A Cautionary Tale: Counterfeit Materials


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There is a laminate for various applications, determined by the customer, where the requirements could be for halogen free, for high density interconnect, for high speed digital, for high thermal conductivity and/or reliability; some might have to be lead free compatible, or have a low CTE in the z-axis. End-use could be in the automotive field, as backplanes, for RF/Microwave applications, for high end computing, in areas where signal integrity is vital, and in the critically important worlds of medicine, the military, aerospace, as well as for mobile devices, servers, and wireless infrastructure.

This is carefully considered world of laminate selection by performance, and the complexity of manufacturing such materials cannot be underestimated nor overvalued.

Consider then the recently reported situation facing an OEM company. They have sourced a prototype, and have specified the type of laminate required. The prototype is duly delivered, complete with Certificate of Conformity (COC). The prototype is tested for such compliance, and it is discovered that the laminate used to produce the panel bears little or no relationship to the material specified. The COC turns out to be forgery, the laminate used turns out to have been sourced from the recycling bins of a PCB manufacturer in the country of origin.

In the early days of circuit board manufacture in the UK, one of the leading suppliers founded a profitable business based on collecting scrap and off-cut laminate from waste containers and repackaging into popular sizes and quantities. The prices were attractive, availability was assured, and little or no technical support was expected. If the laminate was flat enough, well and good, and a modicum of bow and twist was manageable. The application of Brasso hid many a defect.

A quarter of a century later and things have changed. Prices for laminate have changed, and so too the expectations; but this cautionary tale is written to spread the word that all may not be as it seems, and some very overdue diligence seems to be needed.

Let us have a look at imaginary but all-too-possible scenarios:

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