The global trade in counterfeit electronics and equipment currently stands at $121billion, but counterfeit products don’t just cost companies money, they ruin reputations, they’re dangerous and what’s worse, they’re becoming harder to identify.
Held at the BAE Systems headquarters in Hampshire, the Forum – now in its ninth year – brought together a range of speakers who explained the steps that should be taken to prevent and combat counterfeit products which have been proven to fund terrorism and drugs.
A key topic proved to be the importance of ‘knowing your supply chain’.
Jo Vann, TC107 technical secretary of GE Aviation Systems stressed the risk of having products manufactured outside of the UK, such as in the Far East. The distance means it’s difficult to control the supply process. She also warned that counterfeiters were salvaging components from discarded PCBs.
Recycling, although beneficial, can create plenty of opportunities for counterfeiters. The industry needs to be more aware and careful with recycling components to avoid parts being taken and resold as new, Vann said.
“Anything that can be manufactured has the potential to be counterfeited,” she said.
“The US Department of Defense has identified upwards of a million counterfeit components in its military supply chain, caused by poor supplier control and weak buying practises,” Vann continued.
Caution was also given towards using unfranchised distributors. “They are the ones who are mostly exposed to counterfeit products,” Vann warned.
Paul Chaplin, director, Axis Electronics, highlighted the essentials of ‘investing in supply chain risk management’. It’s not something done overnight, he explained. It’s something that needs time and care.
He explained that obsolete products are one of the main opportunities for counterfeiters. To combat this, he suggested better anticipating the demand for products and stocking up on them.
Peter Smeeth, Director of the Approved Cables Initiative, pointed to the Trading Standards and HSE, expressing that ‘more needed to be done’ by these bodies, including harsher punishments and more market surveillance.
He also said confidentiality was an issue. ‘When reporting counterfeiting to the Trading Standards, it isn’t allowed to provide details of the outcome’, and Smeeth believes we need more transparency to ensure appropriate measures are being taken.
Traceability was raised as an issue and highlighted as a vital weapon against counterfeit.
Blind trust in your supply chain is not enough, Smeeth, said. He explained that rather than ensuring traceability is possible or testing components, suppliers and distributors were tending to rely on signed documentation only to confirm legitimacy.
When sourcing parts, Chaplin advised telling the subcontractors the full manufacturer’s part number and the current name, and if relevant, any previous names. He also said to avoid only identifying a component by using a distributor’s part number.
The problem of counterfeiting isn’t new, so existing stock should also be checked. Visual inspection alone is not sufficient, so the best course of action is to send suspicious products to a testing company.
Retronix who offer this type of service, said that industry was certainly improving when it came to handling counterfeit products. “The amount of times we find counterfeit products is falling,” Rob Ronan, UK sales and support manager, said. “We’re certainly getting smarter at identification. The problem is, counterfeiters are getting smarter too.”
Ronan concluded that communication and awareness are the keys to effectively combating counterfeiting but with more information being shared, counterfeiters could also benefit.