Creative ElectronGET A DEMO

X-ray News

Fireside Chat: 10 Ways to Find Counterfeit Electronic Components Using X-Rays

On the topic of counterfeit component interdiction, Creative Electron has unrivaled institutional knowledge.  It’s on full display in this week’s Fireside Chat with the Xperts, 10 Ways to Find Counterfeit Electronic Components Using X-Rays, presented by our own David Kruidhof.  David provides an overview of the supply and demand issues that create an opening for counterfeiters, shares many of their techniques, and most importantly, how to combat them.

It’s a remarkably comprehensive 30 minutes, including important insights into the problem of counterfeit as well as recycled components, and a compelling array of  sample images that demonstrate how X-ray  inspection can help keep these part out of the supply chain.  If you missed it, enjoy it and other Fireside Chats with the Xperts here.

 

Transcript:

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Good morning, it’s Wednesday, 10 o’clock, so it’s time for another Fireside Chat with the Xperts. Today, I have the pleasure to introduce my good friend and colleague, David Kruidhof, who’s going to be talking about counterfeit components and how we can find them using X-rays. It’s all yours, David.

David Kruidhof:

Thanks, Bill. Happy to be joining this morning. Pretty exciting topic for us, here at Creative Electron. As Bill said, we’re going to be talking about 10 ways to find counterfeit electronic components using X-ray. Counterfeit components and Creative Electron go a long way back, long history of helping our customers mitigate the risk with counterfeits, and more recently, not even just with electronic components. Finding counterfeit batteries, counterfeit handbags, even. We do a lot of work with counterfeit different things, but today we’re going to be talking about electronic components, in particular. First, I want to answer the question, why is this so important? Why do we keep talking about this? Why does it need to be addressed?

David Kruidhof:

This really came to the front stage, so to speak, about 10 years ago. Senators Brown and Carper brought this up, that counterfeit parts were infiltrating the DOD, infiltrating military airplanes, and things like that. This is obviously very critical. It’s not just a threat, it’s not just a possibility. It’s definitely a reality. These kinds of things are really happening. They’re really around and we need to make sure that we’re addressing this kind of a problem. How does the electronic component supply chain work?

David Kruidhof:

You have your OCMs, which are the original component manufacturers. These are the Intels, the Xilinx of the world. These companies are making components, they’re manufacturing them and they want to sell them on the market. They have franchise distributors. These are authorized distributors. These are the big guys. They’re only buying parts from these OCMs so they know they’re getting good stuff and they’re reselling it, usually in volume, to their customers. But when they get to the end of their stock, the end of the run for these components, they sell their excess stock to independent distributors.

David Kruidhof:

These are the next tier guys, and this is the start of the gray market, we call it. This is where you don’t really know, you, as the end user, don’t really know where the independent attributor got these components from. They could be legitimate. They could be counterfeit, depending on where they bought it and if they’re being checked or not. That’s what we want to talk about. There’s also brokers. These are people who generally don’t stock components, but their customers come to them and say, “Hey, I need component ABC, 123.” Then this broker will go out and talk to all these independent distributors and try to find the components. They’ll source them for their customers and they’ll bring it to them.

David Kruidhof:

Then, after that is the aftermarket manufacturer. These are companies that actually will make essentially obsolete components. The OCM says, “Hey, we’re not going to make these anymore. It doesn’t make enough money for us,” but there’s still some demand. These aftermarket manufacturers will step in and make them at, obviously, a much higher price per piece. Sometimes it’s authorized by the OCM, sometimes they’re doing reverse engineering. Various ways of them going about that, but all of these are servicing the contract manufacturers, the original equipment manufacturers of the world. That’s kind of how that supply chain works, in a nutshell.

David Kruidhof:

What’s going on with counterfeits? Counterfeits are definitely increasing as demand increases for parts. A couple years back, there was a huge shortage of capacitors, small component, but because there was such a huge demand for them and not enough legitimate supply, counterfeiters came and stepped in. Counterfeit components are definitely increasing. Also, there’s the replacement of military equipment out in the field. Military equipment is always a… It’s something that they want to replace and make it exactly the same, because they knew it worked that time. Maybe 20 years later, they still want to make this device, or they want to repair a device and they need these obsolete components for that.

