Counterfeit parts in aerospace and defence

The ACTA is not just targeted against software and digital piracy of music and film products.

The automotive, electrical, military and aerospace industries are facing an increase in counterfeiting and have been waging a long way 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 fairly easy target for counterfeit components. 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 are therefore vulnerable to obsolescence of parts, materials and technologies. Difficulties are frequently encountered in securing the same part from a manufacturer to replace original parts. Due to parts unavailability from the original manufacturer, industries must turn to independent distributors to source replacement parts.

The impact of the use of counterfeit parts or materials in the aerospace and defence industry ranges from potential loss of life, to monetary losses in the form project cost overruns, liability, lack of availability of products, loss of customer trust, erosion of brand and image.

There is a long legacy of counterfeit airline parts which are unapproved and substandard being sold to different airline companies. According to a report from Wired the US have found 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 also reportedly found on sale at popular online consumer auction sites including gears, flanges, gauges, radar parts and valves. Russian police have discovered criminal operations producing and selling civil aircraft parts. Back in the eighties United States investigators discovered bogus spare parts in numerous helicopters in service in with NATO forces.

Boeing recently reported that parts such as 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 componenet 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 put in place so that the provenance of a part is traceable through all the possible links in the supply chain to a credible and verifiable trusted source. A quality assurance process has to be based on commonly defined and applied rules in the aerospace industries applying uniform criteria.

The semiconductor industry is also at war with counterfeiters producing substandard and dangerous counterfeit parts and componentry. 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 stem the risk of semiconductor product counterfeiting.

SIA is co-operating with an International Traceability 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 enquiries using this identifier.

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