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Development of Novel X-ray Inspection System for Fast Automated Detection of Counterfeit PCB Components

Final Report Summary - CHIPCHECK (Development of novel X-ray inspection system for fast automated detection of counterfeit PCB components)

Executive summary:

Counterfeit PCB components are being illegally introduced into numerous European and global products that are, in turn, being embedded in both routine and highly critical applications. The potential here is for unreliable PCBs to be installed into high consequence applications which could lead to loss of life and environmental disaster through occurrences such as an aircraft crash, loss of control of automobile or a nuclear power station becoming unstable.

Counterfeit PCB components are of increasing concern to EU electronics manufacturers. The threat arises from the continual growth of Asian operations where there is minimal cultural concern, and little legislative protection of intellectual property, which encourages the production of counterfeit components.

The supply chain of original equipment manufacturers (OEM) can span multiple partners and agents spread around the world, allowing the opportunity for counterfeit components to enter the supply network. The consequential costs to the electronics' manufacturers of inadvertently purchasing counterfeits include lost yield, field failures, product recalls, safety issues and damage to reputation. In the consumer electronic products industry there have been reports of products exploding as a result of counterfeit components. In fact, the defense industry may be just as susceptible to counterfeiting as the electronics consumer market, where defense hardware systems are often in service for long periods and, when obsolete replacement parts are needed, counterfeiters pursue opportunities. Worryingly, despite extra precautions taken for sourcing components for safety critical electronic systems, there have been reports of counterfeit components entering the supply chains for both the defense and nuclear industries.

Currently, an electronics manufacturer does not check all PCB components at good inwards. Although some manufacturers make random checks on single components from batches of components, it would be impossible to check all components in a cost effective manner. This is especially so when considering that surface mount components are supplied on feeding mechanisms, such as reels or tubes, where the number of components can range typically from 1,000 to 20,000. A typical single inspection would comprise visual inspection and in-circuit testing. Performing these checks is disadvantageous as it requires each component to be removed from the packaging or reel; invalidating any guarantee to a claim should a counterfeit component be found. The only way to check for counterfeit components without opening the packaging is to use X-ray radiation to image them.

To date, no fully automatic method exists to speedily and automatically check components at goods inwards. In addition the cost of modern X-ray inspection systems prohibits their use for smaller electronics manufacturing concerns. The CHIPCHECK consortium aimed to develop a novel real time X-ray inspection system for fast automated detection of counterfeit PCB components. The aim of such a development is to address the problems that have been outlined above, and meet the needs of the electronics industry. A system has been developed so that it is capable of inspecting PCB components on tape reels and other component feeding mechanisms. A new design uniquely combining lower cost X-ray component modules used from different industries (industrial NDT, medical and dentistry) has been developed, to enable production of a prototype of particular suitability for goods inwards inspection.

The intention of the CHIPCHECK project is to make a number of technological advances combined into a prototype that will take the electronics industry sector into a new era, where risk of counterfeit components in electronic products is considerably reduced. The proposed objectives were to develop a new and novel real time digital radiography (DR) inspection system for the detection of counterfeit components at goods inwards. The system was developed so that it is capable of inspecting PCB components on tape reels and other component feeding mechanisms. Now, at the project end, the finalised CHIPCHECK system prototype has met its objectives. The inspection system is fully automated and can inspect each electronic component in less than one second. The inspection of all electronic components entering goods inwards is now a reality.

Field trials have proven the CHIPCHECK prototype's flexibility and capability. The technology readiness level of the finished prototype is very high and, after some refinement and testing with a wide range of electronic components, it is expected that the first commercialised system could be on the market in as little as 6 to 12 months.

Project Context and Objectives:

Counterfeit components can be defined as; substitutes or unauthorised copies of a product, a product in which the materials used, or the performance of the product, has changed without notice, or a substandard component misrepresented by the supplier. Counterfeit PCB components are being illegally introduced into numerous European and global products that are, in turn, being embedded in both routine and highly critical applications. The potential here is for unreliable PCBs to be installed into high consequence applications which could lead to loss of life and environmental disaster through occurrences such as an aircraft crash, loss of control of automobile, or a nuclear power station becoming unstable. The consequential costs to the electronics' manufacturers, of inadvertently purchasing counterfeit components, including lost yield, field failures, product recalls, and damage to reputation etc. is likely to be many times the cost of the genuine components themselves.

