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Counterfeit Detection

The RTI MultiTrace line of testers is the clear leader in the field of IC curve tracing.  Having developed its applications over 25 years of experience with failure analysis and reliability engineers, RTI is well suited to share this knowledge and capability for the purpose of screening devices for counterfeits and unauthorized recycled devices.

Who is using curve tracing for counterfeit interdiction?

  • High Reliability manufacturers in the Aerospace and Military domain use curve tracing as part of the incoming receiving inspection chain.  It used to be the paradigm that military only purchased from the OEM but in today’s faster cheaper world, more components for less than critical military applications are coming from mainstream distributors.
  • Distributors who understand that providing their customers with better screened devices improves their manufacturing yield and solidifies business relationships are using curve tracing to do some of that screening.  If one must buy older or obsolete chips, it’s best to have some assurance they are not bad to start with
  • Part Recovery providers; excluding the unscrupulous ones, there are many companies who legitimately recover high value devices from otherwise failed PCB assemblies for reuse.  In this case, the customer receiving the recovered parts is the same customer who provided the boards.  It’s just too expensive to throw away an ASIC or DDR3 chip when the fault is somewhere else.  These companies know they can get paid more per part if they can provide a higher percentage of working devices back to the customer.  Curve tracing is a great way to find the devices that were damaged by the recovery stresses (handling and heat).
  • Law Enforcement:  Selling counterfeit devices is illegal.  To detect these devices as they cross borders, customs officials can use curve tracing among other methods to detect counterfeit devices and gather evidence to prosecute those involved in the manufacture, distribution and importation of these banned devices.  Presently this service may be provided by 3rd party labs contracted for such work but as the problem lingers and grows, these tools may be added to the arsenal of forensic tools maintained by their official laboratories
  • Laboratory and Analysis Service Providers:  many companies who need to screen for counterfeit devices may not have the budget, personnel resources or time to effectively do this testing themselves.    In this case it becomes practical to contract with an independent laboratory to do this testing for them.   These labs concentrate equipment and talent providing their customers a great value in the cost of these analyses.  In most cases the counterfeit detection tests can be purchased on an  a-la-carte style to better match the budgets and test coverage needed.

In what way should I be using a curve tracer?

As said earlier, It’s usually not hard to spot the worst ones but you still need to be watching for them.  Using a curve tracer to check a percentage of each lot is a good way to see when marginal or failed parts are creeping in.  100% testing is also possible when the situation is appropriate.  Here are some general categories in the  device lifecycle where curve tracing is useful.
  • Incoming receiving and inspection:  
    • A curve tracer in the stockroom may seem like a luxury but it can be a viable means for  screening for counterfeit devices at the point of entry.  You can’t control what goes on out in the world but you can once its in your house.  Even if you just screen your highest volume and highest value components, just one or two catches could save you the amount of the tester in support costs not spent.
  • High reliability manufacturing:  
    • The key to calculating your reliability is using parts from known sources for which reliability data is available.  If you don’t know the real source of your devices, the whole calculation takes on a large error.  Whether by 100% screening or by lot sampling, Curve tracing adds one more layer of detection of counterfeit and quality problems.
  • Part Recovery operations:  
    • If you are recovering devices or using recovered devices as part of your manufacturing cycle, then you should by screening your devices 100%.  Even functional tests might not reveal leakage or high supply current that belie s short lifetime or a mobile device with low battery life.
  • Failure analysis:  
    • You may get a curve tracer to detect counterfeits but say you start having failures start coming in at an elevated rate.  One might speculate bad devices got through while it may be handling issues like poor ESD controls in a part of the factory.  Curve tracing can be used on devices in a traditional failure analysis program.  Failed devices can be curve traced to determine if the device has any damaged pins.  If multiple failed devices have the same failed pins, one can investigate the cause and attempt to reduce such similar failures in the future.