Current State of Third Party Lab Capabilities in Counterfeit Detection

The Army Research Office (ARO) and CHASE Center at UConn organized a special Workshop on Counterfeit Electronics. This event included speakers from industry, government, and academia to share ideas, problems, and discuss issues and solutions related to counterfeit detection, prevention, and supply chain security and management. Among the variety of topics discussed, subject matter experts described the current state-of-the-art in the domain of counterfeit detection and avoidance.

One of the panels included an aerospace electronics industry subject matter expert in failure analysis and counterfeit detection who described the results of a recent round robin technical evaluation of several independent test labs to assess the ability of these laboratories to identify counterfeit devices and specific counterfeit attributes. Each lab was provided counterfeit and authentic samples of microcircuits. Each lab was encouraged to apply its standard counterfeit detection flow and requested to perform an assortment of specific tests and inspections commonly used for counterfeit detection. Laboratory results were compared to results from the aerospace electronics industry representative’s analysis; where results differed, the representative’s results were validated.

Here is a summary of observations from this round robin evaluation. …

  • A significant variance was observed in the depth of analysis performed by each lab as well as variances in the fidelity of performed tests between labs.
  • The training level and understanding of counterfeiting techniques of operators varied; a general lack of standardized certification was observed. The subject matter expert offered a compelling observation associated with these findings: “analysis isn’t about performing a defined process; it is based on interpretation of observations. It is very difficult to standardize accreditation in this area.”
  • Poorly reported data can provide misleading conclusions; conclusions are not always well supported by the lab reports.

I found these findings somewhat discouraging. These observations are similar to those my immediate colleagues and I made when assessing independant test lab results over five years ago. Though there has been improvement since that time, I had hoped for more favorable results.

New industry standards in the works, such as SAE AS6171, will go a long way to help drive consistent and accurate results across independant test laboratories. It will be a number of years, however, before effective accreditation and certification mechanisms are established to help identify labs best suited to the task at hand today. Here are some thoughts on how to proceed in the interim.

When outsourcing counterfeit detection activity:
(a) be specific concerning tests and inspections to be performed,
(b) oversee detection testing and analysis reporting, _and_
(c) consult subject matter experts on the results of detection testing and conclusions from analysis results.

Continue to monitor supplier / subcontractor subject matter expertise in the follow areas…
1. selecting and specifying tests and inspections necessary to detect counterfeit parts
2. overseeing execution of counterfeit detection testing
3. assessing and interpreting third party lab test results

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2 thoughts on “Current State of Third Party Lab Capabilities in Counterfeit Detection

  1. Owen Peters says:

    Henry, was there any discussion or update to the DLA recently established Qualified Testing Suppliers List (QTSL) for items in Federal Supply Classes (FSCs) 5961 and 5962? Is there a current list available that you know of?

    • I don’t recall any briefings going into details of DLA’s implementation of DNA marking, though two provided overviews with nothing I observed to be new information. If the QTSL webpage on DLA’s website does not post a list of QTSL approved suppliers, you could browse recent awards in DIBBS for insight.

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