A Cautionary Tale: Counterfeit Materials


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We now live in a world where we take certain things for granted. The car, for instance. Without the car, life would be entirely different. But in the days when the motor car was in its infancy, those in authority decided that some care was required. Thus it was, in 1865, that the British Government of the time introduced the Locomotive Act, which was also known as the "Red Flag Act”. This required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph (6.4 km/h) in the country and 2 mph (3.2 km/h) in the city, as well as requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons.

In Philadelphia, USA, there was legislation that instructed the driver of the horseless carriage, upon meeting a drove of animals on the same road, to stop the vehicle, and disassemble it into its component parts, which needed to be hidden in case the livestock became alarmed. The vehicle could only be reassembled once the herd has passed by calmly.

Obviously, a risk assessment had been carried out, and doubtless the person in charge of the horseless carriage would be driving not only very slowly, but with due diligence as well, and equipped with a sizeable tool box.

Another "red flag" would now seem to be necessary, relating to another vehicle - the printed circuit board. This is something else that we might all have taken for granted, but all is not as it seems. The trend towards counterfeiting has spread down to the basics.

The counterfeiting of components is, of course, well-known; articles have been written that show that the proliferation of counterfeit electronic parts into the manufacturing supply chain costs the United States government and its contractors billions each year.

But the problem is not just limited to those who supply government agencies. Recent reports show consumer and industrial businesses are losing approximately $250 billion each year because of counterfeit components.

One report notes the automotive industry alone lost $3 billion in sales, while another shows the semiconductor industry takes a $75 billion annual hit. In addition, these counterfeit parts frequently create the potential for product malfunction, leading to personal injury and even death—a situation that has created unnecessary danger for military and everyday consumers, plus immense new levels of liability and risk for manufacturers in a wide range of industries.

The printed circuit board might seem an innocent victim to such fraudulent activity. After all, it’s only some resin mixed with fibres and pressed flat with some copper foil laminated to the surface on both sides. Isn’t it? No, it is not. It is a sophisticated medium, and might quite aptly be called precision engineering, which does not come cheap. Circuit board manufacturers are well aware of the huge range of copper-clad laminate that is available to them.

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