End-Of-Life and Counterfeiting

Reeled Components

Sometimes you quickly read a post or an article, get the core information, process it in low-priority mode (because you don’t feel concerned) and trash it in your deep sea memory. It’s probably what occured in August when I read the ‘EOL Activity Fuels Counterfeit Challenge’ article from the (excellent) EPSNews website. Article archived. Next.

But, a month later, it happened that we were concerned very first in front line! The more-than-urgent-to-manufacture product for our best customer, which has been on hold for months because one key component has been in shortage, is now in crash (trash?) program mode. The culprit: one reel of this (in)famous component has included counterfeited, not to say fake, parts. Very smart from the bad guys but too bad for us because SMD/THT processes have yet been run at a large scale. Odds were against us : the test batch worked fine because the first components on the reel were genuine ones.

So we have now to functionally test all the boards though the initial process planned only basic test. Then we’ll need to ‘patch’ the faulty boards with all the pleasure of the hot plate, air reflow station and SMD components…

As wrote Bill Bradford from EPSNews, “counterfeiters and bad actors are getting better at making chips that would fool even the discerning buyer“. As components shortage increases and EOL puts pressure on every board designer and chip buyer, counterfeiters are trying to cash in on demand for ‘older’ parts.

Bill said also that “a trend toward shortening the time between announcing a last buy opportunity and the actual obsolescence date. A process that ideally takes two years (12 months for last orders and a year to ship)  is being truncated into only weeks in some cases.

For sure, next time we will be more cautious. We had been so happy to find the component in shortage that we accepted to work with a distributor we had no track record with. We did test the component: the first of the reel. Hum, ok we could have done better. But the first board test batch was full ok! How could we imagine that the counterfeiter put a dozen genuine components on the reel, followed by counterfeit parts?

That sad story reminds me the first used Rolex watch I bought. Everything was genuine…. except the movement, a terrible part manufactured in China.

Conclusion : build a network of trustable suppliers.

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