When Counterfeit Components Attack
I know you’re probably expecting another teardown post, but we have something really interesting to share with you today. It’s another post in the series “how counterfeit components can complicate your life”. In the last post on this theme we were lucky to get a video of an electrolytic capacitor exploding. This time we did not get the video, but a photo to share with you – and the x-ray of the damaged part, of course.
There is a lot of talk nowadays on the problems caused by counterfeit components. The problem we see is that the conversation tends to stay at a very high level. The lack of real life examples of counterfeit components creating havoc weakens the discussion. For this reason we will share with you real life counterfeit examples anytime we can to better illustrate the conversation about counterfeit electronic components.
The board in question was supplied to us from a customer – who will need to remain nameless as per their request. We can share that the board is a power supply controller. We can also share with you that this customer uses our x-ray system for overall quality inspection of the PCB they manufacture (BGA, QFN, POP, etc.). However, they currently do not have a counterfeit component mitigation program in place. As a medium size contract manufacturer, they rely on their component distributors to provide them good parts.
The post mortem in this case is straightforward: a component with a lower power rating was remarked with a higher power rating. For most applications that have a large design tolerance, these counterfeited parts might have worked. This application, however, resulted in a nasty RMA. The very first batch of boards tested by the customer led to the flash and smoke shown in the following photo.
The x-ray image of this component clearly shows that the power wire bonds, on the same top-right border of the component, have been destroyed.
The consequences for the contract manufacturer and their customer in this case, fortunately, were only financial. The CM lost the cost of raw materials and labor to manufacture hundreds of these boards. Their customer is receiving product delayed. As a result of this experience the CM is implementing a counterfeit mitigation program as part of their incoming inspection process. They have also decided to perform periodic audits to distributors in their approved vendors list (AVL) – which, by the way, is rapidly shrinking.