10 Ways X-Ray Can Help Identify Counterfeit Parts

There’s no denying that this is a problem on a monumental scale, and it’s only getting worse. Current estimates for the annual loss to the electronics industry due to counterfeit components is north of $5 billion. With rewards that high, it’s no surprise that criminal enterprises are getting more and more sophisticated in their efforts to cash in on counterfeit parts. Beyond the financial damage caused to the industry are the social costs. Worse, these profits find their way into funding other criminal activities. What’s more people lives are put at risk when fake components make their way into mission critical products. Consider the ramifications of a component failure in a fighter jets engine system or driverless car.

As an industry, we must step-up our efforts and meet this problem head on. We need to leverage more sophisticated solutions. X-ray is one of several tools that can be deployed to combat the counterfeiters. Here are a few examples of where x-ray can help fight the war on fakes!

1. Same packaging, different inside

Two components may look identical on the outside, have the same termination, and have the same marking, but be entirely different on the inside. X-Ray is the only non-destructive way to look inside a device. These two 3D renderings show the entirely different structures of two devices from the same lot.

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2. The good, the bad & the ugly

It is only with 100% inspection that you can be sure all the components are good. Criminals commonly mix good and fake devices in the same packs or batches to avoid detection. I am sure you can see which one is out of place in the diagram above.

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3. Known good devices

Comparing incoming parts with a golden sample is a good way of searching for counterfeits. The diagram above illustrates how different two devices from a single batch look. To compare accurately check the lot code, the date code, the part numbers, the place of manufacturer, any external markings, and the construction of the device.

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4. Pinout mismatch

The layout of the lead-frame and the wire bond diagram tells you plenty about the component. Check if they differ when the wire bond diagram is overlaid on the x-ray image. In the sample above you can see the discrepancy in the VPP and VDD pins.

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5. Missing wire bonds

An X-Ray image can show missing wire bonds, indicating potential for counterfeit and the need for further analysis. However, beware, aluminum wire bonds do not show in x-ray images, so this could produce a false fail.

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6. Internal defects raise red flags

A full inspection of a part can validate mechanical integrity. For example, in the diagram above a wire bond ball and a loop can be seen inside that package. This doesn’t confirm the component is a fake, but it should sound alarm bells.

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7. External defects

External defects are a pointer to improper handling of a component. The example here shows a ball grid array (BGA) component with damaged solder balls. This type of damage is common when components are not packaged in the original tray, tube, or reel provided by the original manufacturer. Even if the component is deemed good by other tests, the fact that the parts are in the wrong package makes them suspect counterfeit.

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8. Excessive BGA voiding

Perhaps not seen strictly as counterfeiting, components are often pulled out of old boards, cleaned, and resold as new. Even if the parts are real, this process can make the parts sub-standard. However, when criminals pull ball grid array (BGA) components from boards, they need to have the parts re-balled.

The re-balling process is not trivial. The metallurgic interface between the component and the new balls is no longer pristine (as it was when the first balls were applied onto the virgin pads of the component). For this reason, it is common to find recycled BGA components with excessive surface voids. As can be seen here, the bare component shows a large amount of voiding that indicates a part that was pulled and re-balled.

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9. Bent pins

An indication of improper storage of components is bent pins, as seen here. This x-ray inspection can be done with the components still inside the tray, so they don’t need to be removed from the package for a suspect counterfeit determination to be issued. Not only are trays of the wrong size often used, sometimes the trays with the wrong material are used. In these cases, instead of using the proper material to deal with ESD, counterfeiters replace it with lower cost options. These lower cost material options can damage the parts.

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10. Excess die attach voiding

Electronic component manufacturers invest heavily in the consistency of the products they sell. If a few of the components within a lot have anomalous die attach voiding, like the one here, suspicion is drawn to the overall quality of the part and the lot. It may have not been stored in appropriate thermal and humidity conditions.

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What’s next?

You’re not alone. We’ve been fighting counterfeiters for a decade now, so don’t hesitate to give us a call. We can help you determine the best tools you can deploy to keep counterfeit components out of your supply chain.