Don’t Get Duped by the Semiconductor Shortage: 10 tips

As the semiconductor shortage persists, fraud risks continue to rise. Avoid counterfeits and fraud as a result of the semiconductor shortage.

Don’t Get Duped by the Semiconductor Shortage: 10 tips

As the semiconductor shortage persists, fraud risks continue to rise. At the earliest news of the shortages, Creative Electron CEO, Dr. Bill Cardoso started sounding the alarm about an impending “tsunami” of counterfeit electronic components poised to flood the supply chain.  It’s not that he has superpowers (beyond X-ray vision, that is), It’s just that he’s seen this play out before.  But even Dr. Cardoso is somewhat surprised by the level of fraud taking place.  Here is a bit of what he’s learned so far and some tips for avoiding being duped by counterfeiters.

“I wouldn’t actually say I’m surprised,” said Dr. Cardoso, when asked about the current state of counterfeiting and fraud as a result of the semiconductor shortage. “Counterfeiters have always been creative.  It’s just that it’s different now, but that’s to be expected.”  We learned in his interview with Richard Smith of ERAI, for example, that much of the fraud reported recently doesn’t involve physical counterfeit chips, rather, it is simply wire fraud.  Websites of ill repute are popping up all over the web, claiming to have inventory of that hard to find chip that is essential to your upcoming build; even though it’s outside of normal protocols, desperate buyers are pressured to wire funds as payment, chips never arrive, and websites disappear into the ether.  Tip #1: If you must purchase outside of your AVL, check potential new vendors against the ERAI database.  ERAI has the most comprehensive database of irreputable operators, and can help you avoid some genuinely bad guys.

Expertise matters, and Creative Electron has developed a certain expertise in interdicting counterfeit components using X-ray inspection.  But when it came to navigating the complexities of the supply chain, especially in today’s environment, we can be a bit out of our element.  Supply chain experts, who usually operate quietly in the background, largely unappreciated, are emerging as the most essential of essential workers.  Another recent guest on our Fireside Chats with the Xperts, Techlity’s Andre Oliveira, explained the ins and outs of supply chain management, with a focus on mitigating the impacts of component obsolescence, shortages, and other potential supply chain disruptions.  Tip #2: Consult with a supply chain expert, early.

One of these things is not like the others

Tips three through 10 leverage the power of X-ray.  The non-destructive nature of X-ray inspection, combined with powerful automation software, make it ideal for those situations that require 100% validation. Tip #3: Checking for empty package. one of the oldest tricks in the counterfeiter’s book is to sell an IC package with no die.  Tip #4: Inspect for lot anomalies.  There should be no discernable differences among parts from the same lot. Tip #5: Compare against a known good.  Whenever possible compare images against a known good sample. Tip #6: Check for data sheet discrepancies.  The layout of the lead frame and the wire bond diagram can tell a lot about a component, and when a known good isn’t available, comparing a sample image against information from the data sheet in an important check.

Example of Empty Package

Tip #7: Missing wire bonds.  As long as the bond wire isn’t aluminum, they should be visible under X-ray examination.  Tip #8: Internal Defects. We often use the term counterfeit to include substandard parts.  Even if “authentic,” you don’t want rejected or mishandled parts populating your boards.  Look for missing or damaged bond wires or excessive die attach voiding.  Tip #9: External Defects.  X-ray inspection can reveal external defects like bent pins without having to remove components from their reels, tubes, or trays. Tip #10: BGA and die attach voids.  Crude harvesting of components from e-waste is another favorite pastime of counterfeiters, and along with it, re-balling BGAs.  Parts are not properly cleaned, and are often overheated in the process, so it is common to find counterfeited BGA components with excessive surface voids.

Missing and Damaged Bond Wires
BGA and Die Attach Voids

Bonus Tip: For additional details on the recommendations above, please contact an expert at Creative Electron now.  The X-ray people are always happy to help.  Likewise, if you’d like to know more about why Creative Electron’s TruView™ inspection systems are the leading tool in counterfeit component detection, please reach out now.

October 17, 2022

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