Monday, July 24, 2017

Facing the Counterfeit IC Issue

 “Fake” chips in the marketplace is a huge issue for manufacturing companies and distributors alike.  The Problem ICs are not like banknotes – hard to copy, and making fake “lookalike” parts which resemble real ones takes very little skill. It simply requires finding cheap parts in the same package and merely painting new marks on them. This problem has arisen due to the high value of electronics parts, and the whole manufacturing chain from assembly house to end-user is vulnerable. The number of companies that have been duped by batches of fake devices is incalculable. Counterfeiting semiconductors has been rapidly increasing, impacting a wide variety of electronics systems used by a wide gamut of involved parties - consumers, businesses, and military customers. The detection of counterfeit components has become an increasingly important priority, especially for electronics manufacturers and component suppliers worldwide.

The most prevalent counterfeiting technique is re-badged product. It is a simple matter to remove the existing mark from a chip package and put on a new logo and part number, or a different brand, a different speed – and sell the semiconductor to an unsuspecting buyer who has no way of making sure that the product is “real”. Sometimes the chip is only an empty package with no die inside. It is true that the finished system would fail before it left the factory – but this still requires expensive investigation and rework, with no part available to replace the bad one, causing the dreaded exclamation “Line Down!” But the failure of borderline ICs may not occur until the system is in the field, and field repairs can cost ten times as much to fix as those caught before they leave the factory. Counterfeiting can also be from chips which are gleaned from discarded scrap boards. After remarking with a different manufacturer’s logo, they are inserted into the supply chain and sold to innocent buyers - who naturally who assume that the products are genuine.

Usually, it is impossible to identify counterfeit components until they are fitted on a PCB when the first tests are made on the final product. Failure requires the costly identification of the components at fault and then lifting them from all boards in the production line. Complete batches of finished products may need to be recalled to the factory – directly hurting a company’s bottom line. Technical measures to solve this problem have previously included visual inspection of devices for marking errors – which needs a trained eye for all possible variations in marking. Electronically testing or x-raying every incoming batch is another technique. Another destructive method is to use a complex decapsulation system in order to visually inspect IC die sample, immediately losing revenue due to the component’s destruction. Not only is this expensive and time consuming, it requires complex training, skilled operators, and expensive equipment.

Here is a solution to that problem: 

The ABI SENTRY is a unique solution for the quick and easy detection of Counterfeit ICs and components. ABI Electronics has over 27 years of experience in the field of Test & Measurement equipment as well as Contract Electronics Manufacturing. Knowledge of both industries has allowed ABI to design this product around two main concepts: 

  • To offer a simple and easy to use system that can be operated by any personnel, and particularly non-technical staff.
  • To provide a powerful solution that would lead to the detection of counterfeit devices, thus protecting a business from very high unexpected costs.

SENTRY is an easy to use tester, aimed at goods inwards inspectors and designed to measure the unique electrical signature (PinPrint) of components. The information collected is managed through a database and is used to compare known good devices against suspect components. Typically, SENTRY can easily detect missing or incorrect dies, lack of bond wires, inaccurate pin outs and pin impedance variations. Simple pass or fail results are returned after testing, offering a high level of confidence in the authenticity of components. SENTRY does not require any knowledge of electronics to use efficiently. For in-depth analysis though, PinPrints can be reviewed and full reports can be generated. The SENTRY software also offers options for customization and the ability to store essential documentation such as photos, PDF datasheets, web pages and images.  SENTRY is able to accommodate virtually all types of components, from simple two pin devices to more complex packages such as BGA. A range of standard and universal adapters is available and custom designs can also be supplied. In order to ensure consistency throughout the whole supply chain, SENTRY is designed to support data sharing. This means that the PinPrints of a given component can be shared between users, from the OEM through to the distributor and end user. 

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