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Electronic Components

Understanding Microchips: The Building Blocks of Modern Electronics

Welcome to another exploration of the fascinating world of electronics. Today, we dive into the heart of every modern device — the microchip.

Also known as an integrated circuit (IC), this tiny component plays an essential role in the functioning of everything from smartphones to satellites.

Let’s break down what makes microchips so vital and complex.

What is a Microchip?

The Basics

A microchip, or integrated circuit, is a set of electronic circuits on a small flat wafer of semiconductor material (usually silicon) called a “chip.” This compact unit forms the core of all digital devices, performing operations through electrical signals.

Silicon: The Star Player

At the base of most microchips is silicon, derived from silica sand. This sand is processed, melted, and recast into ingots which are then sliced into thin wafers to serve as the foundation for microchips.

The choice of silicon is due to its semiconductor properties, which can be changed or enhanced by adding materials like boron or phosphorus, allowing for precise control over electrical currents.

The Evolution of Microchip Technology

Shrinking Sizes

Microchips have been on a remarkable journey of miniaturisation. Currently measured in nanometres (a millionth of a millimetre), the features of chips are now so small they are soon expected to be measured in angstroms — a unit of measurement used for atoms and wavelengths of light. This continuous reduction in size allows more components to fit onto a single chip, enabling them to perform increasingly complex functions.

The Cost of Complexity

As microchips have evolved, so too has the technology required to manufacture them. Advanced and costly equipment is now necessary to produce the minute features of modern chips, reflecting a significant investment in pursuit of higher performance and efficiency.

Types of Microchips

Microchips can be categorised based on the type of signal they handle:

  • Digital chips process binary signals (ones and zeroes) and include processors and memory chips.
  • Analog chips use continuous signals, performing tasks in devices that require a range of values, like sound equipment.
  •  Mixed-signal chips combine both digital and analog functionalities, useful in complex applications like communication devices.

Specialised Chips: ASICs and SoCs

ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are designed for specific tasks, such as processing digital signals in mobile phones.

SoCs (System on a Chip) integrate multiple chip functions onto a single microchip, which is crucial for the efficiency and performance of small, portable devices like smartwatches.

The Future of Microchips and Moore's Law

Proposed by Gordon Moore in 1965, Moore’s Law theorises that the number of transistors on a microchip will double approximately every two years.

This prediction has held true for decades, mirroring continued growth in computational power and miniaturisation. However, we are now approaching physical limits where transistors are nearing the size of atoms, suggesting we may soon see an end to this trend.

Microchips and the Tech Boom

This miniaturisation and power boost from microchips has enabled groundbreaking advancements like virtual reality, on-device artificial intelligence (AI), and high-speed data transfer through 5G networks. Microchip technology is also the foundation for complex algorithms used in deep learning, a cornerstone of AI development.

How Cyclops Electronics Can Help

At Cyclops Electronics, we specialise in sourcing hard-to-find electronic components and the reliable supply everyday parts that keep your operations running smoothly. Whether you are tackling a challenging project or looking to maintain steady production with high quality components, our team of dedicated experts is here to assist you.

Discover how we can help you navigate the complexities of electronic sourcing and ensure you have the parts you need when you need them.

We are your partners in procurement, ready to support your projects with our expertise and vast network.

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Electronic Components

How Does the UK Compete in the Semiconductor Race?

The global race for semiconductor resiliency heats up as the US unveils its mammoth $11 billion R&D plan and dedicated National Semiconductor Technology Center.

The UK’s National Semiconductor Strategy opts for allocating funds strategically while playing to its unique strengths. While dwarfed by the US figure, let’s dive deeper into the UK’s approach, examining the specific figures and initiatives driving its semiconductor ambitions.

The American Gambit

The US CHIPS and Science Act earmarks a substantial $52.7 billion, with $11 billion specifically dedicated to R&D. This includes the ambitious National Semiconductor Technology Center, a public-private partnership driving cutting-edge semiconductor research and prototyping. The strategic intent is clear – strengthen US chipmaking capabilities and decrease reliance on foreign suppliers.

The UK Strategic Approach

While the US wields considerable financial muscle, the UK seeks agility through strategic partnerships.

The UK government acknowledges the strategic importance of semiconductors, evident in their £1 billion Semiconductor Strategy launched in March 2023. This plan outlines several key objectives:

  • Scaling up manufacturing: Attracting investment and facilitating the construction of new fabs within the UK.
  • Strengthening R&D: Supporting research into next-generation chip designs and manufacturing technologies.
  • Building a secure supply chain: Fostering partnerships with trusted allies to diversify sources of raw materials and components.
  • Addressing skills gaps: Investing in education and training programs to develop a skilled workforce for the semiconductor industry.