David Kruidhof:

DOD budget cuts, obviously, cause some issues here. If the DOD is not investing in new technology, in advancing new devices for military use, they have to use their old stuff. If they’re going to be using their old stuff, then they have to use obsolete components. Also, longer delivery times is another issue. Like I mentioned with the capacitors, there’s a definite shortage of tantalum capacitors, in particular. Lead times were just getting crazy, so that makes people more desperate. When you’re desperate for something, you’re willing to cut some corners, and that may lead to problems with getting some counterfeit parts in there.

David Kruidhof:

Also, counterfeiters are getting better. They started off by just sanding down the markings and painting something on with some cheap paint, and then people started catching onto that, so then counterfeiters had to step up their game and then anti counterfeiters had to step up their game. It’s back and forth, that we’re always playing, just like with, basically, any criminal enterprise.

David Kruidhof:

A lot of OCMs are making components specifically for military use, and they’re making a commercial side of that, as well. Some of these counterfeiters are taking those commercial ones that don’t have the ruggedness that military will need, and they’re selling them as a military part, even though they’re not actually that part. And then as counterfeiters, as people realize that this criminal endeavor is something that makes them money, they’re exploring new ways to do it. It’s entering not just military applications, it’s definitely entering commercial, automotive and medical, as well.

David Kruidhof:

There’s a lot of misconceptions out there, regarding counterfeit, so I just want to go over a couple of them now. The first one I talked about a little bit is that it’s not a chance, it’s not a high enough chance that I need to worry about it in my day-to-day manufacturing, but actually independent distributors have reported that anywhere from 0.5% to 35% of their product is suspect, or what they’re receiving. 0.5% doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider the numbers of components that’s going through there, that adds up pretty quick. Of course, as you approach the 35% mark, that’s a big chunk of the components that are out there.

David Kruidhof:

Another misconception is that only bad distributors, or only the bad guys are going to sell me counterfeit components, but actually a lot of these distributors, if they’re not checking their stock, they could be very well meaning, they’re just not doing the due diligence, and so they’re reselling counterfeit components without doing a thorough enough check.

David Kruidhof:

Another point is that only expensive components are counterfeited, and maybe that’s where it started, but nowadays, it’s pretty much anything. As I mentioned earlier, the counterfeits or the capacitors from couple of years ago, those were pretty cheap. They started very cheap and then the demand, as supply was not meeting demand, cost was going up. Still the relatively low cost components that counterfeiters were going after, trying to earn a buck. And finally, a lot of people believe that electrical tests will pass, will prove the authenticity of components, but that’s just not the case. More than half of counterfeit components have a die with very similar functionality, or a capacitor might have the same value, but it’s just not well-built as what it’s advertised to be.

David Kruidhof:

The roots of the problem, I kind of mentioned this, basically the surplus stock of legitimate electronic components that these big franchise distributors don’t want to deal with anymore, they have to sell them to somebody. That creates these independent distributors, the brokers who, essentially, become this gray market. Once you have that established, now it can be flooded with counterfeits. That’s kind of how it starts. We also have a huge amount of scrap electronics that we just generate, and consumer electronics, and environmentally, we don’t want to just throw them in a landfill, so then what do you do? Well, you ship them off to somebody and you end up harvesting components from there and then again, you’re in this gray area.

David Kruidhof:

Components being made obsolete, that’s a huge problem. Intel doesn’t want to make a processor from 10 years ago. There’s not enough demand for it, even five years ago. They want to move on to the latest and greatest technology, so that they can compete with their competitors. It just doesn’t make financial sense to be making both components that hardly anyone needs.

David Kruidhof:

Of course, the delivery time, I mentioned that already, and buyers at all the contract manufacturers and, even OEMs, are looking to reduce costs. That’s their job. They’re probably given bonuses for that kind of thing. They’re always trying to look for lower price items on market, and that includes components. When you start cutting costs, you introduce the possibility of introducing counterfeit. Here we have a picture of component harvesting. I mentioned the scrap PCBs. I believe this was taken in China, you can see a man here who, he’s just working in this sink, or metal bowl. There’s a heat gun right here, and it’s just blowing heat down. He’s got a hot glove on and he’s just reflowing these components, picking them off with the tweezers there, and putting them into these teacups. He’s going to take those, a full teacup there, and sell it to somebody who buys them and then who knows what they’re going to do?