Currently, an electronics manufacturer does not check all PCB components at good inwards. Although some manufacturers make random checks on single components from batches of components, it would be impossible to check all components in a cost effective manner. This is especially so when considering that surface mount components are supplied on feeding mechanisms, such as reel, tube and waffle carriers, where the number of components can range typically from 1,000 to 5,000 depending on component size. A typical single inspection would comprise visual inspection and in-circuit testing. Performing these checks is disadvantageous as it requires each component to be removed from the packaging or reel or waffle carrier; invalidating any guarantee to a claim should a counterfeit component be found. Many OEMs do not have the resources available to make these single component inspections, and usually send the components to a third party inspection service where these tests and other non-destructive and destructive tests are carried out.

Standardised practices for identifying counterfeit and suspect components are not readily available, or are limited in their application. Generally, detection of a counterfeit component is confirmed by comparison with a known legitimate component. The Independent Distributor of Electronics Association (IDEA) has published an inspection standard which includes visual and solvent resistance tests for determining the acceptability of electronic components. However, the standard is severely limited in that the techniques it proposes are manual and hence time consuming, are not suited to 'goods inwards' inspection, and are subject to operator interpretation. The only way to check for counterfeit components without opening the packaging is to use X-ray radiation to image them. However, traditional X-ray inspection is typically only conducted on a small amount of components collected from batches, or when there is a problem suspected on a particular PCB.

Often though, counterfeit components are missed and passed through the supply chain or are not identified until it is too late (eg an OEM could have manufactured 10,000 PCBs using the counterfeit component) leading to the potential economic ruin of a small and medium-sized entreprise (SME). An OEM customer can spend a great deal of time (money) trying to fault-find the problem within their system before identifying a counterfeit component. In many instances, a failed component is returned by the customer to the manufacturer that supposedly provided the part, leading to the discovery that the part is a non-functioning counterfeit purporting to be the same device as that made by the manufacturer.

OEM buyers are often forced to look outside the best known supply lines to obtain components. European OEMs are typically not big enough to buy directly from suppliers. Order size, component availability, out-of-date parts, are just a few factors that force buyers to look elsewhere. The potential issue occurs when a buyer is forced to go to an independent distributor or broker to get components. When a broker is asked to supply a component, the search can lead far and wide, and on occasion they are exposed to miscommunications and communication gaps, allowing the opportunity for counterfeit components to enter the supply network. Growth in the use of the internet as a trading platform has also increased the ease with which buyers and sellers conduct transactions with no face-to-face contact. Even OEM's Approved Vendor Lists (AVLs) are no guarantee of prevention of a counterfeit component entering into the OEM's supply chain. Typically, there are at least two independent or grey market channels on an AVL. There are reports of independent (non-franchised) distributors also supplying franchised distributors. Franchised distributors source 10% to 30% of their total business from independent distributors and brokers. Similarly many of the major independents in the grey market rely heavily on the franchise distribution for business.

Although news concerning counterfeit components in Europe has been minimal, it is the total opposite in the USA, Russia and Canada. Several big cases have been reported to the public where counterfeit components have been found in the supply chains of defense organisations and in military aircraft and weapons. In response to the growing threat of counterfeit components, various steps are being taken by the governments to combat counterfeit parts. For example, last year the US Government passed the national Defense Authorisation Act. This requires defense contractors to tighten supply chain traceability and parts procurement and to rate suppliers by their level of testing. Since counterfeit components is a worldwide problem it can be expected that it is only a matter of time that such acts are also passed in Europe, and that full testing becomes a requirement.

There is a significant need to stop counterfeit PCB components entering the supply chains of electronic product manufacturers. The safety consequences of a counterfeit component inadvertently deployed in products for the aero, auto, nuclear, medical, critical plant control and electronics consumer industries cannot be overstated. Likewise the commercial costs incurred by manufacturers once a counterfeit component has been detected in their product can be enormous. The need for this project arises from the fact that no electronic product manufacture is immune from counterfeit components. The supply network to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can span multiple partners and agents spread around the world, allowing the opportunity for counterfeit components to enter the supply network. China is a large electronic parts producer with sales value accounting for 17% of world volume. In today's global market it is inevitable that many component parts come from Asia, where the risk of getting a counterfeit component is higher.

