Military Embedded Systems

BAM Blog: Authenticity versus reliability


June 11, 2014

George Karalias

Rochester Electronics

Before & After Market (BAM) Blog. The military-aerospace market has seen a tremendous increase in the amount of companies with proposed solutions to determine the authenticity of a semiconductor component, including imaging and tagging solutions. There are I/O curve tracers. There is x-ray automation. There are companies with die image library examples of authenticity. That’s good news, right? Won’t this help eliminate counterfeit components from entering the supply chain? In some cases the answer is yes, but mostly the answer is no.

For many products, authenticity is synonymous with reliability. These are products for which handling won’t severely degrade reliability. Money and copper wire are good examples of products where once authenticity is determined, reliability can justifiably be assumed. Tagging products by those manufacturers makes good sense in that handling won’t severely degrade performance and reliability. Even if those products are reclaimed from waste — not that anyone intentionally throws away money — they can be brought back into service with no long-term impact on reliability.

Take the panacea of tagging every semiconductor product in the world with one system. Practically, that won’t happen, but imagine it anyway. Imagine that product going through the normal lifecycle to end up in e-waste. Given what happens with e-waste today, there is a chance that sooner or later the semiconductor device will be tagged as authentic and a previously used and discarded product will be brought back into the supply chain. In that case, the customer will have an authentic device that is not a reliable product.

Everything we have put in place to determine authenticity will say we have an authentic part...and we do. The problem here is that we don’t have the most reliable part. Reliability is a statistical measurement of failure. It is unpredictable as to when the precise moment of failure will occur and only brought to us in terms of likelihood or Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) numbers.

Reliability testing is expensive. Reliability testing needs components from the same batch to make accurate assertions of the statistics of failure for that particular batch. Reliability testing is something the original component manufacturers do for their products up front.

For semiconductor components, the life of the product is at a maximum when it is new, unused, handled correctly, and stored correctly. Where is this is all known (the entire part history), reliability is at a maximum. In short, the maximum reliability of a semiconductor component can be found when purchasing through the fully authorized channel if available, when the device is not only authentic, but properly stored and handled to ensure performance. Authenticity is necessary, but totally insufficient to determine real world reliability.


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