Conterfeit component chaos

Aerospace and defense professionals face counterfeiting, parts obsolescence, and ITAR challenges head-on to help ensure system safety and reliability.

Aerospace and defense engineers and executives, like the militaries they serve, face adversaries. Certainly, these enemies are of a different nature than those faced by warfighters, but their effect can be just as incapacitating and severe.

Military officials facing tight budgets are opting to extend the life of currently fielded aerospace and defense platforms on the ground, at sea, and in the air. In some cases, lifespans are even being doubled.

Cheap often becomes expensive, however. Leaving an aircraft or ground combat vehicle in service for decades past the end of its original, intended useful life brings with it a number of challenges.

"Programs can run for decades, during which products are expected to deliver long life and reliability," says Michael Flatley, manager, product applications at Microsemi in Aliso Viejo, Calif. "As military programs get pushed out further due to funding issues, obsolescence management becomes even more important. Electronic component obsolescence is a very big challenge in the aerospace and defense market. The best way to combat obsolescence is through design-based techniques that minimize the problem at its genesis, rather than letting it become an ongoing issue that must be managed."

Shrinking market

Many factors can influence the availability of aerospace and defense parts and components. Market consolidation, the result of continued mergers and acquisitions, is but one cause.

"There are currently less U.S.-based manufacturing sources in the electronics space," observes Aram Sarkissian, general manager of microelectronics test and engineering at EAG in Santa Clara, Calif. "Many have closed their doors or no longer support these technologies as the cost has become too prohibitive for them-which creates and exacerbates the obsolescence problem."

Not long ago, a majority of manufacturers catered to the needs of the military market. Times change, however, and a wealth of companies have gone in search of verticals marked by orders with larger quantities, faster turnarounds, less uncertainty or risk of contract cancellation, and greater return on investment.

"One of the reasons obsolescence is such a big problem for military designs is that available electronic components are typically intended for commercial, industrial, and automotive use," says Microsemi's Flatley. "It is rare for products to be specifically developed for defense applications, so designers must use commercial and industrial temperature-rated parts that aren't necessarily designed, packaged, and screened for military high-reliability use."

The problems is even more severe in the digital world, where generational technology changes such as consumers moving from desktops to laptops and on to tablets have led to semiconductors that are more powerful, yet draw less power, which means performance at temperature extremes is often sacrificed.

"Semiconductor companies have responded to cost pressures through die shrinks, which results in decreas-ed performance and reliability," Flatley says. "These trends accelerate obsolescence in the components' materials and the components' physical characteristics-each of which is critical in the design and development of defense and aerospace products.

Older military aircraft are relegated to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, better known as the boneyard, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
Older military aircraft are relegated to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, better known as the boneyard, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

"Obsolescence can negatively impact long-term viability of aircraft, missile, C4ISR (command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), and other systems," Flatley says. "Component obsolescence also makes it hard to increase processing and performance power in applications like missile, ordnance, and aircraft platforms, without increasing electronic component volume."

Limited supply

Aerospace and defense firms, in response to obsolescence pressures, are forced to seek the necessary parts elsewhere-from new and often foreign sources. Expanding the supplier base is no mean feat for providers of mission- and safety-critical military and aerospace solutions. The process must be handled with great care, given that it can open the door to a whole host of problems-not the least of which is counterfeit parts.

"This lack of suppliers has driven a need to relax laws so that oversea suppliers can be considered and utilized," explains EAG's Sarkissian. "This opens the doors for counterfeit devices as the majority comes from overseas, primarily China.

"Counterfeiting poses many significant challenges to aerospace and defense industries, primarily related to the safety of electronics," Sarkissian says. "This is often related to purchasing components from unauthorized distribution sources in the supply chain or when parts are discontinued from the original component manufacturer."

"Obsolescence is a daily struggle," admits Colton Mizen, chief operating officer at Target Corp. in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. "When components are slated to become obsolete or are becoming hard to find, they become very expensive and targets for counterfeiters. Any components which slip through the cracks and are sold to manufacturers with fake certifications not only cost the manufacturer and end user money and down time, but can be a real life safety issue. We supply many items to the government, domestically and for foreign military use. Soldiers rely on these products with their lives and the lives of those they protect."

Unexpected results can be catastrophic. "A simple relay or integrated circuit (IC) could, in theory, bring down a large troop transport jet or cripple the navigation system of a ship," Mizen explains. "Of course, there are redundancies which help to prevent this, but my point is that it shouldn't happen with the safeguards put in place to stop this from happening. With every safeguard, like destructive testing and DNA marking of components, the counterfeiters have a new and better way of producing bad components. The newest way is cloning of components. Even simple resistors and capacitors have started to be cloned."

Rising responsibility

All defense contractors are now responsible under the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act to have a corporate plan to mitigate counterfeits and are responsible to pay for any counterfeit part expense mediation in their products, says R. Dale Lillard, president and owner of aftermarket specialist Lansdale Semiconductor in Phoenix.

"The government will no longer pay to fix or replace equipment [in which] counterfeits were discovered," Lillard cautions. "Under this act, [aerospace and defense contractors] are responsible to purchase from trusted sources, manufacturers, and sales channels.

"Historically, these contractors could go out to the broker market and find products in many cases faster and cheaper than these trusted sources could deliver. Now they must change their purchasing habits, which may require longer lead times and higher prices than in the past. Any mistakes could be very costly to the contractor," Lillard says. "They are establishing new trusted sources for some of these parts they were used to purchasing from brokers."