The detection of counterfeits has become increasingly difficult. The majority of parts have the same or similar markings as their qualified counterfeit. The complexity of the counterfeit can range from relabelled packages (including packages from reclaimed parts), to packages not containing the die or wire bonding, to misappropriated chips with specifications higher than specified, to complete or partial fabrication of the chip but with different materials. Component manufacturers have tried to prevent counterfeiting through strategically placed logos, alphanumeric marks and bar codes, only to have these markings reproduced on substandard components and sold as original equipment.

Digital radiographic systems are well developed in the medical and dentistry markets and have been for several years. The smaller industrial inspection radiographic market is dominated by the use of conventional radiographic film, currently estimated to be over 90% of the market place. However, digital X-ray systems are more efficient than X-ray film and, as a result, exposure time is reduced resulting in a faster inspection. Also digital radiography (DR) can be conducted in enclosed lead shield cabinets so is safer for operators. Although industrial digital radiographic systems are available, their take up has been limited to a few specialist inspection applications. Indeed, DR systems are commercially available for quality analysis of components and are commonly used for manual inspection of single components after PCB manufacture. However, current DR equipment is unsuitable for use for 'goods inwards' inspection as only inspection of single placed components is possible, and requires an operator to perform the loading and component sentencing. Additionally, the current equipment is designed to be general purpose allowing different sized samples and materials to be inspected. This typically requires higher energy rated sources and energy rated detectors normally in the range of 160kV to 450kV. One issue of high kV is possible high energy damage to new high functionality component devices. In addition, higher energy requires extra X-ray shielding. The knock-on effect of all these factors is large equipment size and increased cost which prohibits the adoption of X-ray inspection by most SMEs.

The scientific and technical content of the project is innovative and ambitious and the consortium proposes to lead the development of a new real time micro/mini focus X-ray inspection system. Currently, there is no inspection technology that can test all PCB components at 'goods inwards'. Current techniques are applied as random checks on batches of components only. Particular onus will be made to a development considering the value (price/performance) of a commercialised system. This will be achieved by developing and using X-ray parts from other industries including industrial NDT, medical and dentistry. Suitable real time digital radiographic techniques have been developed to examine and sentence individual surface mount PCB components in less than one second, this represents a step change to the current state of the art inspection capability for use at 'goods inwards'.

The main project objectives were:

1) Development of a prototype inspection system for automatic detection of counterfeit components at 'goods inwards' that is either component fed via reels/tubes/trays or loaded manually.
2) Development of counterfeit component detection software for fast and automatic sentencing of components. A component database storing details of known, good, components for comparison will be included as part of the detection software development.
3) Low cost. After prototype implementation and given the economy of scale realised through mass production rates; a unit bill of material price of 30,000 EUROS is targeted, a figure many times less than the sale price of typical X-ray inspection equipment currently available. This price reduction will be achieved by focusing innovation throughout the prototype development on compactness, modular thinking and utilisation of fit for the purpose hardware electronics. This will be carried out in order to realise an X-ray inspection system based on durable components at budget cost, thus helping SMEs to acquire and utilise this inspection technology when it is commercialised.

The CHIPCHECK project will take existing technologies used in the industrial NDT, medical and dentistry markets and further develop their capability into new 'goods inwards' inspection applications, where there is a genuine requirement based on safety, environmental, economic and political issues.

Existing radiography technology has previously been developed for examination of components on PCBs. Although the radiography techniques described are already in existence and routinely used in specific market applications, the development work required to enable these techniques to be applied into a prototype system suitable for use at 'goods inwards' inspection for counterfeit component detection is considerable. Uptake of 'goods inwards' inspection equipment utilising DR by OEMs is only likely if the commercialised equipment will be at budget cost, offer fast inspection and component sentencing, be based on durable components and be of compact size. The aim of the project is to develop a prototype taking into account these factors.