David Kruidhof:

This has pros and cons. Great, it’s not going to landfill, but the question is, where is it going? What’s happening with these things? Who’s buying them and who’s selling them, as what? Are they labeled properly? That kind of thing. We had a visitor, a couple of months back, who had a very good discussion with Bill about this very matter, because… It’s Scotty, from Strange Parts. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the channel. If you’re not, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s pretty awesome. In this case, he had built his own Galaxy S9 Plus from parts in China that were available in a market. He built his own phone. He wanted to come here and check it out and compare it to one he bought at Best Buy down the street, and just look at the differences, see if he was getting counterfeit components or authentic ones, those kinds of things.

David Kruidhof:

He’s seen that guy in the previous slide, maybe not that person, but he’s seen these people harvesting components. He had a different perspective. I’m just going to play his video, a portion of it, it’s about three minutes long, but as I mentioned before, I recommend checking out the whole thing.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

You want to go count some parts?

Scotty:

Yeah, let’s go count some parts and look at some counterfeit parts.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

As you know, a lot of military aerospace applications stay in the market for… An aircraft stays in operation for 20, 25, sometimes 30 years. The big challenge that these companies have, they make an airplane in the ’80s. They should be able to buy parts from the ’80s, because as you know, they become obsolete really fast. What happens is it becomes a nightmare to keep the equipment going after all the parts become obsolete. That gives a huge open field for criminals to come up with counterfeit parts. We have one example here.

Scotty:

I like to call them creative entrepreneurs.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

I call them criminals. This is a very interesting component. This is a Samsung SDRAM part. It’s 90 dollars per component. A reel of this parts comes with 1,000 components, so that’s 90,000 dollars. With 90,000 dollars for a reel of components, that gives you the incentive for the creative entrepreneurs.

Scotty:

And not only that, you don’t have to counterfeit each one. You can counterfeit just a few and make your margin just on that. They can be mostly real, with a few extra ones. Now you’ve made, at least, a few hundred extra bucks, just even replacing a couple.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Yeah, what the counterfeiters love to do is to remove components from a board like this one. They remove components with a hot air gun. They remove it, they clean the pads and then they remark with the part that you’re looking for. It’s a phenomenally lucrative enterprise. Want to take a look what this looks like?

Scotty:

Just to be clear, I’ve seen some folks that do this sort of thing, in person. You see people, in the markets, pulling chips off boards. And to be really clear, that’s not the majority of what they do. The more legit folks will take parts off boards and then just re-reel them, or put them in trays, or whatever the standard packaging is, because sometimes these parts are actually no longer being manufactured and are valuable.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Counterfeiting is misrepresentation. If you pull something out of a board and you sell to me and you tell me you pull it out of a board-

Scotty:

“Hey, this is a used chip. I re-reeled it-”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Perfectly fine.

Scotty:

And you might be thankful, because that could be the only place you could get that chip, right? You may not be able to buy a new one anymore.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Absolutely. You came to us with the challenge to find which one is the bad S9.

Scotty:

Right, well not bad, not bad, nothing was refurbished.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

I didn’t say which one is good or bad.

Scotty:

That’s true.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Can you tell me which one is the fake component?

Scotty:

None of them are real.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

There’s some good parts mixed with some bad parts.

Scotty:

I’m going to guess, just based on the chip markings, that this one is different from the rest, but I don’t see any other differences.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Let’s go check it out.

Scotty:

And so you just put this flat on the table and-

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

 

Scotty:

Oh, that’s so cool! Oh, look at that.

David Kruidhof:

He had a little bit different perspective. He’s been there, he’s been in China, he’s seen people harvesting components. As he brought up… Yeah?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Some of the people replied that the sound might not be… They couldn’t hear the dialogue. Would you mind just clearing quickly what the discussion was at the video?

