Counterfeit electronic components are a growing problem for the electronics industry, often resulting in failures, product recalls and serious safety issues. They also cost industry billions of euros each year. The EU-funded ChipCheck project has developed a new inspection system to establish in under a second whether electronic components are legitimate or counterfeit - helping to eliminate costly product recalls and protecting consumers. The result could be commercially available in under a year.
© Vasina Nazarenko - Fotolia
At the moment, manufacturers are unable to check all electronic components – such as those used in aeroplanes, cars, nuclear power plants, and medical devices, for example – even if they would like to. The volume is too large, the protective packaging too obstructive, and the manpower required to do so too costly. And despite precautions, there have been reports of counterfeit components entering the supply chains of even the defence and aerospace industries.
'Lives in serious danger'
“Just imagine having a fake component that has made its way into the control station of an aeroplane – people's lives are in serious danger if that component suddenly fails,” says ChipCheck project coordinator Ian Nicholson from the TWI Technology Centre in Wales. “We've also heard reports of more commercial products like MP3 players catching fire while being used. This is no doubt a huge expense for the manufacturer due to the inevitable product recalls, and let's not forget the well-being of the consumer,” he adds.
In the ChipCheck system, components are mounted on to a machine roughly the size of a home fridge. The high-resolution X-ray system detects every single component and discards those that are counterfeit, having identified tiny details deviating from their genuine counterparts.
It does this without breaking the sealing, damaging components or removing them from their feeding mechanisms. It also performs the inspection automatically in less than one second, a vastly more efficient system than having to do manual inspections.
The ChipCheck X-ray inspection system is not only advanced – it is also affordable for electronics manufacturers. It can also deal with all electronic components, whether they are supplied on tape and reel, waffle tray or tube carriers.
Experts predict that this breakthrough will take the electronics industry sector into a new era, where the risk of counterfeit components being put in electronic products is considerably reduced.
The project ended in December 2012. The partners are now working to bring the product to market. According to Nicholson, just a few “tweaks” and some testing on electronic components are all that is needed before ChipCheck can be commercially available. Bringing the finished product to market is the task of industrial partner InnospeXion, based in Denmark.
“The first commercialised system could be on the market in as little as 6 to 12 months, in late 2014/early 2015,” says Nicholson.