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Low cost ‘Go/No Go’ unit simplifies counterfeit component detection

24 August 2011

Bedford-based Paragon Electronic Components is an established provider of electronic component kitting and contract electronic manufacturing services. Over recent years it has seen the risk of receiving counterfeit components grow from a non-issue to a problem demanding increasing levels of vigilance. Each month Paragon buys in around six thousand components and experiences on average two or three suspect component incidents.

The problem seems to have gained impetus by the introduction of the RoHS regulations in 2006, but other circumstances have also fuelled its growth. For example lost output from Japanese manufacturing plants disabled by the earthquake and tsunami meant that Paragon, like others in the supply chain, had to turn to the grey market in order to maintain some scheduled deliveries. Even though the company only works with a few carefully selected, proven and authorised suppliers, problems cannot be totally ruled out and provision must be made to capture these at Goods In.

Accordingly Paragon decided to buy its first Cupio Sentry counterfeit component detector a couple of years ago, and have recently acquired a second unit. Graham Smith, Paragon’s Managing Director, explained the motivation for choosing Sentry: “One obvious reason was the Sentry’s low price tag, which, when compared with other detection technologies that would have demanded very significant capital investment, offered us a risk-free route into counterfeit detection. However its simplicity and ease of use were equally as attractive. The Sentry can be used by non-specialist operators after minimal training to give a clear Pass or Fail decision on each component tested. This compares very favourably with other inspection methods, where highly-trained and experienced staff are necessary to examine components or their images, and make decisions which are subjective and can be difficult to call.”
After delivery, Cupio was always available to supply support on demand, but little was actually needed. A couple of Paragon’s engineers experimented with the Sentry and started to achieve results quite quickly; a situation certainly not true for all of the company’s bought-in equipment. The real commercial benefits became evident after about six months’ use. The Sentry operates by comparing samples with known good reference components. Paragon has been steadily building its library of these reference parts, along with optical and x-ray photographs which are also used to help with counterfeit identification. They have also been expanding their collection of jigs for different component forms, partly by buying in from Cupio and partly by in-house manufacture.

Counterfeit components may simply be non-functional; alternatively they may function, but fail to meet their full specifications or environmental ratings. Such ‘sub-spec’ components have the potential to pass inspection and production tests, only to fail under operational stress in the field. These situations make repairs vastly more costly, as well as compromising users’ safety or commercial interests, and the reputation of the supplier. Under some circumstances Sentry can identify such components as well as catching the gross failures.

Components from grey market suppliers constitute about 2 – 3% of Paragon’s intake. These are sample tested on Sentry at Goods In, as are components from franchised distributors or from original manufacturers if they are over two years old. The strategy helps to catch damaged as well as counterfeit parts. Even when no known good reference samples are available, testing is often still useful because a component can fail in different ways for different reasons, and Sentry can detect this.

After two years’ operation, the first Sentry has become a valuable part of Paragon’s counterfeit detection and QA strategy. The second unit, recently purchased, is an upgraded product which handles higher pin-count parts. Its addition also allows for increased throughput which is especially useful for handling peaks in workflow.

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