David Kruidhof:

Yeah, so sorry about that. What Scotty is saying is that he’s been in China. He’s been there. He’s physically seen people pull these components off the board. And really the question of, is it criminal or not, is what they do with them afterwards. He was saying that some people will pull these components off and they’ll re-reel them and then they’ll sell them. As long as you’re selling them as components that were reworked, you tell them, “Hey, this is, this is the component. I pulled it off of a board and I’m reselling it to you.” That’s fine. And even as Bill was saying, appreciate that, because there’s no other way to get that component anymore. If it’s obsolete, it’s obsolete now.

David Kruidhof:

That person’s actually adding value to the supply chain. But if you were to take that component and say, “Hey, here’s a reel of brand new components I found,” that’s counterfeit. Now he’s misrepresenting what happened. Of course, he goes a step further and grinds off the markings and relabels them as something else, obviously counterfeit. He’s marking them as something that they’re definitely not. There’s different levels to this, but the point is that the guy who is doing it here, we saw on the last slide, he’s probably just an honest guy. It’s what happens after he sells those components to the next guy, who re-reels them and then it finally makes it back to America and gets put on a military aircraft, or inside of a missile. That’s where we need to have full transparency by where that component has been and what’s it been doing?

David Kruidhof:

I think that’s a pretty good summary. Really, what I’m saying in this slide, as well, is that as long as you tell people what you did, where you got it from, that’s great. That’s even helpful to the supply chain. But when you start misrepresenting what you did, then that’s criminal. That’s counterfeit, that’s a problem. What do we do to protect ourselves? There’s a lot of options. Here we have a list of your cost investment decreases the likelihood of having counterfeit components.

David Kruidhof:

Tier one is a visual inspection, looking at the packaging, looking at the labels, making sure the barcodes actually match what they say. OCMs are going to be very thorough in their process, making sure that everything is accurate and perfect and tested, and all those kinds of things. Counterfeiters are usually looking for a quick buck, so they’re not going to be investing in the high quality packaging. Visual inspection is your cheapest, your first line of defense. Looking at the box it came in, the bag that it’s in, the tubes, the trays, all those kinds of things.

David Kruidhof:

Then, of course, inspecting the component itself. There are lines on it, things like that. Clearly someone’s scraped things off, tried to clean off the markings, those kinds of things. But the point today is we want to talk about X-ray inspection. If you want to go further, you can decapsulate the component. You can look at XRF to make sure the right alloys are on there, do electrical test, material analysis of the encapsulant. Of course, other methods, you can go a lot further if you really need to make sure that is an authentic opponents, as best as you can.

David Kruidhof:

Today we’re going to talk about X-ray inspection. In these chats, we’ve kind of talked about X-ray in general, so I’ll do this real quick, but X-ray inspection, discover an 1895 by Röntgen. Here’s a great picture. We have it hanging up in the office. Two gentlemen looking at things under X-ray. This little glass device here in the middle, this is the X-ray source. This blasting X-ray is all over the room. Zero shielding between this gentleman’s head and that source. There’s nothing protecting them.

David Kruidhof:

But here, this gentleman is looking at his hand through a fluoroscope. Pretty neat. Probably really awesome, actually. But the hand here is creating a shadow, on the fluoroscope, that he’s looking at through this device. This gentleman here has a fluorescent material here, it’s then casting a shadow. He’s looking down at a mirror underneath to see that display. These are the young pioneers of X-ray. Didn’t realize how dangerous it was at the time, but doing some cool stuff and we’re reaping the benefits today.

David Kruidhof:

Principles of X-ray, you have a sample, you have a source, you have a sample in between. X-rays are photon. It’s light, it just penetrates things a lot better than our typical visible lights. The closer your sample is to the source, the bigger that shadow is going to be on the sensor. If you get more magnification, that’s what this little animation is showing us.