Project Results:

The proposed Science And Technology (S &T) objectives were to develop a new and novel real time DR inspection system for the detection of counterfeit components at 'goods inwards'. The inspection system is to be automated and perform each component inspection in less than one second.

The techniques, systems and technology needed to realise the project included:

1) Development of an appropriate low energy X-ray source. Technique development work surveyed a number of different sources and a resulting suitable mini and micro focus source was identified. The technical objective was to develop the source controller electronics and software module to control the X-ray source selected for CHIPCHECK prototype. The Science And Technology (S&T) results for this are an electronics and software solution for controlling both mini focus and micro focus sources. The CHIPCHECK X-ray controller has been developed to facilitate remote operation of the X-ray source. The controller is housed in a metal enclosure and ensures the safe operation of the connected X-ray source tube. The source controller is fully equipped with fused DC power supply for the matching tube, four status LEDs, RS232 serial port, interlock relay connection. A 40MHz microcontroller with 16-bit A/D-converters and 12-bit D/A-converters allows the source control. The diode clamped A/D-converters span from 0 to 10Vdc. This makes the source controller very versatile and thus configurable to a wide range of X-ray tubes and high voltage power supplies. The RS232 serial port allows manipulation and monitoring of the X-ray tube on PC controlled systems. The connected tube settings are easily adjusted by a set of simple commands, that are sent as short strings of ASCII characters to the source controller (see Commands for the X-ray tube controller). The X-ray tube status can be accessed over the serial interface. In addition the source controller has LEDs mounted in the lid for easy checking of status. Although the controller will be mounted within the CHIPCHECK inspection prototype cabinet and the status on the controller enclosure not necessarily visible, the LED status was included to facilitate integration and testing. Support test software with a graphical user interface (GUI) has also been written to enable the source controller to be tested independently of the whole CHIPCHECK system.

2) Development of a mini X-ray detector of small physical size and suited to imaging small areas with high resolution. These types of detectors can be found in the dentistry sectors. The technique development work surveyed a number of commercial solutions and a suitable flat panel detector was found. After detector procurement, investigations were carried out to establish the optimised radiography inspection setup. Control and correction software was written for the selected detector. The software was first created in the LabVIEW 8.2 development environment in order to quickly verify that the detector and the supplied support libraries were functioning as desired. Subsequently the same algorithms and interfacing were implemented in the final C++ programming language, as required for this project. Testing was carried out in both developed software environments. The result is two separate software modules which allow control of the detector together with fast image acquisition. The C++ software module is provided as a library for ease of integration into the main control software.

3) Development of suitable image algorithms for the detection of counterfeit components and an image database. The technique development work included generation of pre-processing image enhancement algorithms and counterfeit detection. The image position compensation software module operates as an integral part of the counterfeit detection module, and allows the software to operate reliably even if the inspected components are offset from the target inspection area. Functions in the pre-processing image enhancement algorithms establish the component package corners even if the components are displaced or rotated. For the counterfeit detection, multiple histogram calculations are performed and compared between genuine and inspected component images to determine if an inspected component is counterfeit. The implementation of the counterfeit detection algorithm was carried out in MATLAB, and compiled to a MS Windows standalone application as well as MS Windows D. The Science and Technology (S&T) result for this is automated imaging and detection technology software for counterfeit detection suitable for integration with the CHIPCHECK system main control software. When executed on the CHIPCHECK main control computer, component sentencing can be performed in less than 0.5 seconds per component. Another S&T result is a database software module to act as a repository for the control setup settings for the component reference images and catalogue store of detected counterfeit components. This is provided with the main CHIPCHECK control software or can be provided on an external solid state disk drive.

4) Development of a component feeding and manipulation mechanism. The technique development work established the optimum mechanical arrangement taking into account repeatability, accuracy, and position with respect to the source and detector. Two modules have been developed: a mechanism for feeding components provided on a tape and reel carrier, and an XY mechanism for feeding waffle trays, PCBs and single electronic components. In addition a motorised mechanism has been developed for allowing the X-ray magnification to be changed by allowing the detector and source to move in height relative to the inspected component. The S&T results for this work are (1) a tape and reel feeder mechanism allowing inspection of reels with tape carrier widths of 8mm, 12mm, 16mm, 32mm and 44mm, (2) an XY table allowing waffle tray carriers and whole PCBs of size up to 135mm x 325mm, (3) magnification mechanicals with positional accuracy of 25 microns.

