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  • How to Minimize the Risk of Counterfeit Components 

    Fake chip concept: a bunch of integrated circuit on a wooden table

    By Ezkey Electronics Co., Ltd

    The electronic-component supply chain is facing various challenges, one of which is the flooding of counterfeit products into the market. Electronics Reseller Association International (ERAI) Inc. reported that up to 768 counterfeit electronic components circulated the market in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 35%, even when the corresponding global semiconductor sales volumes were comparable. At the same time, the statistics are also indicative of the dramatic increase in supply chain risks caused by counterfeits. To back that up, relevant data reveals that counterfeit components cost the industry billions of dollars each year, and the fight against counterfeit components has been a focus of industry concern for decades. 

    The chaotic landscape of the chip market has also made strict quality control (QC) a topmost prerequisite for distributors to establish a strong market footing, and testing capabilities become a reliable source of supply. As an industry-leading hybrid distributor of electronic components, a professional internet-of-things solution provider and a member of ERAI, Ezkey advocates surpassing competitors through quality, which it achieves via high regard for quality control, unceasing development of testing capabilities and dedication to fulfill quality commitment across the board. These ensure that all of Ezkey’s parts and components are 100% genuine. 

    Ezkey has established logistics quality inspection centers in Hong Kong’s Kwai Chung District and Shenzhen’s Nanshan District, which are respectively renowned as a global logistics hub and China’s Silicon Valley. It has also smoothly passed ISO 9001 and ERAI certifications thanks to its proven team of veteran QC test engineers and lineup of high-end professional testing equipment. Ezkey also complies with relevant internationally recognized standards in its day-to-day business operations while also employing the three-tiered international QC standard workflow and establishing strategic partnerships with reputed third-party QC centers like White Horse Laboratories. These steps have been taken to strengthen the QC process of parts and components. 

    Dark, the person in charge of Ezkey’s QC center, pointed out that counterfeit components are ubiquitous throughout the electronic product supply chain. The batches of chips currently being circulated in the market can generally be classified into four raw materials: genuine with OEM packaging, new unpackaged bulks, refurbished and “superfake” knockoffs. Our QC test engineers know the material features for every brand inside out and can immediately spot dubious parts/components thanks to the combination of their extensive industry knowledge and professional training experience. Now that we’ve established how Ezkey detects counterfeits and immaculately controls quality, how are the QC and inspection process implemented? 

    Packaging inspection 

    No stones on the packaging should be left unturned—the details matter because they contain clues that allow us to preliminarily lock in on the dubious parts, which could be present practically anywhere (such as package seals) and appear in any form (overall length, stamp impressions). Moreover, the moisture sensitivity level (MSL) of the packaging should also be thoroughly compared with the datasheet given the high correlation between refurbished materials and fake labels. Apart from MSL, details to also be attentive to include the paper type, printing format, ink and character font, all of which must tick all the boxes in the OEM datasheet to pass QC. 

    After passing the external packaging, the tapes and reels still need an inspection. The “superfakes” and new unpackaged bulks tend to go through tape-and-reel packaging or repackaging in technologically inferior OEMs, where shortcomings like inconsistent placement and burrs on rear-side base holes of the reel are common, not to mention their tendency to laminate with poorer raw material quality and produce uniformity that are inferior to their OEM counterparts. 

    Appearance inspection 

    A high-power microscope provides Ezkey with the ability to cover and clarify more details, such as whether packages have been sanded and refinished. Considering that laser-engraved markings are more solvent-resistant, acetone swabbing is used to tell the original ones apart from remarkings. Seeing that disassembling is immediately associated with sanding and uneven/crooked pins, chip dimensions need to be remeasured and pin coating attentively observed to test nonconformity to relevant specifications. 

    X-ray inspection 

    Following the chip encapsulation by the OEMs, an out-of-factory probing procedure is carried out as a part of performance testing, and a portion of these chips are identified as low-yield substandard defective batches. Some of these still find their way into the market through unconventional means, causing new unpackaged bulks to litter the market. X-ray inspection is a non-destructive testing approach that utilizes rays to penetrate through encapsulations, observe the chips’ interiors and verify the presence of defects, such as broken wire bonds and cracked dice. In addition, lead consistency, frame shape and die size can all help identify a “superfake” knockoff. 

    Functional test 

    I-V curve tracers and multimeters are used to check the presence of short and open circuits among the pins. Ezkey’s QC center is equipped with a raft of testing equipment, which includes optical microscopes, LCR testers, withstand voltage testers, impedance testers, DC sources and X-ray testers. Ezkey runs all tests in accordance with internationally recognized QC standards and boasts the capability to perform 100% inspection requests to help raise your quality. 

    Decap inspection 

    Wafers used in some “superfakes” and refurbished materials are not manufactured in the sites of authorized OEMs. To inspect the interiors, the encapsulation is removed under the effects of laser and solvents to expose both the die and wire bonds. In this scenario, before using a high-power microscope to observe the circuit configuration, spot out the defective workmanship and determine if the OEM logo is present, thereby judging the authenticity. Ezkey also hires the services of White Horse Laboratories, CECC Lab and Foxconn CMC to complement its findings and provide more comprehensive and authoritative decap inspection results. 

    In addition to workflow management, Ezkey also evaluates and screens original material suppliers right from the source, organizes theoretical and practical QC training activities regularly and establishes a sound sample bank based on an ERP system to photograph and archive the details of every incoming material, including packages and appearance, thereby allowing test engineers to retrace the quality of materials all the way back to the out-of-factory batch status. 

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