David Kruidhof:

What does a component look like under X-ray? Here’s a little diagram, on the left here. You can see the leads coming out of the component. This is that epoxy or plastic body mold material. You have the die, which is really the brains of the whole thing, in the middle, and then you have a lead frame with within it and some wire bond. Typically those are gold, sometimes they’re aluminum and copper. It’s becoming more common nowadays, to reduce cost. What you can see here, under X-ray, you have this light gray rectangle here, that’s the epoxy mold. That’s the body of the component. You have the leads all coming out on the two sides. This is the dip, your die in the middle here, and you can make out the wire bonds that are connecting that die to the lead frame that then goes out and connects with the board outside of it. Hopefully that gives you a little explanation if you’re not familiar with looking at components under X-ray. Those are the different parts of it that you want to take a look at.

David Kruidhof:

What do we do? How do we do this? Pretty much all the guidelines out there will allow for 100% X-ray, and even recommend it, at least a large sample size of X-ray of the real components. How do we identify them? One, you can compare it to another part, currently in use by your customer, so that means you know that this one is good, you know that this one works. Take an X-ray image of that and compare it to the reel under inspection. You can also compare it to previous lots from a trusted supplier. If you know that you got some from a good supplier who checks them themselves, or they’re a franchise distributor, you can compare your current reel, your real under inspection, to those.

David Kruidhof:

You do have to be careful because manufacturers can change the lead frame or the die size, or even the wire bonding scheme. All these kinds of things can change between lots and manufacturing sites, so you have to make sure that all of that is consistent when you’re comparing a lot you have to another reel of components. And finally, you can compare within the same lot or within that reel. You can compare the entire reel to itself and make sure that they are consistent, because a component manufacturer is never going to vary these things I just mentioned. They’re not going to vary those within that one reel. That’s not how it’s done. If there’s any discrepancies amongst that, that’s definitely a red flag for you.

David Kruidhof:

Let’s go through an example here. We have a capacitor. These all look exactly the same, look legitimate. The plastic wrapping around it it tells you the measurements on it, gives you all the information you’d expect to have, but when you X-ray them, you can see these differences. The connection from the outside to the inside of the capacitor is very different, just the material, there’s several differences here, that are very clear. If you’re looking at one lot of components and you saw these two images pop up, you’d know, yeah, something’s wrong. Something’s going on here. This is not direct from the manufacturer.

David Kruidhof:

And if you take a closer look at the leads coming out, a reference or a brand new component is going to have very consistent tinning across it. The shafts of the pins going to be very consistent, very clean. This one here just looks reworked. It looked like they heated it and pulled it off of a board. You have a little bit of filament it remaining here on the side. Now again, lazy. The pins, themselves, are kind of bent up. These are all signs that this component wasn’t just manufactured at the OCM and given to you. Something happened between then. If you were told is a new component, you definitely want to flag that.

David Kruidhof:

Here’s some tape of Kemet Tantalum low-ESR capacitors. From the outside, the markings all look good. Taped, everything looks fine, but when you bring them under X-ray, you can tell the internal structure of these capacitors is drastically different. Again, if you were to see these two images in the same reel of components, that’s definitely a bad sign. You want to be highly suspicious of that reel and set it aside. Another example is these memory chips that we talked about with Scotty, these are the ones we were showing him. Again, from the outside, the markings look pretty good. Lock codes match, those kinds of things. But when you X-ray them, very different lead frames. This is an expensive component, so if all of these ones are legitimate and they just swapped out a couple of them, a handful of them throughout the reel, they could have made 500 bucks there, just from doing that.

David Kruidhof:

It’s important that you inspect all of them, the entire reel. As the title says on this one, we want to talk about 10 ways to find counterfeit components using X-rays. First one is an empty package. These are dummy components. These are legitimate components, but once they’re mislabeled or relabeled as something that should have a body inside of them, that’s counterfeit. These empty ones are used as dummy components for solder training and stuff like that. They’re easily purchased online. There’s several companies that make these kinds of things.

David Kruidhof:

Next is anomalies within the lot. Talked about this, but if you have, suddenly a change in the lead frame or an empty one in the middle, that’s clearly a sign of a suspect reel. Differences from a known good sample. And as I mentioned, you need to make sure the lot code matches, date code, part number, all of these things match, because manufacturers might vary it from different manufacturing locations. It might change the lead frame a little bit, because one manufacturer specializes in a certain strategy, where the other one has different capabilities, but the components are going to function the same, just inside of it, they’re different. When you are comparing to a known good sample, you have to make sure that all of these factors match, as well, before comparing the X-ray.