The first resource for preventing counterfeiting is to buy only from trusted sources, Mizen says. "I get e-mails every day from multiple sources saying they can procure hard-to-find items. If I perform a search for a particular component and all I find are the same old websites offering them like they are no problem, I know there is a problem.

A P-51 Mustang and an A-10A turn over the boneyard, where retired or unused military aircraft are stored, preserved, or recycled.
A P-51 Mustang and an A-10A turn over the boneyard, where retired or unused military aircraft are stored, preserved, or recycled.

"Using trusted sources which are authorized distributors guarantees quality," Mizen adds. A few companies will procure hard-to-find items and run the required testing and anti-counterfeit measures, he says. SMT Corp. in Sandy Hook, Conn., for example, will provide complete traceability and certificate of conformance (C of C), as well as mark them with Target's DNA ink, if required. I feel secure in using them because of the state-of-the-art facility and methods used to prevent counterfeiting."

Legacy equipment

It is important to purchase ICs direct from the manufacturer, licensed aftermarket manufacturer, or their authorized sales channels only, Lansdale's Lillard advises. "Any purchases through sources other than this risk counterfeit product or product that may be mishandled, such as recycle pulls or ESD damages."

Lansdale, since 1964, has manufactured products using the original tooling, process, and test programs licensed to manufacture the same part that was discontinued by companies such as Motorola, Phillips, and Intel, to name a few, Lillard says. "We have over 1,000 QML 38535 integrated circuits qualified and over 2,500 products in our catalog. These products date from the 1960s to the 1990s, such as RTL, DTL, TTL, LS TTL, and analog. We purchased the military products from Motorola and Philips when they exited the military markets." Lansdale, a QML manufacturer of stock class 5962 ICs, is licensed with the original IC manufacturers to produce the products.

Another method is having a robust quality team with 100-percent incoming inspection," Mizen notes. "This is a requirement for military, although we extend this benefit to every customer for whom we build. If every single piece is inspected and meets or exceeds the specifications, as well as has complete documentation, the chance for counterfeiting is nearly eliminated."

Target Corp. uses DNA marking on active components going to the government, Mizen describes. "Since Nov. 2012, the government has mandated that any 5962-type devices being sold as spares or in repairs get marked with a specific DNA ink which is proprietary to the supplier. It ensures that only approved suppliers providing quality components are used. At $50,000 per year to procure the ink, fly-by-night companies looking to make a quick buck and then disappear should be reduced or eliminated.

One other company that specializes in DNA-based marking to help prevent parts counterfeiting is Applied DNA Sciences, Inc. in Stony Brook, N.Y. Applied DNA Sciences is licensed by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency to provide DNA marking services for the Pentagon's stockpile of electronic components.

"Soon," Mizen says, "this mandate will be extended to 5961 devices and [likely] will be continued down to the hardware level. There is, of course, the human factor and it can never be 100 percent eliminated, but we put as many safeguards in place as reasonably necessary to reduce this risk. Technologies like x-raying components, 100 percent inspection, Flying Probe testing, complete traceability, and making sure who you are dealing with will all help in this ongoing challenge."

Two key players from the Target Corp. team recently traveled to visit not only the company's best customer face to face, but also to visit one of its suppliers to inspect their facility and speak with them directly. "Any company can grab stock images off the Net and build a fancy website luring you into their web. It happens every day, but if you spend a few bucks and go visit with them, it can really put into perspective who you are working with. We were pleasantly surprised and feel at ease placing orders," Mizen explains.

"Do your due diligence," Mizen recommends. "Make sure what you are buying is the real deal. Use the available tools to inspect these items. If your company doesn't have some of the pricier test equipment, send it to someone who does. Include the testing in the quote process; your customers will be glad you did."

Combat counterfeiters

"The underground network of counterfeiters continues to grow steadily and they are developing more sophisticated manufacturing methods. Much of the product they produce is not easy to detect and unfortunately does enter the supply chain," Sarkissian says. "It is important to take a vigilant stand and utilize the expertise of trusted suppliers, such as EAG, to help combat these trends.

EAG staff continue to stay abreast of the technology, understand how the counterfeit suppliers are moving to exploit the market, and develop the right techniques to identify them, Sarkissian says. "To combat obsolescence, we work closely with component manufacturers in the early design, debug, and test phases to insure that components they are re-releasing to the market meet the original manufacturer's specifications. Often these components must adhere to stringent reliability and test standards, and EAG brings a blend of systems and knowledge to test to these standards.

"In the fight against counterfeits, we developed a number of both simple screening and deep dive analysis techniques that can help minimize the amount of counterfeit electronics entering the supply chain," Sarkissian describes. "These can include physical inspection and deeper electrical testing of semiconductors and ICs, as well as verification and authentication of device marking, die inspection, circuit extraction, electrical functionality, and performance against reliability specs."

EAG operates a large lab with a range of tools in microelectronics test and engineering and materials characterization. "By taking a multidisciplinary approach, we can design the right methodology to meet customers' needs and investigate devices in a comprehensive and holistic way. Our install base of tools gives us the bandwidth to take a range of project sizes and scale to meet any burst need clients have," Sarkissian says. "An ITAR-registered organization, EAG understands the challenges aerospace and defense customers face and has the size and scale to be a true extension of their resources and a ready partner to support them."


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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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