Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Wichita Eagle
WICHITA, Kan. - At Integra Technologies, inspectors spend their days studying electronic parts to see if they are counterfeits.
Mark Marshall, vice president of engineering at Integra Technologies in Wichita, Kan., talks about the company’s business of detecting bogus parts. “This counterfeit stuff is an ugliness that’s out there,” he said.
Brian Corn/Wichita Eagle/MCT
Using high-powered microscopes, they look for signs that an integrated circuit, or chip, has been remarked, reworked or otherwise tampered with.
About 10 percent to 20 percent of the parts tested for counterfeiting turn out to be bogus.
It's high-stakes work requiring the skills of a detective.
Detection has never been more important, said Mark Marshall, Integra Technology's vice president of engineering.
Many of the chips are to be used by defense contractors or aviation manufacturers. Some may be installed in radars, missiles, flight control systems, communications systems, engine controls or in other critical applications.
Their failure could be not just detrimental but deadly.
"This counterfeit stuff is an ugliness that's out there," he said.
Integra Technologies' customers include defense contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Honeywell.
As counterfeiting has become more common, testing parts' authenticity is a growing portion of Integra Technologies business.
It's one of the major labs in the U.S. performing such work.
"We're busy," Marshall said.
The company, located in northeast Wichita, also conducts a variety of other types of semi-conductor testing, qualification and related technical services for a variety of industries.
Counterfeiting has gained national and congressional attention.
A yearlong U.S. federal probe concluded this year found 1,800 cases of bogus parts, totaling more than 1 million actual devices, used during 2009 and 2010.
More than 70 percent of the parts tracked were traced to China.
The investigation found bogus parts were used in military systems, including in thermal weapons sights delivered to the Army, on mission computers used on high-altitude missiles and on a number of military airplanes.
For example, last year Raytheon Co. alerted the Navy that electronic parts suspected to be counterfeited had been installed on three filters used in a night vision system called Forward Looking Infrared. The FLIRs were installed on the Navy's SH-60B helicopter and used for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare and surveillance.
A failure would compromise the pilot's ability to avoid hazards and identify targets and limit the helicopter's ability to be deployed in night missions, the federal investigation said.
Counterfeiting threatens national security, the safety of U.S. troops and American jobs, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement in May following the release of a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which launched the investigation in March 2011.
Defense contractors usually have the biggest problem, Marshall said.
They buy small volumes and need chips to last much longer than when the chips are used in consumer applications.
A fighter jet, for example, has a long life span and has to be supported for decades.
The problem arises when manufacturers need replacement parts, but they're no longer made, or the manufacturer hasn't made them for several years.
So they turn to brokers or independent distributors to find them.
But those parts often have changed hands multiple times, and brokers may know little about the source of the parts they buy.
Ten years ago, there wasn't a problem.
Now, brokers and manufacturers must take precautions.
"It's become a minefield," Marshall said. "Even the best brokers still end up with counterfeit parts from time to time."
Integra Technologies, an independent laboratory, works with manufacturers and with the brokers to determine the authenticity of the chips before a contractor or manufacturer buys them.
Integra does an in-depth inspection, looking for markings and checking whether parts numbers match up and the correct components are inside.
Besides visual inspections, Integra Technologies can also electronically test parts to see whether they work as expected.
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