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SAE International Creates Standard to Thwart Problem of Counterfeit Aerospace Electronics

WARRENDALE, Pa., Oct. 12, 2009 - In a non-descript village, somewhere in the world, the residents take old, discarded circuit assemblies, strip and clean the components, then remark and repackage them for sale as new.

In many cases, the entire economy of the village is based on creating these counterfeit electronic parts – parts that have infiltrated every sector of the aerospace electronics industry. The increasing volume of counterfeit parts entering the aerospace supply chain poses significant performance, reliability and safety risks.

SAE International recently responded to the problem, completing a new standard designed to mitigate the risks of receiving and installing counterfeit electronic parts.

The SAE standard, “AS5553 – Counterfeit Electronic Parts; Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation, and Disposition,” standardizes the requirements, practices, and methods related to parts management, supplier management, procurement, inspection, test/evaluation, and response strategies when suspected or confirmed counterfeit parts are discovered.

The standard was recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry & Security, the number of counterfeit incidents reported by 387 participants climbed from 3,868 in 2005 to 9,356 in 2008, an increase of more than 140 percent. About nine percent of the companies documented cases related to government applications.

"Quite simply, it's a huge problem," said Phil Zulueta, chair for SAE's Counterfeit Electronic Parts Committee. "We've seen a 140 percent increase of counterfeit incidents in three years, but that's only what the U.S. Department of Commerce has been able to document. The problem is unquestionably bigger than this. That figure only accounts for the incidents reported, and the majority of incidents go unreported."

The globalization of the aerospace industry and the resulting diversity of regional and national requirements have complicated the problem. Assuring the quality and integration of products purchased from suppliers throughout the world, and at all levels within the supply chain, has become increasingly difficult.

How do counterfeit parts get into the supply chain of the aviation industry, which has a reputation for thoroughness and security?

It begins with simple economics - supply and demand.

The volume of electronics used by the military and the airline industry is miniscule compared to the public's use, which includes cell phones, computers and entertainment systems. Chip manufacturers focus on meeting these large volume needs and subsequently stop producing the less-profitable aerospace components.

When original equipment manufacturers can no longer buy from an original component manufacturer, they must go to the open market and find a broker who can supply the equipment. Counterfeiters are aware of the shortages and begin approaching brokers with the bogus goods. Brokers must rely on the word of the suppliers and have no way of determining if the electronic parts are bogus.

"The longer the supply stream, the more opportunity for counterfeiters to slip bogus parts into the mix," Zulueta said. "When the parts changes hands multiple times, it becomes rather easy for them to get in the supply chain. It is a huge, expensive problem."

The control plan includes processes to specifically address counterfeit part risk mitigation methods in electronic design and parts management, supplier management, procurement, part verification, material control and response strategies when suspect or confirmed counterfeit parts are discovered.

The SAE International standard calls for:

    • Maximized availability of authentic parts; 
    • Procurement of parts from reliable sources;  
    • Assuring authenticity and conformance of procured parts;  
    • Control of parts identified as counterfeit; and  
    • Reporting counterfeit parts to other potential users and government investigative authorities.

AS5553 – Counterfeit Electronic Parts; Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation, and Disposition was created by SAE International’s Counterfeit Electronic Parts Committee. Reporters can obtain a copy of the standard by contacting 724-772 8522 or .

SAE International is a global association of more than 121,000 engineers and related technical experts in the automotive, aerospace and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE International's core competencies are life-long learning and standards development. SAE International's charitable arm is the SAE Foundation, which supports many programs, including A World In Motion® and the Collegiate Design Series.

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