Several initiatives are underway to translate the strategy into reality:

  • £12 million Collaborative Research & Development (CR&D )Funding: Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, launched a competition in 2023 to support collaborative R&D projects aimed at scaling up semiconductor manufacturing and enhancing supply chain resilience.
  • Collaboration with international partners: The UK is actively seeking partnerships with countries like Taiwan, Japan, and the United States to secure access to advanced chip technologies and build a more robust global supply chain.
  • Focus on compound semiconductors: The government is particularly interested in compound semiconductors, used in high-performance applications like 5G and electric vehicles, and has launched funding initiatives to support their development.

The UK’s efforts towards semiconductor manufacturing resiliency are still in their early stages. While challenges exist, the potential rewards are significant.

By leveraging its research strengths, attracting investment, and fostering international partnerships, the UK has a chance to establish a secure and competitive semiconductor industry, contributing to its technological and economic independence.

This is merely the opening act. The global semiconductor landscape is dynamic, and unforeseen developments could reshape the competitive landscape.

As we consider the future of electronic components, it becomes clear that having a dependable partner like Cyclops Electronics is invaluable. Embrace the opportunity to work with a distributor that not only understands the intricacies of the electronic components market but also prioritises your success. 

Get in touch today on +44 1904 415 415 or email sales@cyclops-electronics.com to discuss how we can support your electronic component procurement strategy.

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Electronic Components

Shortage Forecast for 2024: Current Trends in DRAM and NAND Flash Contract Prices

In recent times, the memory market has experienced significant fluctuations, impacting both DRAM and NAND Flash contract prices.

Rumours around a potential shortage in the second half of 2024 are fuelled by reports suggesting that leading manufacturers, including Samsung, Micron and SK Hynix, recently adjusted their production capacities downward to boost DRAM and NAND Flash prices, leading to concerns over availability and pricing stability.

Understanding the Emerging DRAM Shortage

The semiconductor industry is currently abuzz with speculation regarding a potential DRAM shortage. According to TrendForce, DRAM contract prices are estimated to increase by approximately 13-18% in the first quarter of 2024.

The potential shortage can be traced back to a series of market adjustments following an oversupply and subsequent price decline in 2023. In response to these market dynamics, DRAM manufacturers adjusted their output, which, coupled with a resurgence in demand — especially for high-bandwidth memory (HBM) chips used in AI and server applications — may lead to supply constraints.

There is also speculation among industry experts that these production cuts may partly serve to artificially sustain high DRAM prices, thereby safeguarding manufacturers’ profitability following a period of reduced margins.

NAND Flash Contract Prices on the Rise

Following a similar pattern to DRAM, NAND Flash contract prices are also on the rise. NAND Flash contract prices are projected to see a 15-20% rise in the first quarter of 2024, echoing a trend similar to DRAM.

This increase is primarily driven by manufacturers raising prices aggressively to recoup losses from the previous year, amidst market outlook uncertainties. A significant factor influencing future price adjustments is the demand for enterprise SSDs, with procurement activities expected to push enterprise SSD contract prices up by 18-23%.

Additionally, eMMC and UFS products are facing substantial price hikes due to production cuts, leading to increased contract prices in the range of 18-23%, driven by the need to avoid shortages amid stable smartphone and Chromebook demand.

NAND Flash wafer contract prices are anticipated to experience a more moderate increase of about 8-13%, as manufacturers aim to enhance profits through price adjustments.

Implications for Procurement Strategies

The speculative nature of the current DRAM and NAND market situation, characterized by a lack of concrete data on production capacities and demand forecasts, presents a complex challenge for purchasing professionals.

The potential shortage raises concerns about increased costs and limited availability of essential components for products ranging from personal computers to servers and smartphones. It is imperative for procurement departments to closely monitor these developments, as they may significantly affect sourcing strategies and cost structures.

Strategic Recommendations for Purchasing Professionals

Scheduled Ordering

In response to the unpredictable fluctuations in DRAM and NAND Flash contract prices, purchasing professionals should consider adopting a scheduled ordering strategy.

Cyclops Electronics’ scheduled ordering service helps mitigate the risks of price volatility and availability concerns. It allows customers to secure their annual requirements upfront and store them in a Cyclops Electronics warehouse, drawing on this inventory only as needed.

This strategy offers the dual benefits of price stability and flexible inventory management without the initial financial outlay. Components can be paid for as they are deployed, ensuring a cost-effective approach to managing supply chain risks and maintaining cash flow efficiency.

Market Monitoring

Vigilant observation of DRAM price trends, production volumes, and manufacturer announcements is crucial for timely and informed decision-making.

Transparency and Communication

Engaging with suppliers to gain clearer insights into their plans and capacity allocations can help in anticipating supply challenges.

