No counterfeit chips in Heber boards

21st January 2014

Counterfeit devices – an increasing problem and how do we avoid them?

At Heber, we are constantly alert to the issue of counterfeit products – and particularly devices. Like many OEMs, we source component parts from across the world to ensure efficiency for our customers. And like many OEMs, we have become more vigilant to counterfeiting as markets have opened and we have developed a more global economy.

Common counterfeit parts include complex logic devices (FPGAs), memories (DRAM and static RAM) and less complex products such as audio amplifiers. Generally the highest risk is in the purchase of hard to source and older parts. As well as being substandard and preventing the product working effectively, counterfeits can also present greater risk through overheating. Products are sometimes resold as different parts entirely! Typically counterfeit items are “blacktopped” with old markings abraded off, a new surface applied and new markings laser etched into the device.

Ironically, recent legislation put into place to improve sustainability and environmental practices within the electronics industry, such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Act, 2006 and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, 2006, have had an adverse effect on the prevalence of counterfeits. This legislation requires scrapped PCBs to be disposed of via other routes than landfill and has increased the opportunity to recover used parts. Parts containing lead are also remarked and resold as new to avoid the issue, and cost, of safe disposal.

So what does Heber do to ensure the quality of devices used?

For Heber products where there is use of an older technology, we employ a rigorous 100% inspection regime of all parts entering the manufacturing facility. Detection of the counterfeits relies heavily in the first instance on experience and visual identification. Microscopes are used to review colour disparities where blacktopping does not match original paint work or where re-tinning of the legs has covered mechanical marks that should be left by the manufacturing process. This visual inspection will also reveal variations in font etching, different directions of strokes used to etch the markings and variations on matt and gloss finishes on the products which again indicate blacktopping.

Samples are always requested from suppliers and tested rigorously to ensure that they meet the stringent quality controls that are put in place. We believe that these processes protect the product we deliver to our customers to avoid any risk from counterfeits.

At Heber we are also proud to be active members and contributors to the UKEA anti-counterfeiting forum database. The database, run by the UK Electronics Alliance, retains information about counterfeit products and we continue to be vigilant and share knowledge that we collect regarding counterfeits with them.

To find out more about testing to avoid counterfeit products or the UKEA anti-counterfeiting database, please contact Dr Tim Stinchcombe via

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