The continued challenge of counterfeit products

31st October 2023
Sheryl Miles

It’s been a great relief to see improvements in the electronics manufacturing industry this year.

Supply and demand have levelled out, backlogs have cleared up, and lead times have shortened – making day-to-day much more streamlined for producers and consumers of electronic devices. But the coast’s not clear just yet.

Many people turned to sub-par components in 2022 after struggling to get a hold of new, genuine ones, resulting in a 35% increase in the number of reported counterfeit and non-conforming parts from the year before. 

And even though supply chain disruption has eased as the world’s adapted to events like the pandemic and Russia-Ukraine conflict, this trend has continued into 2023 whilst manufacturers attempt to cut costs and speed up turnaround times. 

As an electronics manufacturing services provider committed to quality, EMS feel strongly about the negative consequences of using counterfeit products. So, Sales Director, Rob Moore, is here to explain why it’s always best to stick with trusted components and outline how EMS can help you maintain the highest standards even whilst this challenge persists.  

Risking performance and safety

In electronics manufacturing, counterfeit products are considered any component or part that’s an unauthorised copy, imitation, substitute, or modification of a real part or component. 

Whilst some of these fakes, which are often sold by overseas suppliers at a heavily discounted price, are made from aged components that have been refurbished and sold as new, others are built with parts that are relabelled and sold as entirely different ones. 

Worryingly, counterfeit products often make it through the production line without manufacturers knowing anything’s wrong, as it’s incredibly difficult to detect an old or imitation part – and they do not always fail quality control tests. Instead, problems can arise once the device they are built into reaches customers, which can be extremely dangerous.

For example, if counterfeit printed circuit boards (PCBs) lead to wearable medical devices not providing accurate test results, they can lead to incorrect diagnoses and prevent patients from receiving the treatment they need. Plus, if the PCB malfunctions, not only will nearby elements in the device become damaged, necessitating tricky and expensive repairs, but the wearer could also get hurt. 

Even if inauthentic components don’t fail, they’re likely to negatively impact the performance of the device they’re in – causing inefficiencies that get in the way of customer satisfaction and potentially damage business’ reputations. 

Therefore, it’s important to only use genuine components from trusted original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). 

Prioritising quality

To effectively mitigate the risk of counterfeit products and prevent fake or aged components from making their way into any of the assemblies EMS produce, they abide by the terms of their Counterfeit Controls Policy

This document asserts that EMS only sources parts and raw materials from official franchised sources and official catalogue sources, as backed by their OEM manufacturer agreements. EMS use suppliers that offer full traceability to their factories unless EMS customers request that they use a supplier that doesn’t offer this. In such cases, the supplier will undergo supplier checks to ensure it meets the ISO 9001/13485 approval process, and if it doesn’t, EMS will inform the customer. 

What’s more, EMS use approved suppliers with a track record of producing consistent, reliable, and authentic parts. If the component their customer requires is very complex or set to be used in a high-value good, these suppliers will also conduct verification tests before they’re purchased.  

All this is a key part of the EMS quality management system, which ensures they produce electronics assemblies to the internationally recognised BS EN 9001:2015 and BS EN ISO 13485:2016 standards and underpins all our services.

EMS always offer automated optical inspection (AOI) of all surface-mount technology (SMT) components and production batches to IPC-A-610 Class 2 and offer Class 3 inspection upon request. Their teams also strive to meet or exceed customers’ expectations and work to maintain mutually beneficial relationships between their clients, suppliers, and business partners.

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