Diversification

Exploring alternative memory technologies and suppliers can mitigate risks associated with supply bottlenecks and ensure continuity in component sourcing.

Inventory Management

Consider strategic stockpiling of DRAM components in anticipation of potential shortages, balancing the costs of inventory holding against the risks of supply disruptions.

Contract Negotiation

Long-term contracts with suppliers, incorporating flexible terms around volume and pricing adjustments, may provide a buffer against market volatility.

Navigating Uncertainty with Strategic Foresight

The semiconductor industry is characterised by cyclical patterns, and the current landscape of rising contract prices for both DRAM and NAND Flash reflects this trend.

In the face of these challenges and uncertainties, Cyclops Electronics stands as a beacon of reliability and assurance for purchasing professionals. Our expertise as a global distributor specialising in shortage, hard to find, and obsolete electronic components positions us uniquely to support your procurement strategies amidst the potential DRAM and NAND Flash shortages.

By leveraging our extensive network and deep market insights, we ensure the timely delivery of high-quality components, mitigating the risks associated with market volatility. Our scheduled ordering services offer a strategic advantage, allowing you to lock in prices and spread deliveries throughout the year, ensuring both cost-effectiveness and supply chain stability.

Trust Cyclops Electronics to navigate you through the complexities of the current market trends with strategic foresight and unparalleled reliability. Get in touch today on +44 1904 415 415 or email sales@cyclops-electronics.com to discuss how we can support your electronic component procurement strategy.

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Electronic Components

2024: Semiconductors Poised for Growth Fuelled by AI and EVs

After navigating the turbulence of recent years, the global semiconductor sector appears poised for an optimistic 2024. The World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) projects a robust 13.1% growth, reaching a market value of $588 billion.

This optimistic outlook is driven by several key trends, with the burgeoning expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) data centres and the accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide taking centre stage.

AI Data Centres: The Digital Powerhouses

AI data centres are experiencing phenomenal growth as demand for cloud computing and data analytics soars. These data centres require powerful processors and memory chips, creating a fertile ground for semiconductor manufacturers. Leading technology companies are making significant investments in expanding their data centre footprints, further fuelling this demand.

The EV Revolution: Electrifying the Semiconductor Landscape

On the horizon, the EV revolution is electrifying the semiconductor landscape. As automotive manufacturers shift towards producing more electric vehicles, the need for advanced power management chips, sensors, and communication modules is surging. This rapid adoption is presenting exciting opportunities for component suppliers that can cater to the specific needs of the EV market.

While these two growth engines are the main protagonists, it is important to acknowledge the supporting cast. The continued rollout of 5G infrastructure, advancements in wearable technology, and the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market all contribute to the positive outlook for the semiconductor sector.

Segment Spotlights: Memory Chip Market Dynamics

Overall, 2024 promises a more dynamic year for the memory market, with significant price increases driven by AI growth and strategic manufacturer decisions.

The memory chip market, particularly DRAM and NAND Flash, experienced fluctuations in 2023, ending the year with unremarkable spot prices.

2024 predictions include a rise in DRAM prices by 13-18% in Q1, driven by AI application demands and a surge in DDR5 orders. The high-bandwidth memory (HBM) sector, crucial for AI-enabled devices, is also set to see price increases, with mobile DRAM expected to rise by 18-23%.

Analysts anticipate a shortage in DRAM chip inventories by the end of Q1 2024, suggesting a potential increase in production. The NAND Flash market is also projected to experience a 13-18% price increase, mainly due to manufacturer-led price adjustments rather than organic demand.

Navigating a Thriving Semiconductor Landscape

The potent combination of AI, EVs, and other emerging technologies is pushing the industry towards new heights. For purchasing professionals, staying agile and fostering strong supplier relationships will be critical to navigating this complex landscape.

Get in touch today on +44 1904 415 415 or email sales@cyclops-electronics.com to discuss how we can support your electronic component procurement strategy.

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Electronic Components

Electronica 2024: The Highlight Event of the Electronics Industry

Electronica 2024 is approaching, marking the latest edition of the world’s leading electronics trade fair since 1964. This anticipated event will take place at Messe München in Munich, Germany, from November 12th to 15th, 2024.

Electronica is held every two years and is known for showcasing the full range of the electronics industry, including components, systems, applications, and solutions. Next year’s event is already generating excitement in the industry, promising to be a significant event for professionals worldwide.

Reasons for Visting Electronica 2024

In the fast-changing world of electronics, it is vital to keep up with the newest advancements. Electronica 2024 is an event that can make a difference for businesses in the electronic components industry. For purchasing teams in particular, Electronica is a key event. Here is why:

Discover the Latest Innovations

Get a first look at the latest innovations and trends in electronic components. Whether you are sourcing semiconductors, connectors, sensors, or other critical components, this event is a great chance to review new technologies. This can make your purchasing decisions more informed.

