Ask the Experts
May 22, 2024 - Updated
April 18, 2018 - Originally Posted

How to Detect Counterfeit Components?

I'm exploring issues with counterfeit components and would like to know the best technologies available to detect counterfeit devices. Can X-ray or other inspection solutions detect counterfeit components?


Expert Panel Responses

I would suggest X-RAY and FTIR on the molded plastic to compare to a mold material. This will tell if the plastic is different. X-Ray will tell if there is wire bonds and if the IC is present.

Terry Munson
President/Senior Technical Consultant
Mr. Munson, President and Founder of Foresite, has extensive electronics industry experience applying Ion Chromatography analytical techniques to a wide spectrum of manufacturing applications.

A visual check will work much better when you look for the following:
  1. Incomplete logos and/or they can be easily erased
  2. Different letter fonts
  3. Wrong manufacturing plant code
  4. Extra markings on the component's body
  5. Wrong material or color
  6. Component leads are very dull or show oxidation
  7. Wrong packaging (tape & reel vs. bulk)

Edithel Marietti
Senior Manufacturing Engineer
Northrop Grumman
Edithel is a chemical engineer with 20 year experience in manufacturing & process development for electronic contract manufacturers in US as well as some major OEM's. Involved in SMT, Reflow, Wave and other assembly operations entailing conformal coating and robotics.

Many of my customers ask me about a counterfeit components risk mitigation testing strategy. Typically, there are several industry testing methods referred to ; IDEA, CCAP, QTSL, SAE AS6081/6171, along with DLA testing methods. Each of these has a list of tests required along with equipment required to utilize to comply. Only the SAE6171 references a confidence calculation across testing performed.

Once you review some of these you will see descriptions around External Visual Inspection, Resistance to Solvents(RTS), Radiological Inspection(X-ray), XRF, Delid/Decapsulation Internal Inspection, Remarking /Resurfacing Inspection , SEM/EDX, CSAM, Hermeticity, Electrical Testing, etc.

Your specific inspection below only utilizing X-ray and may detect lead frame differences as a example which could indicate a suspect counterfeit device. But, my recommendation is to review methodologies listed above and decide ( e.g., SAE AS6171) to utilize a combined testing methods inspection technique. But, a reminder that none of these methods individually or combined is perfect. Hence you will have to assess testing involved, cost required, and most of all what's your acceptable risk to utilize.

Mark Northrup
Mark has over 35 years of experience in electronics fabrication, quality, and reliability while working for Raytheon RMD, IEC Electronics, GE, Motorola, ORS, etc. He has most recently taken the role as a Fellow at Raytheon in Tucson, AZ; prior to that, he established IEC Electronics Analysis and Testing Laboratories (IATL), LLC in Albuquerque, NM, for electronics and material analysis testing in the military, medical, and industrial industries. His expertise includes PCB, PCBA, components, and analytical and electrical analysis techniques.

The best approach? Don't buy from brokers. Buying from direct or from authorized resellers reduces counterfeit risk by 99.99%. Why would you do anything else?

Dr. Craig D. Hillman
CEO & Managing Partner
DfR Solutions
Dr. Hillman's specialties include best practices in Design for Reliability, strategies for transitioning to Pb-free, supplier qualification, passive component technology and printed board failure mechanisms.

There are a few powerful inspection techniques you need to deploy to effectively detect counterfeit components. I'm not going to cover supplier qualification and audits, things you need to do prior to acquiring components from anyone. From an inspection perspective, here are some of the techniques you need to have:
  • Shipping materials: check bar code labels and overall integrity of all shipping materials, including ESD bags. Yes, we've seen counterfeited ESD bags and even fake humidity paper indicator.
  • Component visual inspection: using a good microscope, check for marking quality and lead integrity. Everything that might give you a clue the part has been remarked.
  • Resistance to solvents: the black top of the components must resist the application of solvents. Acetone is a common one used in the industry.
  • X-ray: x-ray inspection is the most powerful non-destructive tool in your arsenal to find counterfeit components.
X-rays will allow you to check for:
  1. Lot conformity: assure that all components look the same.
  2. Datasheet comparison: based on pinout of the part, assess if it matches internal wire bonding scheme of the component inspected.
  3. Internal defects: check if components have any internal defects that may be result of mishandling or improper storage.
  4. Golden sample: if you have a golden sample of the component, you can compare against the new lot and check for anomalies.
  5. External defects: look for package level defects. Excessive ball voiding, for example, might indicate an improperly reballed BGA.
  6. Die attach voiding: excessive die attach voiding may indicate delimitation of the package.
To allow you to properly inspect components in reels and trays, your x-ray machine needs to excel at these 3 points:
  1. Resolution: x-ray system must be able to resolve small features inside the package. Look for resolution in the 1 to 5um range. Keep in mind you're looking for an x-ray machine for counterfeit detection, not failure analysis.
  2. Field of view: must be large enough to capture the whole component when needed. I'd recommend at least 4" of FOV.
  3. Automation: both software and hardware automation is a must. Depending on the component, you'll need to run x-ray 100% inspection of components in reels and trays, so hardware automation is needed so an operator doesn't have to manually inspect each sample and save an image of each component. Software automation is also needed so algorithms can quickly compare all images acquired and point out potential problems.
Other techniques can also be used as needed, including decapsulation, XRF, electrical tests, and other levels of material analysis. To get started you'll need a good microscope and a good x-ray machine. These other techniques can be deployed as needed, and as requested by your customer.

Dr. Bill Cardoso
Creative Electron
Founder and CEO of Creative Electron, the largest US manufacturer of x-ray machines for the electronics industry, Dr. Cardoso has over 20 years of experience in x-ray inspection. He's a frequent speaker at technical conferences, has over 120 published papers, and owns several patents in the field.

X Ray Imaging can be used to inspect & verify lead frame integrity of electronic components.

X Ray Fluorescence can provide analytical fingerprint to verify manufacturing source of component package.

Peter Greenland
Global Sales Director
Photonis USA
Mr. Greenland has 20 years electronics industry experience ranging from circuit board design to product support & repair services. Peter has spent the last 4 years at Pycon Inc. supporting customers that require high mix, low volume manufacturing solutions.

Reader Comment
  1. The taxonomy of counterfeit Integrated Circuits (IC) include: i. Recycled types ii. Remarked types iii. Overproduced types iv. Out-of-spec/ defective parts v. Cloned parts vi. Forged documentation vii. Tampered parts
  2. The majority of counterfeit incidents are contributed by recycled and remarked types. Overproduced and out-of-spec/defective parts are mostly introduced by untrusted foundry/ assembly.
  3. The counterfeit detection methods can be classified into Physical inspection and Electrical inspections.
  4. Physical inspection includes Incoming inspection and Exterior tests. The Physical inspection techniques are Low power visual inspection, Testing for Remarking and Resurfacing, Microblasting, X-ray imaging (die and bond wire anomalies), X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (for emission characteristics of a material), Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (chemical characterization of a component) and Terahertz Time Domain Spectroscopy (to inspect the internal structure of a component)
  5. Electrical inspection includes Functional Tests, Burn-in tests and Structural tests (Stuck-at fault tests, Transition Delay Fault Tests and Path Delay Fault tests).
  6. The downsides of the above detection methods are: i. Most of the physical inspection are destructive in nature and thus cannot test all the components. ii. As modern ICs possess significant process variation, significant variation in parameters will be observed. iii.Because of the limited information, test pattern generation will be difficult and prohibitive. iv. The Burn-in tests consumes excessive and are costly.
  7. Hence, one must judiciously select the tests to be carried out depending on the cost and the criticality of the packages/ mission where these will be deployed.

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