David Kruidhof:

Another one, that’s a kind of fun, pinout mismatch. If you look at the X-ray here, of this component, you can pick out a few things. I can’t tell you all the different logic that’s going into these different pins, but I can tell you that this is the voltage supply for this component. It’s got a larger trace, it actually splits into two. If you were to take a closer look here, there’s probably four wire bonds to the components, so just one per line. That’s the voltage in. This one clearly has no connection, doesn’t go anywhere, that’s obvious. This one down here is your ground, because it’s going to the ground of the die.

David Kruidhof:

If you were to lay over the diagram that you received from the manufacturer, it tells you that this one that should be your voltage in, but clearly it’s not going anywhere. If you were to apply voltage to this, it’s not going to turn on your component. And also on the diagram, it says this side is your ground. Clearly, it’s not. These are the signs, another way that you can quickly tell if a component is legitimate or counterfeit. Another thing is missing wire bonds. As I mentioned, if they’re aluminum or the copper, they’re going to be a little bit harder to see under X-ray, and so you might want to turn down your X-ray power and take a closer look, but obviously if there’s no wire bonds inside, it’s highly suspect.

David Kruidhof:

Speaking of wire bonds, if there’s internal defects with those, for instance, on this one, this spot right here is missing the bond, it’s actually loose, hanging out up here. Internal defects like that, yes, it could be a manufacturing issue, but those are extremely unlikely in a legitimate source. External defects, if you have to re-ball a component, or if it’s being mishandled in packaging, again, legitimate components coming straight from the manufacturer to you shouldn’t ever come out of the tube or out of the tray. They should come in very good condition. If they came out of those tubes or trays, then the question is why? What happened?

David Kruidhof:

BGA voids, again manufacturers have a very pristine environment that they’re doing this process in. Very, very low voiding, if anything, connecting the ball to the component. I’ve been to a site in Orange County that does re-balling of components in a legitimate way. They tell the military customers that these are how it’s all handled, but it’s not a great environment. There’s going to be some voiding here. And if people are doing these things in a shady counterfeit way, it’s probably going to be even a lower quality environment. You’re going to have some voidings. That’s definitely a sign you want to keep a look out for.

David Kruidhof:

Bent pins, talked a little bit about this before, but if you’re handling things properly, if they’re keeping them in their original packaging, you shouldn’t have this issue. If you find bent pins on your components, you’ve got to look at the supply chain. Where do they come from? Finally, number 10, excess die attach voiding. Again, these things, at the manufacturer side, are done in very, very pristine environments, really good clean rooms, really controlled processes. If you’re finding these large voids, one, even if it did come from the OCM, you don’t want to be using it because there’s a problem. But you also don’t want to be… This should be something that’s suspect. It wasn’t handled well between a manufacturer and getting to you.

David Kruidhof:

I know we’re a little bit late, but just in summary, counterfeit components are seen everywhere. All the value chains, all the supply chains. It’s not just the high end ones, not the bad ones. A good manufacturing process starts with a good incoming inspection. You should be doing this. You should be checking these things, or hiring a trusted distributor who will do it for you. You know that everything coming from them has been X-rayed, has been inspected.

David Kruidhof:

Good part suppliers are susceptible to counterfeits. You need to do audits with them, work with them, know that they are working on it, and even double checking. The cost of having counterfeits on your board, finding them after the assembly process, is very costly, especially if they go to into use. Whereas the cost of a good or X-ray inspection is not that high. If you have any more questions, definitely reach out to us, visit our website. We have a lot of resources on there about this, but we’re also happy to talk to you.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:

Well, I thank you so much for your time, David, great presentation. If you guys have any good questions, you can email us at info@creativeelectron.com, or give us a call, 7-6-0-7-5-2-11-92. Thanks so much and stay tuned, next Wednesday, we’re going to have another Fireside Chat with the Xperts. You should have the invitation in your Google Calendar. If not, you can email the same place info@creativeelectron.com, and make sure that you get an invitation to join. Thanks so much and see you guys next week.

David Kruidhof:

Thanks, Bill.