Networking Opportunities

Visiting Electronica 2024 offers more than just an insight into the latest technology. It presents an unparalleled opportunity to meet with professionals from across the industry and broaden your network, helping you find the right electronic components more efficiently.

Diversify your Supply Chain

Electronica hosts a wide array of exhibitors, representing different aspects of the electronics industry. Whether you tend to source very specific components or a variety of electronic parts, you are likely to find them there. Electronica 2024 enables you to explore diverse sourcing options all under one roof.

Stay Informed

Attending Electronica is a keyway to stay informed in the dynamic world of electronics. The event features a series of talks, roundtable discussions, and expert-led sessions, providing insights into the latest trends in electronic components. These forums cover a wide range of topics from emerging technologies to supply chain challenges.

Build Global Connections

In the global electronics industry, where the supply chain spans the globe, staying connected with players worldwide is crucial. Attending Electronica offers a unique chance to broaden your global reach, connecting with diverse industry players and exploring international sourcing opportunities.

Visit Cyclops Electronics at Electronica 2024

Electronica 2024 is a crucial event for electronic sourcing professionals. It offers a chance to discover innovations, network with industry players, and access diverse suppliers.

We look forward to meeting you at Electronica 2024, where Cyclops Electronics will be ready to connect and explore opportunities together. Our stand number will be announced early next year.

In the meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to contact us for help sourcing any electronic components. Our responsive team of sourcing experts are always ready to help.

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Electronic Components

Reflecting on the 2023 Trends in the Electronic Components Industry

Insights and Perspectives from Cyclops Electronics

As the year draws to a close, it is an ideal time to take a moment and reflect on the evolving landscape and the trends that have shaped the electronic components sourcing industry in 2023.

Cyclops Electronics, with its finger always on the pulse of the industry, has observed several key developments that have had significant impacts on both suppliers and consumers.

Let’s dive into these trends and consider their implications for the future.

1. The Impact of Inflation

Inflation has emerged as a formidable challenge this year. With 86% of manufacturers concerned about its effects and 90% facing rising material costs, the industry is at a pivotal point. This scenario has led to a necessary focus on process optimisation and digitalisation to manage costs. It is a reminder of the importance of agility and efficiency in our operations.

2. Adapting to Component Shortages and Geopolitical Shifts

The ongoing diversification away from East Asia, driven by the pandemic and policy shifts, has significant implications. The reduction in North American manufacturing orders from East Asia and the impact on the semiconductor industry are profound. This situation underscores the need for robust planning and the adoption of strategies to ensure material visibility and minimise obsolescence.

3. Focus on Supply Chain Resilience

The aftermath of global disruptions, notably the pandemic and geopolitical tensions, has underscored the importance of supply chain resilience. In 2023, we saw companies placing a greater emphasis on diversifying their supply sources. This not only mitigated risk but also improved supply chain transparency. Businesses are now more inclined to partner with suppliers that can guarantee consistent delivery and demonstrate robust contingency plans.

4. Embracing High-Mix Low-Volume (HMLV) Manufacturing

HMLV manufacturing refers to the production of a wide variety of items in relatively small quantities. This approach contrasts with traditional mass production methods, where the focus is on manufacturing a limited range of products in large volumes.

The shift towards high-mix, low-volume production is not just a trend but a strategic response to the current economic climate. This approach requires an adaptable mindset and a strong emphasis on frequent New Product Introductions (NPIs). It highlights the growing importance of digital solutions in maintaining production flexibility.

5. The Reshoring Movement

Reshoring is becoming an increasingly attractive option for many manufacturers, driven by rising costs and logistical challenges. This trend is reshaping the supply chain, emphasizing the value of local manufacturing for quality control, faster delivery, and improved communication. It is an opportunity for domestic manufacturers to step up and meet these new demands.

6. Navigating Supply and Demand Uncertainties

The mixed signals about supply chain normalisation, especially in the semiconductor sector, are a stark reminder of the need for proactive and strategic sourcing. The just-in-time model’s vulnerabilities have been exposed, prompting a revaluation of inventory and supply chain strategies.

In this context, unpredictability in electronic component availability issues is a key challenge. Cyclops Electronics, as an independent electronic component distributor, steps in as a reliable solution during these times. We specialise in sourcing hard-to-find electronic components, providing a crucial buffer against the unpredictable nature of shortages. Our expertise and extensive network make us a dependable partner for businesses navigating the complex and often uncertain terrain of supply and demand in the current electronic components market.

7. The Rise of Just-in-Case Supply Chain Management

The shift towards a just-in-case model reflects a strategic response to uncertainties. It’s about balancing risk and efficiency, ensuring the availability of essential components, and diversifying supplier networks. This approach is indicative of a more cautious and prepared industry stance.

