No matter what the supply chain has done to thwart counterfeit components, bogus parts continue to creep into the channel. The latest effort to stop counterfeiting – by marking components with a unique identifier made out of plant DNA – is not being embraced by all members of the supply chain, including some of its biggest players.
Ed Smith, president of the Electronics Marketing Americas division of global distributor Avnet Inc., recently tackled the topic at the industry’s annual ECIA executive conference. A number of other key players in the industry also question the practice albeit less publicly.
Proponents of the tagging — including the U.S. government’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) – have advocated a unique taggant process developed by Applied DNA Sciences called SigNature DNA. Ideally, the taggant is applied to components at the original component manufacturer (OCM) factory and enables the supply chain to track components throughout their lifecycle. If components are tested and lack DNA, they are deemed suspect.
There are a number of problems with this process from the supply chain perspective. A component marked at the OCM site may be repackaged somewhere down the line. In the eyes of some standards organizations, repackaging is considered tampering and may render the component “counterfeit.”
Moreover, as Smith points out in an interview, the practice does not limit the sale of DNA taggant technology to authorized distribution channels. Organizations such as the ECIA advocate buying components only through authorized channels because these distributors buy directly from the OCM factory and carry the OCM’s warrantees. Some OCMs will not support a component unless customers can prove the part came from an authorized distributor. Anti-counterfeiting proponents within authorized channels have always maintained solutions that require an investment in technology and/or equipment should be limited to authorized partners. This is the only way to guarantee components aren’t counterfeit, they argue.
“At Avnet, we believe DNA is not a solution for counterfeiting,” Smith said. “It incurs an additional cost [for suppliers and distributors] to make customers feel like they are being protected.”
Applied DNA Sciences currently has a lock on the DNA taggant market because its systems and processes are proprietary. Therefore, supply chain partners are required to purchase the technology and testing systems only from Applied DNA.
The technology does have a lot of support, and Applied DNA Sciences recently highlighted three success stories on its site:
In the first of the three incidents, the suspect counterfeit parts fell afoul of one of the checkpoints required by the program. The SigNature DNA Provenance mark may only be applied to a part by a supplier after industry-standard inspection and tests (AS6081) are performed or OCM trace documentation is in hand. In this case, the part failed a required visual inspection, and was deemed counterfeit. The SigNature DNA Provenance mark was not used, and the company involved has verbally affirmed that the parts have been quarantined.
In the second incident, parts were marked with SigNature DNA by a distributor. After an on-site audit by Applied DNA Sciences confirmed that the distributor had neither trace documentation nor test data, SigNature DNA marking rights were suspended and all SigNature DNA ink was ordered returned. The company involved has verbally affirmed that the parts have been quarantined.
In a third incident, parts were SigNature DNA marked by a different distributor. But the parts failed testing and an audit by Applied DNA Sciences showed that no trace documentation or test results existed prior to the application of the SigNature DNA. SigNature DNA marking rights were suspended here too, and the company has verbally affirmed that the parts are quarantined pending further investigation.