If you Google “Counterfeit Electronic Parts” you will receive over 20 million results, with an array of articles as recent as yesterday and as old as the World War II era on this topic.  Needless to say, there is always someone willing to run a black market operation, whether it’s electronics or designer purses.

So, we must ask the question, if our own government struggles with keeping counterfeit parts out of their weapons and other systems, what does a small producer of electronics, microchips or semi-conductors need to do to assure the integrity of their product? Much of the answer lies inside simply being a smart consumer, doing a little homework and checking references.

Below are the top five questions to ask of your Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) partner before you start production.

1. Are you RoHS Compliant?

When you ask this question, the EMS should be able to share the initiatives they have taken internally to be RoHS compliant, how they train their employees in compliance and what actions they take to avoid black market components that may contain the below listed hazardous materials.

The RoHS Directive enforces an absolute prohibition against six hazardous materials — cadmium, polybrominated biphenyl flame retardants, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants — in consumer products.

2. How do you determine if your suppliers are “trusted”?

Reputable EMS will be able to discuss their investigative process in order to qualify a supplier as a “trusted source”.  The criteria should include things such as; the number of years in a supplier has been in business, reference checks from past/present customers, verifiable counterfeit screening, tracking, and testing procedures, adherence to industry and government standards, membership in industry associations, how previous problems have been recorded and even the quality of warehouse/storage facilities.

3. Do you guarantee 100% traceability for every part and component you use?

A reputable EMS will be able to provide you with a detailed report which documents the traceability and origin of every part acquired for your project.  As a matter of routine, the EMS should have documentation for every step of the supply chain and the chain of custody of every part.  In addition, they will be able to document how inventory is stored to assure your parts are not compromised while in their custody.

4. Are your employees trained to inspect parts for common signs of counterfeiting?

While most EMS will answer “yes” to this question,  it’s important to dig deeper.  It might seem a bit awkward to ask a company about their employee turn-over. However, high and regular employee attrition can often be a “red flag” which indicates inconsistent or insufficient training.  The missing training could easily include how to identify counterfeit parts and the protocols of RoHS or other industry standards.  Long-term employees and documented training standards are a good indication that your EMS has done their due diligence.

5. Do you have clear procedures for employees when they suspect they have a counterfeit part?

Avoiding counterfeit components is only part of the challenge; employees must know how to spot counterfeit parts and have a clear path of action in the event they suspect a part might have compromised integrity.  Each EMS should keep a record of possible counterfeit parts they come in contact with and report the incidents the proper authorities, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force or other industry associations.

While avoiding counterfeit electronic parts has been a challenge for more than 75 years, it is not common to find counterfeit components inside a reputable EMS. A solid EMS is armed with precautions, procedures, training and adherence to compliance standards.

Remember, there are no short cuts to simply being a smart consumer, ask question and question the answers.