Ruminations, Myths and Unreliable Facts — Introduction

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The following is the first in a series of essays written from the perspective of a US defense electronics professional with a strong bias favoring end use product integrity and reliability considerations. Some material may not be appropriate for those whose product performance expectations, business systems, or value systems support a tolerance for counterfeit part escapes.

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Ruminations, Myths and Unreliable Facts


Many industry supply chain subject matter experts have presented diagrams illustrating players in the electronic part supply chain, the movement of parts among these players, and how counterfeit parts are introduced into the supply chain. The following is an example of these supply chain depictions.


[ Diagram courtesy of the Independent Distributors of Electronics Association (IDEA) ]

In this simplified depiction, Original Component Manufacturers (OCMs) sell products directly to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and to Contract Manufacturers (CMs). OCMs also supply products through Authorized Distributors within the terms of a Distribution Agreement. OEMs and CMs sell “excess inventory” (unconsumed parts that are no longer needed) to the open market. Independent Distributors purchase parts from the open market with the intention to sell and redistribute them. In addition to authentic “excess inventory”, counterfeits are also introduced into the open market where they are interchanged between Independent Distributors and sold to OEMs and CMs. Diagrams such as this one are useful for educating those who are not well versed in this subject. Practical experience, however, reveals a supply chain that often resembles Dante’s “nine circles of Hell”.[1] In Dante’s depiction of hell, counterfeiters reside in the tenth of ten ditches within the eighth circle. While counterfeiters and their associates may commit grave sins, the conduct of other players within the supply chain can place them in other circles.


Botticelli, Chart of Hell, c.1480–c.1495. Vat. Lat. 1896. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

Much of what I describe in these essays is derived from facts and observations associated with a specific example of a countefeit part escape.[2] This case is rich with lessons and surprises just below the surface. A careful study of events leading to this counterfeit part escape and findings revealed in the aftermath illustrate that a number of popular “truths” are myths or, at best, unreliable facts. A study of players in the supply chain associated with this with this escape and the movement of parts among these players illustrates the following myths and unreliable facts:

  • Only obsolete and hard-to-find parts are counterfeited.
  • Counterfeits do not find their way into the supply chain via OEM or CM “excess inventory”.
  • Counterfeits do not find their way into the supply chain via authorized distributors.
  • Authorized Distributors perform inspection / verification of “returns for convenience” that will detect counterfeits.
  • OCMs and distributors know who their customers are and can, therefore, limit the type of customer they supply.
  • OCMs will provide support to users for purchases from authorized distributors.

Forensic analysis of the counterfeits associated with this event also reveal myths and unreliable facts concerning the effectiveness of methods designed to detect counterfeit parts and the ability to detect the presence of counterfeit parts once installed in electronic assemblies and equipment. …

  • Decap is not necessary to reveal counterfeits.
  • Simple electrical tests will detect counterfeits.
  • Counterfeits can be detected by testing the next higher assembly or system.

Chapter 1 coming soon.

Henry Livingston

[1] In Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, “Divine Comedy”, hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth.

[2] GIDEP Report CLS-P-14-01 (04 November 2013)


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