At Cyclops Electronics, we are committed to strengthening robust, sustainable and flexible supply chains throughout our business operations across the world. We work with trusted global suppliers and partners to source electronic components and identify any factors that might impact the supply chain. Our scheduled ordering service reduces the impact of price hikes and delays on our customers.

8. Increased Focus on Quality and Reliability

This year, there was a noticeable shift towards prioritising quality and reliability over cost. The long-term value of high-quality components has become a key consideration for buyers, reflecting a move towards sustainable, long-term investments in sourcing strategies. This trend highlights the importance of working with electronic component suppliers that implement a thorough quality control system.

Concluding Thoughts

The trends of 2023 have set a new trajectory for the electronic components sourcing industry. As we move into 2024, it will be interesting to see how these trends evolve and what new developments emerge. At Cyclops Electronics, we remain committed to staying at the forefront of these changes, ensuring that our customers are well-equipped to navigate the dynamic landscape of electronic components sourcing.

Are you currently struggling with any electronic components in particular? Contact us to discuss your needs and let us help you navigate the complexities of electronic components sourcing with ease.

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Electronic Components

A guide to finding alternative electronic components

In today’s fast-paced manufacturing industry, the availability of electronic components can make or break a project. However, there are times when the exact component you need is unavailable, obsolete, has too long a lead time or too expensive for your budget.

This can be a disrupting but common occurrence simply due to the life cycle of products when measured against their component parts, particularly if the application has a long qualification, production or in-service live. This was highlighted in a paper by the University of Maryland:

“Consequently, many of the electronic parts that compose a product have a life cycle that is significantly shorter than the life cycle of the product. The part becomes obsolete when it is no longer manufactured, either because demand has dropped to low enough levels that it is not practical for manufacturers to continue to make it, or because the materials or technologies necessary to produce it are no longer available.”

That is where finding alternative electronic components becomes crucial. In this guide, we will understand exactly what we are looking for and explore how to successfully locate suitable alternatives for your projects.

What is an alternative electronic component?

An alternative electronic component is one that works in an equivalent manner to the original component – offering the same level of performance and quality, while at the same time often either representing better value or being easier to source.

There are also a variety of instances in which you may need to identify an alternative or equivalent electronic component for your project:

  • The re-use of an old design
  • A new design with a high-demand component
  • A component that uses a material in shortage
  • A component that has extended lead times
  • A component that had a limited production run
  • A component that is no longer in production
  • A component or material that is banned in your country

Whatever the reason you need to find an alternative component, it is important to source the right replacement part for the job, at a cost that suits your production budget.

Do I need to find an alternative or an equivalent electronic component?

In an ideal world when your out-of-production component needs replacing, you would find a ‘drop-in’ replacement – which is one with closely matching electronic ratings. However, this often isn’t available and so you need to source an alternative or equivalent part – the distinction between these is minimal, but important to understand:

An equivalent component either has identical or closely matched specifications as your unavailable component. It could be from the same manufacturer/brand, be an upgrade of the previous version or simply have added/altered features.

An alternative component is a replacement part that may have very different specifications or features to the original component but can still be utilised to perform the required function of the product.

How do I find alternative electronic components?

Most of the inspections undertaken within Cyclops Electronics facilities – or in vetted test houses we work with – are undertaken with highly specialised equipment.  

Here are some relatively common electronics counterfeit giveaways to look out for when you are inspecting electronic components: 

Understand component specifications

Before you start searching for alternatives, it is essential to thoroughly understand the specifications of the component you are trying to replace. This includes parameters like voltage ratings, current ratings, package type, and pin configurations. Knowing these details will help you narrow down your search for compatible alternatives.

Use parametric searches

Parametric search tools on electronic component distributor websites allow you to filter components based on specific parameters. This can be incredibly useful when looking for alternatives with similar specifications. You can narrow down your search by selecting parameters such as voltage range, package type, and more.

Consult manufacturer resources

Sometimes, component manufacturers themselves provide lists of alternative components for their products. These resources can be found on the manufacturer’s website and are particularly useful when searching for replacements for obsolete components.

Explore obsolete component services

If you are dealing with obsolete and hard-to-find components, consider specialised services that focus on sourcing discontinued parts. Cyclops Electronics can source obsolete components through our electronic component finder’s extensive inventory of over 1 billion components and access to a trusted global supply network.

Evaluate functional equivalents

While it is essential to match component specifications, also consider functional equivalents. These components may have slightly different specifications but can still perform the required function in your circuit. Make sure to assess the impact of any variations on your overall design.

Collaborate with suppliers

Don’t hesitate to seek advice and collaborate with suppliers who could yield valuable insights and recommendations – we are on hand to support with alternative electronic component sourcing advice if you contact our team.

