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Eye on Counterfeit

Anti-counterfeit movement gains momentum

Industry has done much to raise awareness about the dangers of counterfeit electronic components, but by and large engineers and procurement professionals remain concerned about how to combat the problem. A counterfeit components study from Penton Media’s Design Engineering and Sourcing Group identified these and other trends last summer, highlighting the growing counterfeit problem across the entire electronics supply chain. As momentum grows to try and thwart the problem, more and more companies, individuals and agencies are stepping up to the plate to develop new solutions and educational programs to both detect counterfeits and keep them out of the supply chain in the first place.

A case in point is last month’s Conference on Counterfeit Electronics at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Hardware Assurance, Security, and Engineering (CHASE). In a series of workshops held January 28-29, engineers from Intel, Texas Instruments, Analog Devices, Honeywell, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Connecticut-based independent distributor SMT Corp., talked about new tools available to improve detection of counterfeit electronics. They also discussed new prevention techniques designed to help supply chain professionals stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters. DNA marking is one example, in which unique “signatures” are placed on original components to ensure their authenticity.

Connectictut’s U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (D-2nd District), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke at the opening of the two-day meeting, pointing to attendees’ ahead-of-the-curve work to protect the nation’s defense systems.

“These systems are as important to our national defense as the people trained to operate them,” Courtney told attendees, as reported in the UConn Daily Campus. “One malfunction can cause a massive amount of damage in terms of human life. Making sure these systems are safe is incredibly important.”

He went on to say that: “This is the future, making sure these systems operate correctly. What you are doing today is absolutely ahead of the curve in terms of defense department budgeting and strategic planning.”

But the counterfeit problem extends beyond the defense supply chain, a point that struck home with the Penton survey audience. The vast majority of respondents to last summer’s counterfeit survey agree that the danger of counterfeit components extends beyond the military and aerospace sector into commercial markets (87%). What’s more, they remain concerned about the government’s ability to fight the threat of counterfeit components (70%). For instance, less than half (47%) of the survey respondents said they think the 2011 Senate hearings on the subject and resulting National Defense Authorization Act will help reduce the threat of counterfeit components entering the supply chain.  The NDAA includes new requirements governing electronics purchasing for government contractors.

Thus the effort to step up programs like the one in Connecticut earlier this year. There are a host of other workshops on tap for 2013, aimed at a variety of supply chain functions and job titles. Coming up in April, industry group ERAI will host its annual Executive Conference, this year titled “Gaining Momentum: Supply Chain Advancements in the Fight Against Counterfeits.” To be held April 18-19 in Orlando, the conference will address a host of new rules and regulations surrounding the procurement and detection of counterfeit parts as outlined in the NDAA.

In addition, standards-setting group SAE International is well underway with its counterfeit training efforts, having hosted a course for distributors on implementing its newest standard, SAE AS6081, in January. AS6081 was developed to provide uniform requirements, practices and methods to mitigate distributors’ risk of purchasing and supplying counterfeit electronic parts to aerospace customers. Sessions are scheduled for  June and November, as well. SAE also will host a counterfeit electronics parts avoidance training session in California in Juneaimed at a wide range of professionals throughout the supply chain.

Some industry watchers have pointed to these and other efforts as indicators of a turning point in the fight against counterfeit electronics this year. New DNA-marking requirements from the Defense Logistics Agency and the much-anticipated release of new and enhanced SAE standards are just a few more issues supply chain professionals are grappling with in 2013. It’s no wonder increased awareness and an even louder call to action are resounding throughout the channel.

More than 2,300 subscribers to Electronic Design, Machine Designand SourceESBparticipated in Penton’s first annual Counterfeit Electronic Components Survey, which asked about top concerns and sought to gauge industry attitudes and awareness of the counterfeit components problem; subscribers include design engineers and procurement professionals. For more information on counterfeit electronics, visit’s Counterfeit Components Resources page.

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