The automotive, electrical, military and aerospace industries have faced a huge increase in counterfeiting and have been waging a long battle against counterfeited products. In the electrical, military and aerospace industries the impact of counterfeiting goes far beyond intellectual property protection or trademark infringement.
The electrical, military and aerospace industries have been a relatively easy target for counterfeit components. Their inadvertent use can have catastrophic consequences when undetected. Uncertified parts are often passed off as authentic and their use doesn’t become immediately evident.
Aerospace, space and defense products are desirable targets for counterfeiters as the systems used are intended to last over an extended period of time. They become vulnerable to obsolescence of parts, materials and technologies. Difficulties are encountered in securing the same part from a manufacturer to replace original parts. Due to parts unavailability from the original manufacturer, industries are forced to turn to independent distributors to source replacement parts.
The impact of the use of counterfeit parts or materials in the aerospace and defense industry ranges from monetary losses in the form of project cost overruns, liability, lack of availability of products, loss of customer trust, erosion of brand and image to potential and actual loss of life.
There is a long history of counterfeit airline parts which are unapproved and substandard being sold to unsuspecting airline companies. The US have discovered a lot of fake products showing up in their navy and airforce aircraft. Going back to the 1970s the Federal Aviation Administration found counterfeit systems in Boeing 737 aircraft.
In 2008 airline parts were reportedly found on sale at online consumer auction websites offering gears, flanges, gauges, radar parts and valves to buyers. Russian police have discovered criminal operations producing and selling civil aircraft parts. Back in the 1980s United States investigators discovered bogus spare parts in numerous helicopters in service in with NATO forces.
Boeing recently reported that parts like rivets, nuts and fluid bolts are components which are easily replicated and sold. Other electronic components like semiconductors, resistors, capacitors, electronic assemblies, pumps, actuators, batteries, integrated circuits and materials such as titanium and composite chemicals are also commonly counterfeited.
There are a wide variety of sources of counterfeit parts and materials ranging from original manufacturers, through to authorised distributors, after-market suppliers, test houses, and component source facilities. There are many ways that counterfeit parts can infiltrate the supply chain.
The military have been particularly vulnerable as they no longer use military-specific parts, relying nearly exclusively upon commercial manufacturers when sourcing parts for military applications.
It has been recognised that there is a pressing need for supply chain controls to be implemented so that the provenance of a part is traceable through all the possible links in the supply chain back to a credible and verifiable trusted source. A quality assurance process is being developed which is based on commonly agreed upon rules in the aerospace industry to try to stem the tide of counterfeit products making their way into the supply chain.
The semiconductor industry is also at war with counterfeiters producing dangerous counterfeit parts and components. Many semiconductor counterfeits emanate from China. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the National Electronic Distributors Association (NEDA) are both aware of the need to prevent substandard and counterfeit components from infiltrating aerospace and military applications. An SIA Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (ACTF) was set up in 2006 to establish a program to reduce the incidence of semiconductor product counterfeiting.
To this end SIA is co-operating with a special STM International Tracability Committee in developing a standard encouraging the use of authentication service providers. Manufacturers would be required to place an encrypted plate on labels affixed to each box of chips so that potential purchasers can make inquiries using this identifier. Given the technologies available today and the nature of the products used in the industry it seems conceivable that RFID enabled solutions combined with cryptographic techniques may be suitable for tracing products as part of the product authentication process. Although more commonly used in logistics and asset and inventory management, it remains to be seen what kind of scale of investment and suite of tools and protocols will be required to meet these very serious threats posed by counterfeited products.