The availability of obsolete and hard to find electronic components

While we hope that you are able to find an alternative component for your project, sometimes the process can prove more difficult due to the type of component involved.

Some parts, like passive components, are commonly available and easy to replace or substitute for an equivalent component. However, other parts like more complex integrated circuits, often don’t have readily available alternatives.

In these cases, an independent electronic component distributor like Cyclops Electronics can be an extremely helpful resource. Our expertise lies in finding and sourcing virtually any electronic part, helping our customers keep their supply chain moving even in the most challenging circumstances.

For an immediate stock check, you can use Cyclops Electronics’ fast component search, or contact our expert team directly to discuss your requirements.

Using an electronic component equivalent finder

Sometimes the best, and quickest way, to check if your alternate components are available is to use an electronic component equivalent finder that can quickly check stock from manufacturers’ inventory around the globe.

A distributor like us at Cyclops Electronics will have up-to-date stocklists of a range of electrical components from those most commonly used, to ones which lines are no longer in production. You can use the search bar below to discover what equivalent parts are available for your assembly.

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Electronic Components

Counterfeit electronic component detection

When you work in the electronic components industry, it is inevitable at some point you will come face-to-face with counterfeit electronic components. It is a veritable stone in the shoe of the electronic component industry, worth hundreds of billions of dollars.  

With over 30 years of experience in the electronics industry, specialising in hard to find and obsolete components, at Cyclops Electronics we have a lot of knowledge when it comes to identifying and avoiding counterfeit electronic components. Our team of highly qualified inspectors have accumulated almost a century of experience between them, and we take pride in how vigilantly we deal with this supply chain havoc-wreaker. 

In this post we would like to share some of our know-how on how to detect counterfeit electronics and our testing and processes for electronic components counterfeit mitigation. It will arm you with the information you need to make informed, wise decisions about which brokers to work with and who works to the highest standards. 

What are counterfeit electronic components?

To make sure we are all on the same page, it is probably best that we define what a counterfeit electronic component is.

Counterfeit components are unauthorised copies of an electronic component in which the material characteristics and quality of performance have been deliberately altered.There is a chance that the counterfeit components would work with the same function as their original counterpart. 

The issue arises when they do not have the longevity, or integrity, of the original. Buyers can end up spending a fortune on parts that will not work or will damage their circuitry, and there will be no one to hold to account. This is why it is so vital to have trusted brokers in your supply chain, so the risk to you is minimised.  

There are countries that are more infamous for the amount of counterfeit electronics produced there, but they can come from anywhere. Professionals at every stage of the supply chain have to be vigilant to mitigate the risk of counterfeit components to their customers.  

As long as there has been chip shortages, there has been a counterfeit industry, with new prolific methods accompanying each decade. In the 90s, among other things, it was counterfeit SRAM during the shortage. Then the 2000s began with counterfeit tantalum capacitors during the component’s allocation period.  

What do counterfeit electronic parts look like?

Most of the inspections undertaken within Cyclops Electronics facilities – or in vetted test houses we work with – are undertaken with highly specialised equipment.  

Here are some relatively common electronics counterfeit giveaways to look out for when you are inspecting electronic components: 

Evidence of packaging tampering

If you receive your components and the packaging looks damaged, this is the first sign to suspect they are counterfeit electronics. The packaging may look damaged beyond reasonable transportation wear and tear, or the tape may look tampered with.  

Key indicators of this include: 

  • Water damage 
  • Puncture marks 
  • Packaging does not match previous deliveries 

If this is the case, there is a chance that the electronic components have been tampered with or switched. It is worth notifying the vendor and the courier to make them aware of this issue, whether counterfeit is detected or not. 

An industry example of goods that have been repackaged

Verify all included information

A white box with 'Vishay General Semiconductor written across it, however 'general' has been misspelled with an 'I' instead of an 'L'
An industry example of counterfeit packaging with spelling errors

All electronic components should come with packaging documentation and product datasheets are available online.  

Check the following information: 

  • Date code 
  • Part number 
  • Sealing date 
  • All other displayed information 
  • Packing date was after the date of manufacture.  
  • Spelling mistakes. Just like with spam emails, this is sometimes the easiest way to detect a counterfeit electronic component. 

The importance of the ‘golden sample’ 

In electronic component counterfeit detection, the ‘golden sample’ is an electronic component, reel or tray that has come directly from the manufacturer or from a franchised distributor. It is good practice to compare all, or at least any suspect incoming goods, to a golden sample. If there are discrepancies, it is a good indicator of potential counterfeit. 

Something unique and specialist that Cyclops can offer above its competitors is our cross-database checks. Thanks to our years of experience in the industry we have built a huge database of electronic component images. We can compare incoming goods to these industry standards where other providers don’t have the same resource.

Count and consistency

Usually when you buy electronic components they will be in trays, reels or cut tap. You may even get bags of components delivered to you. So, count them. There will often be partial factory quantity, so make sure you have the correct count ordered. 

More than just the outer packaging of the components, the quality of the inner packaging can be indicative too. If a reel is discoloured or warped, it can indicate damage or tampering, and the same applies to the orientation of parts on a tray or reel. Parts may have been removed and replaced if they are not all oriented in the same direction.  

Electronic Counterfeit Detection Technology

A lot of the ways to detect counterfeit electronic components mentioned above are included under the banner of visual inspection. It is often the first line of defence when avoiding counterfeit electronic parts. There are more advanced, accurate tests that often need to be used to minimise the risk of counterfeit components 

Decapsulation and delidding

Decapsulation involves the corrosion of the top layer of a component to check the internal die wafer and wafer bonds. Cyclops uses an acid-free DPA System, instead of the traditional wet chemical process. This method is much cleaner than the wet chemical alternative, and means our staff are not at risk of inhaling any harmful chemicals. 

Decapping is commonly used for devices with plastic packaging. Once the package cavity is exposed the internal die wafer can be checked. It should match the golden sample in layout and structure. It is a form of destructive testing – once this test is performed, the part cannot be used.  

X-ray testing and XRF

X-ray testing shows defects through the electronic component without having to damage the die wafer inside. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing takes this a step further and can tell you the material composition of the component.  

In XRF an x-ray beam is directed at the component’s surface, then the atoms in the component produce a fluorescent x-ray beam that is processed by a detector. The differences between the energy of the original and x-ray beam correspond to different elements, which shows the elements used in manufacturing. Usually counterfeit components will have a slightly different material composition to parts directly from the manufacturer. 

Resurfacing, acetone and scrape testing

There are other effective forms of testing for avoiding counterfeit electronic components. 

Similar to decapping, remarking and resurfacing testing use solvents to corrode the top layers of a component. This, however, isn’t trying to get all the way to the wafer inside. It instead detects if the identification information on the component has been altered or remarked. It is not a destructive test since the wafer inside is left undamaged. 

The process counterfeiters often use is called ‘blacktopping’. The original chip markings are sanded off and a polymer coating is painted over to cover up the sanding markings 

Scrape testing is a similar, manual way of removing the top layers of a component. This shows if a component has had a clear coat applied to it, which is acetone-resistant and lowers the chances of counterfeit being revealed by remarking or decapsulation testing. 

The datasheet shows the discrepancies between the original and counterfeit component

The process counterfeiters often use is called ‘blacktopping’. The original chip markings are sanded off and a polymer coating is painted over to cover up the sanding markings 

Scrape testing is a similar, manual way of removing the top layers of a component. This shows if a component has had a clear coat applied to it, which is acetone-resistant and lowers the chances of counterfeit being revealed by remarking or decapsulation testing. 

Electrical testing/Curve trace testing

A relatively simple method is to test the component. Curve trace machines can test current, voltages, diode resistivity and silicon connectivity. This will detect any physical damage caused by heat, electrical overstress or electrostatic discharge damage.  

Choose Cyclops Electronics to avoid electronic counterfeit components

Nonfranchise distribution channels are a vital and legitimate part of any supply chain, particularly in the case of legacy products where parts may no longer be in production. The electronics industry has realised that, as counterfeiters become more and more proficient, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ measure that can be used to combat fraudulent parts entering the supply chain. 

At Cyclops Electronics, quality is at the core of everything we do. From our industry-leading component testing program to our commitment to continuous improvement, the quality of our components and service is our key tool to drive the highest customer satisfaction year after year. 

When it comes to counterfeit mitigation, component analysis is a crucial element to protect our customers’ supply chain.  

At Cyclops Electronics we continuously and thoroughly vet and monitor our supply chain. Since we also have a presence in China, we have the advantage of controlling our incoming goods from Asia in real time on a local level. A large proportion of counterfeit goods often come from China, but because of our presence there we can be much more vigilant than other brokers.  

The Cyclops counterfeit inspection process

Goods coming into the Cyclops warehouse go through a vigorous inspection process on arrival before they are even booked in. All components are photographed and undergo inspection based on the type of part, age, supply chain and specific customer requirements. Basic checks are performed, such as checking the quantity, part numbers and RoHS compliance. 

Our experienced inspectors have the training and technical expertise to ensure quality product reaches the end customer. Parts are then tracked through a barcode system, from supplier delivery note right though to customer despatch.  

Following this, if the parts are still factory sealed, we perform visual checks. If the components are not factory sealed, we are very diligent in our need for further testing. High resolution and secondary checks are undertaken, and testing continues depending on whether the part passes. 

