Military Embedded Systems

Ensure authenticity by eliminating counterfeit parts

Sponsored Blog

August 12, 2015

Michael Miller

Isola Group

Counterfeit electronics are becoming increasingly common in the marketplace. These counterfeits can lead to problems with product safety and reliability, a risk for end users of the products that incorporate them. It’s possible, however, to minimize the problem by being aware of it and taking proper steps to identify parts and mitigate the issue.

There are several ways to make sure you are not getting counterfeit electronics. The first—and most effective—way to ensure counterfeit products don’t slip into a design is to buy directly from the OEM, which can provide documentation of compliance and origin. Unfortunately, designs often require components that are no longer available from the OEM. In that case, you’ll have to buy the components through a supplier, which creates the possibility of introducing counterfeit electronics into the design. Some secondary suppliers will be able to supply a certificate of compliance, which helps but is not without risk.

An innovative method to reduce the spread of counterfeit electronics involves using the DNA of plants to mark the components. Segmented chains of plant DNA are assembled in a specific sequence unique to each manufacturer and product. The unique DNA marker can be embedded into resin systems, laminates, and marking materials such as ink and can be attached to small electronic components. The major advantage of this is that the DNA sequence is difficult to copy, making fraud more difficult. This technique is currently the most effective way to prevent counterfeits, but also probably the most expensive. Applied DNA Sciences is the key supplier of this technology, but others will emerge as this technique becomes more popular.

Another physical means to combat the spread of counterfeit parts is by applying identifying marks on the die or package, for example. If they identify mark on a part doesn’t meet the standard of the OEM, that raises a flag. Markings can typically be verified using various optical techniques. Unfortunately, copying technologies keep getting better, making it more difficult to distinguish between counterfeits and authentic components.

For mission critical electronic components, it may be necessary to test components and sub-assemblies, especially for electronics that didn’t come directly from the OEM. For military electronics, which tend to long product lifecycles, newer systems are often built with non-OEM parts. And to reject counterfeits, the testing has to be sufficiently stringent. This process can be costly, time consuming and consequently expensive.

In the end, though, keeping an eye out for counterfeit electronics and taking the necessary steps to ensure that the parts you purchase are authentic will lead you to a final product that your customers can trust.


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