Reprogammable devices and nuances of resale on the open market

The recent announcement concerning the Xilinx-Flextronics lawsuit provoked a number of discussions concerning the practice of reselling products. Correspondence to readers of Electronic Purchasing Strategies by its Managing Editor noted a practice concerning the resale of reprogrammable products (e.g. FPGAs) ….

“ … although Xilinx products are programmed to customer specs … they can be wiped and reprogrammed. … As such, the parts have widespread use — and appeal — in the open market. …”

The resale of reprogrammable products introduce important nuances for users to consider with respect to the potential for prior use.

Do those who resell and distributors that buy and in turn resell reprogrammable devices disclose to their customers that the products had been previously programmed and “wiped clean”?

Do those who resell and distributors that buy and in turn resell previously programmed devices make any representations about how the products where handled and processed to maintain the integrity of these products?

This information may not be important to some users, but to those of us in the defense and aerospace business, this is important information to address the potential for compromised quality and reliability.

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One thought on “Reprogammable devices and nuances of resale on the open market

  1. Harry Palmer says:

    The following is not directly applicable since the parts in question were, in reality, OTP (One-Time-Program). We have had one instance where a franchised distributor (authorized for the component manufacturer) sold us some obsolete UV erasable CPLDs. This was ~5 years ago and the parts had been off the market for 4+ years at the time. After failures at our contract manufacturer, investigations revealed that the parts were previously programmed refurbished parts. The parts were plastic packaged (SOICs) which implies that although they were (by design) UV erasable, they were actually OTP. At the time, no one in our supply chain, the contract manufacturer or the distributor had understood that the parts were OTP. Since the parts had been purchased through an authorized source, our usual counterfeit testing protocol had not been invoked.
    As a result, we isolated the stock (small lot) and returned it to distributor. During follow-up with the distributor’s district office, they revealed that they had acquired the parts from an open market source. I found it disappointing that, at least at the district office, they were less knowledgeable of the counterfeit industry than we were as an end user. The distributor was trying to do us a favor due to the fact that our supply chain had been “beating the bushes” for several months. Our requirements reflecting original manufacturer sourcing through authorized distribution were reinforced. This problem has not been repeated by this distributor that I am aware of.
    We do our counterfeit testing through a trusted open market source. In a few instances, we have considered using lots (obsolete parts) that were revealed to be authentic yet refurbished parts via the testing. I do not recall an instance where we have accepted a plastic packaged refurbished part. Follow-on CSAM testing has revealed significant interior delamination and the parts have been rejected.
    Controlling reliability of plastic packaged components, especially modern FPGAs is difficult at best and potentially seriously degraded if the parts have already been used. For an authorized distributor to resell reprogrammable devices that did not come directly from the manufacturer is exposing their clients to added risk. Personally, I think it is unethical for an authorized distributor to resell parts that did not come directly from the factory without disclosing the history of the stock. This not a problem for just the aerospace & defense sectors. There are other sectors that are pushing the limits of these parts. We all hope to build assemblies with the best reliability/durability possible.
    Used parts only makes the issues worse:
    1. FPGAs from any of the current manufacturers are VLSI chips that do not have unlimited lifespans. At the highest clock frequencies in the harshest expected applications, the metallization system has a limited lifespan as designed. Refurbs will have undefined expected reliable lifespans.
    2. With assembly and disassembly, there are significant opportunities to generate internal delamination inside the package that will increase the failure rate.
    3. Socketed applications are still fraught with potential damage due to power supply sequencing and possible ESD/EOS damage.
    The only way an OEM can hope to manage and optimize the reliability of their products is to be assembling with parts straight from the factory.

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