We have very strict protocols in place for testing, and it always follows our process flow. For destructive tests like decapsulation, these are only undertaken in very specific circumstances and need to be requested by the customer. Thankfully, our combination of specialised testing facilities and our team of dedicated inspection staff mean these tests are not often required. 

At Cyclops Electronics we have several optical magnifiers that we use in-house. This includes, but is not limited to, Opticron Hand magnifiers, the vision engineering mantis and the Amscope microscope. We also perform acetone testing, black top testing, reel counters and decapsulation testing. 

Categories
Electronic Components Technology

Edible batteries

Researchers in Italy have made a rechargeable battery from edible materials like almonds and capers.

What’s the recipe?

The Milan-based researchers made the rechargeable prototype’s anode from riboflavin, a vitamin found in almonds. The cathode of the battery was made from quercetin, found in capers and is also sold as a food supplement.

The researchers, from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, mixed activated charcoal into the electrode materials to increase electrical conductivity.

Nori seaweed was used for the separator, while a mixture of sodium hydrogen sulphate and water made up the electrolyte. Two food-grade gold foil contacts were on a cellulose-derived support, and the device was covered in beeswax.

Cooking time

Previously, research has shown the feasibility of edible circuits and sensors, but there is more research needed into power sources.

The battery operated at 0.65V, and sustained a current of 48µA for 12 minutes.

When further developed, the device could be used for medical diagnostics and treatments, and food quality monitoring. Regular batteries like Li-ion types cannot be used in edible devices because of the toxic chemicals contained in them.

Au naturale

The research team states in their report that they drew inspiration from living organisms for their battery.

In a previous study, a different team of researchers made a non-rechargeable battery from melanin and manganese oxide. While the battery operated, manganese oxide decreased and the melanin oxidised. Unfortunately manganese oxide can only be consumed in very small amounts, so the battery’s charge is pretty limited.

Aside from the melanin battery’s charge having limitations, the fact that it is not rechargeable also mitigates its effectiveness.

As edible electronics is still a relatively new field, it’s not surprising that many designs are still in their infancy. But, with the potential uses in the medical and food safety fields, one day they could be life-saving.

Food for thought

Although Cyclops Electronics doesn’t have a huge stock of edible components, we do have a massive inventory of other hard-to-find and everyday electronic components. We can stock or source almost anything you want, staying ahead of other distributors out there. Contact Cyclops Electronics today at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or call us on +44 (0) 1904 415 415.

 

Disclaimer: this blog is purely for informational purposes, please do not eat batteries!

Categories
Electronic Components

Managing component obsolescence

Electronic component obsolescence can have a ripple effect in the industry. If a component reaches the end of its lifecycle it can impact any products made with the component, affecting the end user.

Obsolescence happening faster

Components now are becoming obsolete much faster than 50 years ago. In the 70s the complete lifecycle of an electronic component was around 30 years. By the 2010s this was closer to 10 years, a huge decrease.

While this might not be a problem for consumers, it does have a considerable impact on manufacturers. If machinery is specialised to a certain type of component, the cost to adjust or replace these machines can be high.

Especially in very specialised fields like aerospace, defence and medical, faster component obsolescence has a serious effect. The process of redesigning these circuits and testing can be hugely time-consuming.

Advancements in technology play a part in these accelerated lifecycles, but there is still a big need for legacy parts.

End-of-life

Component manufacturers usually let their customer base know if a part is becoming obsolete with a Last Time Buy notice or a Product Change Notification (PCN). These can be issued up to about a year in advance to give companies time to make alternative arrangements.

Some companies will decide to stockpile these components once they receive the notification. The alternative is reworking any products featuring the components or finding alternative components.

Of course, any of these options will be costly. A number of companies will be trying to stock the same components so the price will increase. This will increase further once the components become scarce.

Can it be managed?

·         Monitor end-of-life notifications: Even if a PCN does not directly affect you, it may affect other manufacturers in your supply chain. Keeping track of these and being aware of what others in your supply chain use might make all the difference.

·         Consider buying strategies: Depending on how and when you buy components, you may end up with shortages or obsolete excess components. If manufacturers put a supply and buying strategy in place, they can not only minimise the obsolescence impact, but can save time and warehouse space.

·         Component lifecycle management: Staying on top of the component lifecycles can be endlessly useful. If manufacturers can keep track of their components lifecycle changes, they can forecast and prepare for the potential phasing out of the part.

Excellent management

Cyclops Electronics provides a range of services for its customers, including scheduled ordering. If you lack warehouse space but want to buy a surplus of components, whether they’re facing obsolescence or you want to secure a price, Cyclops Electronics can hold these for you and deliver as and when you need them. To learn more or hear about our other services, contact us today on +44 (0) 1904 415 415, or email us at sales@cyclops-electronics.com.