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Anti-counterfeiting expert shares one of the trickiest chips we've seen at our lab

Anti-counterfeiting expert shares a recent discovery of a recycled chip being sold as new.


With ongoing chip shortages forcing more sourcing from grey market distributors, everyone has been talking about counterfeits in electronic component supply chains, but do you actually know what a counterfeit component is in reality? When we hear “counterfeit part,” most of us imagine a cheap knockoff chip that is designed to look like a different chip. This kind of counterfeiting does happen, but it is very rare. The more common issue is real, authentic chips that are damaged, used, or otherwise non-conformant being sold as new.

Cofactr’s in-house anti-counterfeiting lab has seen chips with all sorts of defects, including some that are entirely empty, just a plastic casing with leads, but recently the team inspected chips with an unusual defect, so we thought it would be helpful to share

Recovered Chips

The chips in question were sourced from a reputable broker for an aerospace manufacturer and had already been inspected by another anti-counterfeiting lab visually and via x-ray when they arrived at Cofactr’s lab. Our initial inspection of the top surface and x-ray microscope images of the chips indicated that they are the real deal. Only when our inspector removed one of the chips from the tape and inspected the bottom thermal pad under a microscope did the issue reveal itself. We noticed a small (literally microscopic) amount of yellow residue around the edge of the thermal pad, which we immediately suspected was flux residue. Subsequent analysis confirmed the presence of flux residue on the IC.

There’s just one problem: a new chip shouldn’t already have flux residue on it. What this tells us is that these chips were desoldered off of a circuit board and recycled to appear as new, and then they were sold into the market as new chips. Unlike many recycled chips, these particular ICs were expertly restored to a nearly new condition, but the good condition on the outside doesn’t mean that these chips are in good condition on the inside. Even though an x-ray inspection confirmed that the die-bond wires are undamaged, these chips could have been exposed to excess moisture, electrostatic discharge events, storage outside of acceptable temperature ranges, or any number of other factors that could lead to reduced reliability or other non-conforming performance. These chips were destined for use in a mission-critical rocket part, so there is no room to risk any sort of reliability or performance issues.

These chips are a prime example of the importance of subjecting any chip purchased from a non-authorized distributor to a thorough inspection by an experienced anti-counterfeiting inspection lab. Even the inspections performed by most reputable brokers can’t catch every issue, and in applications where every part counts, the minimal cost of a thorough inspection is well worth it.

Looking for more confidence in the quality of your parts? Access affordable next-day anti-counterfeiting inspections with Cofactr sourcing or inventory management solutions.

Matthew Haber

CEO, Co-Founder

Matthew is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cofactr.

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