The Price of ‘Faking It’

Counterfeit electronics components supposedly are destroying the integrity of our hardware.

One estimate holds that “five to 20% of electronic components in distributors’ chains are probably counterfeit” at a cost to industry of some $100 billion a year.

In response, several organizations (not to mention a cottage industry of consultants) have jumped on the bandwagon, launching programs to warn of the hazards (death! destruction! locusts!).

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the obviously inflated numbers ($100 billion, after all, is more than the sum of all the semiconductor revenues of Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, TI, STMicroelectronics, Infineon and Renesas — in other words, the world’s top 7 semiconductor OEMs — in 2007.

The SIA, for example, now has an anti-counterfeiting task force, and is working in concert with SEMI to combat the problem. “Counterfeiting is a serious and growing problem in the worldwide electronics industry,” says SIA president George Scalise. “Counterfeit products pose a significant risk to consumers as well as to the manufacturers of semiconductors and electronic products.

In the UK, something called the Component Obsolescence Group published a list of best practices said to help minimize the risks associated with the growing supply of faked parts.

And of course, makers of traceability software, XRF and other gear have ramped up marketing efforts to pitch their solutions.

But…in all the hue and cry, one thing is missing: The guilty users. Over the past few companies, I’ve asked at least two dozen EMS companies if they’ve seen any counterfeit components. None would admit to it.

Now, we estimate that there are at least 1300 EMS sites in the US, so my sample is hardly representative. Still, is the problem overblown? Or are my contacts – gasp! – lying?

And if they are fibbing, in the end, who gets hurt? (Answer: The customer.) Is it worth it?

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow