Fake Capacitors

bad-caps3a.jpg

Thanks to our fucked up procurement practices we just got bit in the ass real hard here. It was only a matter of time before we were hit with counterfeit components in our instruments. The Spectrum Analyzer group discovered fake tantalum capacitors all over their circuit boards last year. That should have served as a dire warning for the rest of our production groups, but nobody seemed to be paying much attention at the time. Now it’s our turn in this department.

Capacitors began burning off of our PC boards this past week. At first technicians figured it was purely random. Just a few defective parts. Then we experienced a rash of failures across the shop floor all due to the same problem. Surface-mounted tantalum capacitors had overheated, grenading off of circuit boards completely bomb-cratering through half of the board’s fiberglass material. Incinerates circuit traces where a failed part was located. Upon closer inspection somebody figured out that all of these capacitors were counterfeits, made to look like parts from a reliable manufacturer- AVX. Right now we don’t know which company originally produced these bad parts or what is inside of them. This is serious because we have inspected hundreds of our PC boards so far finding fake parts littered everywhere.

We’re in trouble. The instrument line is far behind schedule. If we try to re-work each and every PC board with known good replacement components we probably won’t make our monthly shipments. It’s too labor intensive, takes too much time. Plus there is a risk of causing more damage to PC boards by soldering new capacitors in place. Surface mounted circuit traces and metalized contact pads are delicate. We can’t knowingly allow instruments to ship to customers with fake components in them, either.

Situations like this are created by a long chain of events, most of which should be avoidable. Employees who are parts buyers maintain inventory levels and purchase components from vendors. The parts buyers are rewarded with incentives like bonuses for keeping their inventory levels as low as possible and for locating inexpensive materials. Parts buyers scrounge around for bulk purchases at rock-bottom prices. In the meantime, component manufacturers always end up with an amount of scrap parts. No matter how tight their processes are, they always have some material that does not meet specifications. Rather than reclaim or recycle their defective components, companies sell off those inferior parts at a fraction of cost. That way they don’t have the headache of recycling on their own and they still make some money. Most of the time these bad components eventually make their way to China.

Chinese electronics companies take these bad components and remove the part’s markings which indicated the original manufacturer, component value, and date code of production. Then each part is re-marked as if it was brand new. Initially the processes used to counterfeit high quality components was rather crude and easy to spot by a seasoned technician. That has changed considerably in the past couple of years. Knock-off parts generally had their top surface ground down just enough to remove markings. They were hand painted or inked which looked sloppy. Scratches were always clearly visible like the parts had been dragged across sand paper, and their edges were frequently rounded off instead of clean and sharp. Tell tale signs of being altered. These days fake components are laser-etched by machines making them much harder to identify.

avx_r43kf_counterfeit1.jpg

After being repackaged as new stock, counterfeit parts are put up for sale at ridiculously cheap prices. And that’s where our clueless parts buyers come into the picture. They think we’re getting a great deal on bulk high quality parts not even suspecting for a moment the components they are buying might be fakes.

Capacitors are used in just about every aspect of electronics. Primarily they are utilized to store an electrical charge at a certain voltage and then discharge at a constant rate. They are commonly employed to take an electrical charge that might be dirty with power drops and spikes. A capacitor can handle power fluctuations like that yet still discharge clean and steady as if it was a filter. There are many different kinds of capacitors. Electrolytic caps for example use wet chemicals to store voltage. Lately we have been using Tantalum capacitors extensively in our products. Tantalum is a rare metal with an interesting property- it can self-heal somewhat if it is weakened or damaged in a capacitor. When they finally go bad though, a tantalum cap usually will overheat to such an extent that it pretty much explodes off the PC board destroying it in the process.

Advertisements

~ by factorypeasant on January 29, 2007.

4 Responses to “Fake Capacitors”

  1. Man those chinee people fully stole my thing, i used to take my burned out crack rocks and role themn in soap flakes then microwave them and sell them as new good quality crack. When srackheads started showing up in emergency rooms with bubbles foaming out of they faces the city of SF put out a bounty on my head, aparently its ok to sell bunk acid on heaight st. but not ok to clean up the streets with soap filled crack head lung vomit. it’s totaly the same thing totaly the same thing…totaly.

    dt

  2. Devil-T i think your pancakes are on fire…
    http://thethingswethink.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/my-pancakes-are-on-fire/

  3. That’s why we don’t source passives in ANYWHERE in Asia. The sad part is that passives are cheaper than actives, and shady brokers try to make the same gross profit amounts as deals on active higher priced components and purchasing managers are not willing to pay $2 for a $0.25 cap. Then, in comes the shady broker with a China source, then BAM, your line shuts down.

  4. make it stop!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: