A recent article in EBN reported that counterfeit electronic parts are a well-documented problem in the military supply chain. “…over a million counterfeit electronic parts had entered the U.S. military supply chain. The year-long investigation behind the report found 1,800 cases of counterfeits within military systems, ranging from thermal weapon sights to computers to airplanes. The dangers of fake parts go without saying: Counterfeits not only threaten U.S. national security, but also endanger the lives of servicemen.”
The US Defense Department is working with firms that use DNA from plants and other biotechnology discoveries to combat these issues. Tagging and tracking DNA code may be a viable solution if the technology can be perfected.
In the meantime, other technologies can help in Positive Material Identification (PMI) of metal military materials. We have been writing about the problem of counterfeit metal parts for several years, even warning that a counterfeit nut or bolt can cause dire consequences. In our previous article about the quality assurance of critical fasteners, we mentioned how aerospace manufacturing fasteners made with the wrong alloy can result in costly or even catastrophic consequences, as evidenced in documented cases of counterfeit fasteners in industry.
“If fasteners used in critical applications such as in the manufacture of airplane parts are not made with the precise alloy required, they cannot support the weight and stresses they are designed to bear. Following several high profile counterfeiting cases in the 1980s regarding Army tanks, Navy ships, and interstate highway bridges, the National Institute of Standards and Technologies created the Fastener Quality Act (FQA) to ensure that industrial fasteners are manufactured according to specification.”
Today, portable XRF analyzers are common tools for positive material identification of incoming raw materials, work in progress, and final quality assurance of finished parts. Since many fastener applications, such as those for aerospace, power generation, or military applications, are truly life and death situations, PMI using portable XRF should be required as part of any final quality assurance program such as ISO 9001.
The demand for lightweight equipment has also been an issue for counterfeit materials. Many factors have to be scrutinized when trying to make a lightweight metal material. Cost reduction is probably one of the most important factors for counterfeiting operations. However, material experts, weight strategists, and manufacturing and design practitioners warn that factors such as corrosion resistance, light weight, high strength, and ease of fabrication are more important factors. There are hundreds of different alloys, and they all must be composed of only the specific alloys designed for that particular component. Minor differences can be catastrophic if the lack of appropriate elements, or a different composition of elements, is critical to the structural integrity of the vehicle, airplane, or other finished piece.
X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a proven technology for the elemental analysis of specialty alloys to ensure the correct metals are combined in the right percentages and the finished material meets precise manufacturing specifications. XRF can also be used to accurately measure the thickness of electro plating, passivation and conversion coatings.
The XRF technique consists of irradiating a sample with high energy x-rays from a controlled x-ray tube, which results in the emission of a fluorescent (or secondary) x-ray. This fluorescence is unique to the elemental composition of the sample. Because each element has its own characteristic “fingerprint,” an XRF analyzer can tell you with very high precision what elements are in the sample and in what quantity. (You can read more about XRF technology and how it works in this free ebook.)
We have met our enemy. It is counterfeiting. And we can conquer it with the latest technology.
Editor’s Note: Veterans Day — a day of remembrance of all U.S. military veterans — is November 11th (though recognized Nov. 10 in 2017 because it falls on a Saturday). Thank you to all who have served.