, or it must offer a product similar to its competitors but at a significantly lower price. For new technology or product enhancements, the design engineer not only considers the functionality of the circuit and its component requirements, but also the part count and costs, including assembly.
When given a budget for the finished product, the designer will weigh the features or functions of any particular component against using less expensive alternatives. The component engineer helps the design engineer with the availability and cost study. Newer, more feature-rich parts may be at the heart of the design, and the designer may have to use bleeding-edge components to meet performance and size requirements.
The selection of the newest parts often gives purchasing little choice, since there is frequently no alternate that will do the job. Purchasing is backed into a corner where it may only have one supplier, which requires a minimum purchase at a very high cost. This single-source situation raises a green flag for counterfeiters.
A ball grid array (BGA) package of a certain ball count arranged in the same pattern as other BGAs may be easily blacktopped and remarked. This is old news, but it remains a problem. The counterfeiters know that, unless I have a very expensive, custom-made BGA socket mounted on a test board with full circuit functionality, their part would likely make it to my stock room and on to the assembly house. Incoming inspection would have to open sealed packages and test the BGAs individually to guarantee the entire lot. Then the parts would have to be baked to dry out any humidity gained during the exposure required for testing, and the bags would have to be resealed and assigned a certification lot and date traveler. If I have several different BGAs on the same board, incoming inspection may become the most expensive component of my in-house labor costs.
I started this article talking about a small company. Unless the equipment and procedures for incoming inspection are in place as mentioned above, a counterfeit part could easily impact the company's viability. Even though a small company performs both system-level and final tests before shipping to customers, the cost of rework and schedule compromise could result in reduced margins or the loss of critical customers with their own critical internal schedules for their business concerns.
Before purchasing places its first order for any highly integrated, cost-intensive, multi-pin, or multi-ball part, it should ask what the supplier has done to guarantee the product it has on its shelves is not counterfeit. Get a copy of the test date and lot number, and ask for that information to be included on the packing slip. Also, amend your purchase order terms to indicate that it is the supplier's responsibility to cover all costs for rework, repair, and replacement if any certified part is found to be counterfeit.
If the supplier balks at this, it does not have confidence in its own counterfeiting detection measures. If that is the case, neither should you. However, if this is a single source and you have to buy from this company or die, your component engineer and design engineer have not done their jobs. This issue should have been addressed early in the design stage, when the part was being selected. Purchasing cannot make up for poor design disciplines.
Make sure there are two supplier-related questions on the design checklist: Does the supplier certify parts as noncounterfeit, and does the supplier cover the costs for counterfeit parts discovered after you receive them at your facility? Making these two questions part of your design check process will save you a lot of anguish when the factory begins to buy and build in high volume.