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Publication Date: 12/1/2012
ARCHIVE >  December 2012 Issue >  Special Features: Test and Measurement > 

Tracking Down Counterfeit ICs
ABI's Sentry tester will detect fake ICs in a hurry.

Today's most prevalent counterfeit chips reportedly represent $169 billion in potential risk per year for the global electronics world, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. The most vulnerable chip types include analog ICs, microprocessors, memory ICs, and programmable logic devices commonly used in large volumes in commercial and military applications. While much of the scrutiny of counterfeit devices has been in the defense industry, by sheer numbers most reported counterfeit issues are with commercial components. IHS also claims that 2011 was a record reporting year for counterfeits — having tripled in the past two years — leading to potential failures. Other sources say that in the last five years, imitation ICs have accounted for more than 8 percent of global component trade, which is equivalent to lost sales of $6 Billion.

Counterfeit electronic components are not a new phenomenon, but China's new export laws have resulted in an explosion of counterfeit parts hitting the electronics market worldwide.

Re-Marked Product
The most common counterfeiting technique is re-marked product. The counterfeiter removes the printing from the chip package and puts on a new mark — perhaps a different brand, a different speed or a different part number — and sells the semiconductor to a buyer who is incapable of ensuring the product is "real". In some cases, for example when the fake IC is just an empty package containing no chip inside, the product fails before it leaves the factory — but this failure still requires expensive rework. In cases where the wrong chip has been mounted in systems that were designed for a chip of a different speed or guaranteed to operate at a wider temperature range, the failure may not occur until the system is in the field. Field repairs can typically cost ten times as much to fix as those caught before shipping.

Counterfeiting can also use devices known as "pulls" which are retrieved from discarded scrap boards. After rebranding with another manufacturer's logo, they are slipped into the supply chain for purchase by unwary buyers who naturally assume that they are buying the genuine article. Another less-known technique is for staff to surreptitiously produce components using the normal manufacturing capabilities in "ghost shifts" which take place outside of standard hours. However, the chips created that way include many manufacturing faults, they may be untested, and some may not even contain a silicon die.

Parts Authentication
Some electronics distributors have instituted well-advertised screening services to verify the veracity of components. Turnaround times are often offered "as little as two days". These companies have invested heavily in equipment and training for operators who can perform critical anti-counterfeiting processes. These techniques include: x-ray, x-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), destructive decapsulation, heated solvent testing, visual inspection, and solderability testing, with ensuing complex, detailed reports. All this is expensive and only viable for large volume production runs.

We're looking for an ideal solution here. What the electronics manufacturing industry needs is a test tool that can verify the identity of received ICs quickly and economically, using a statistically significant procedure; a tool that is suitable for all devices and packages; a tool that is simple to use without requiring detailed operator training; a tool that can quickly report "good/suspect/fail" results; a tool that can grow as new ICs become available.

Help Is Here
The good news is that such a commercially-available device is now available, the ABI Sentry Counterfeit IC Detector. Sentry is a PC-driven product that uses a complex PinPrint Test Algorithm to check the validity of parts in seconds. The product is very simple to use and enables any receiving department to operate the equipment with minimal training. The analysis takes place in the background and the operator only sees a simple "Good Device", "Blank Device" or "Fail Device" message, with the option to produce a detailed report to send to the supplier.

Sentry contains a set of ZIF sockets that accept adapters for DIP, SOIC, BGA, SSOP, as well as discrete components. The system uses a comparative technique to rapidly analyze and learn new components, and then test the unknown parts. A known good component is locked into the ZIF socket while a test pattern is applied across all its pins. The component's response to this test pattern, or PinPrint, is automatically measured and stored as a benchmark.

Parameter Settings
The instrument uses a combination of electronic parameter settings (voltage, frequency, source resistance and waveform) to generate the "signature" for each pin of the IC being checked. It then compares the unique electrical characteristics of known components against suspect components. Testing between every possible pin combination is included, maximizing the chances of capturing internal fault conditions. Sentry can quickly detect missing or incorrect die, lack of bond wires, inaccurate pin-outs and pin impedance variations. Simple pass or fail results are returned after testing, offering a high level of confidence in the authenticity of components. As parts become increasingly complex, 100 percent testing becomes burdensome, but testing one or two pieces for, say, 200 pieces is manageable. Experience has shown that variations arising from a suspect shipment will reveal themselves well before such a test is complete. Nevertheless, if 100 percent non-destructive testing is required, using a Sentry Counterfeit IC Detector is the appropriate solution.

The system provides a very special solution: the quick and easy detection of counterfeit ICs and components. It is able to identify parts that have a different internal structure, or no structure at all, and even components originating from a different manufacturer. It is an easy-to-use instrument, capable of checking all types of components, ranging from simple two pin devices to more complex packages such as QFP and BGA.

Controlled via USB using the provided PC software, the device library can be built up by adding specific known good devices. Each device can have documents associated with it, such as photos of device markings, data sheets, and other documents to further help in confirming the integrity of a device. Sentry contains all the hardware required to analyze the electrical characteristics of ICs with up to 256 pins. 256-pin+ devices can also be tested by rotating the device (BGA, QFP) to allow all pins to be learned and compared. The instrument is supplied with four 48-pin dual in line (DIL) zero insertion force (ZIF) sockets; these can be used directly for older DIP components but can also be used to accommodate a variety of additional socket adapters available for different package types. The socket adapter can contain multiple IC sockets if required, to allow testing several ICs at the same time or comparing one IC with another. An expansion connector allows custom socket adapters with up to 256 pins to be attached.

Designed in Europe by ABI Electronics Ltd., an important manufacturer of PCB testing equipment, Sentry has been created for component distributors and manufacturer Receiving Departments for sample testing.

Other application areas include electronics components suppliers using improving their quality assurance programs. Detailed reports can be saved to provide quality control traceability. The unit guards production facilities from the infiltration of counterfeit devices, by identifying bad parts before they have a chance to be mounted on PCBs — saving time, money and frustration.

Contact: Saelig Co. Inc., 1160 Pittsford Victor Road, Pittsford, NY 14534 888-772-3544 or 585-385-1750 fax: 585-385-1768 E-mail: Web:

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