The topic of counterfeit semiconductors and other faked high-tech components has become increasingly explosive in today's world and the latest technical developments. Just last week the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF helps partners seize over one million counterfeit semiconductors in major Joint Customs Operation, 03.07.17) and international media reported about a century coup of European customs surveys and the securing of millions of counterfeit semiconductors.
As a high-technology company and a recipient as well as a distributor of such components, we see ourselves in a special obligation to obtain position: a short interview with Dr. Daniela Staerk, Head of EEE Parts Engineering and Radiation in the EEE Center.
Dr. Staerk, are we as Tesat-Spacecom affected in any way by these developments?
For our classic Hi-Rel EEE components, I can give an all-clear because of our very limited "end-to-end" process for the supply chain. We only procure from original manufacturers or franchised distributors! In the case of the current customs investigation there are components, which have been imported into the EU mainly through postal services or express couriers from dubious sources.
Furthermore, our network is very closely interlinked with suppliers both in the procurement and quality and engineering processes. In the complete process, a very high degree of transparency as well as traceability to the semiconductor wafer and the semiconductor factory are ensured and verified by our incoming goods inspection.
What exactly are counterfeit components?
Basically, all what is covered by the term “suspect counterfeit”, which means that the procurement process cannot entirely be traced back. For this reason it should be absolutely avoided to procure at brokers, who in many cases hardly know themselves who they received the goods from; and this is often not the direct manufacturer, but again another broker, mostly from China or Hong Kong.
On the obvious side a component becomes a counterfeit, if a direct proof can be provided. For this purpose, there are several starting points, such as, fake logos, counterfeit papers, wafer or electronic material from the so-called "gray market" (components declared to be unsuitable and still circulated) or an imitation chip.
Where do you see the reason for the counterfeiting problem on the market?
A main driver for the problem is the Obsolescence, which describes the discontinuation of components, although their needs have not yet been covered by the market. Especially in such emergency situations, one can quickly be tempted to leave the standard supply chain in order to get to the valuable components and to avoid a costly re-design.
Particularly more complex components or integrated semiconductors are expensive and scrap materials can easily be beautified and re-branded. In some countries there is a downright industry of recycling electronic waste. At first sight it is not always visible, whether a component has already been installed and operated for a long time, or not.
In any case of suspicion and action outside the standard supply chain, an enhanced incoming goods process with e.g. Additional analyzes and lifetime tests should be carried out to minimize the risk.
Are there any predictions for the future to deal with this problem?
Unfortunately, the number of new GIDEP (Government-Industry Data Exchange Program) alerts to counterfeit components per year has risen further in recent years. Due to the increased use of COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) components in NewSpace and at low-cost projects, I see a rising risk due to the accompanying increased pressure on price and delivery time. At the same time, the customary transparency and traceability, which we expect from Hi-Rel suppliers, decreases. This makes it all the more important to ensure a clean supply chain process and sufficient quality and reliability tests before the defective parts are installed and cause major damage.
Thank you very much Dr. Staerk.