5) Development of an X-ray cabinet to house and integrate all the parts, and to shield the operator from radiation. The material cost of the shielding provided by the cabinet has also been reduced by limiting the useable X-ray energy to 60kV. This means that the X-rays can be contained by 6mm of steel panels rather than having to use expensive lead shielding and accompanying framework to support it. After construction and integration of all the parts the cabinet was certified for safe operation. The S&T result is a cabinet design certified for safe use with radiation.

Potential Impact:

-Socio-economic impact
The project has made significant technological progress in a challenging area that has seen little development work to date (ie. real time DR of counterfeit components at goods inwards). The successful outcome to the project will benefit European potential business on a global scale with an application technology that could benefit every component manufacturer, distributor, broker and end user. To date counterfeit components have largely been a financial and economic issue affecting the electronics consumer market. The failure of an aeroplane or nuclear power station due to a counterfeit electronic component is considered an 'unthinkable' event, but the probability of such an event is now increasing and becoming a concern to the respective industries and regulatory bodies especially in light of recent counterfeit component finds.

For the small and medium-sized entreprises (SME)s participating in the project, there is a significant impact both at European and international level. Engineered electronic products are used in many business sectors: telecommunications, automotive, aerospace, defence, nuclear, domestic appliances and personal computers. The electronic component sector business forms an important part of the electronics industry in the manufacture and procurement of components.

CHIPCHECK will enable early detection and real time control of counterfeit components. This will decrease reject rates of PCBs and increase competitiveness of the PCB industry. The electronics industry is worldwide, with an ever-increasing component supply business, with components originating from many different countries. It is expected that, after successful commercialisation of the CHIPCHECK prototype, and due to its 'first in the market' status, the system has the potential to become the industry standard. As such, it would be a standard requirement at goods inwards, both at the component distributor and the company receiving the components. With many European companies subcontracting parts manufactured outside Europe, sales are also expected for manufacturing sites outside Europe, where the introduction of counterfeit components into the supply chain is even more likely.

-Dissemination activities:
Exploitation and dissemination: All CHIPCHECK partners have been active in dissemination. This included dissemination through online news items, magazine articles, seminars and webinars. The CHIPCHECK website hosted a blog which was regularly updated, and reported on global news items about the counterfeit component problem, as well as news specific to the CHIPCHECK project. A 4th version of the interactive DVD Rom has also been produced. This has been distributed at seminars and exhibitions. A new video about the CHIPCHECK project has been made and uploaded to YouTube. A final plan for use and dissemination has been developed giving a clear indication of past and future dissemination and exploitation activities. SMART has presented several seminars and webinars relating to the counterfeit problem and CHIPCHECK. SMART and TWI have jointly presented an hour long webinar reporting on the results of the CHIPCHECK project.

Of significant note are the following activities:

Interactive DVD Rom: TWI, SMART and Innospexion have organised the making of an interactive DVD Rom titled CHIPCHECK - Inspection of Counterfeit Electronic Components.

EDI hosted an exhibition stand at the Trade show Messe Muenchen International 'Product Electronica 2012' (25th International Trade Fair for Electronic Components, systems and applications, at Munich, Germany, on November 13-16,2012. A demonstration of the counterfeit detection software was given.

TWI and Innospexion hosted an exhibition stand at SMTA International Electronics Exhibition, Orlando, USA, 16-17 October 2012, where the features of the CHIPCHECK system were demonstrated.

Public demonstration: A public demonstration of the finished CHIPCHECK inspection system was given on the 18 December 2012 at Innospexion in Denmark. End user Semicon was in attendance. They had brought with them a visiting company, PB Technik, which works with Semicon and had stated they were interested to see a demonstration of the CHIPCHECK inspection system.

Final Video: A second professional video recording session was organised by Cereteth with TWI working in collaboration. This was recorded during the CHIPCHECK trials and demonstration in the period 19-20 December 2012. The collected video footage was subsequently edited into a five and a half minute information film (Deliverable 8.5). This film is present on the CHIPCHECK website blog and is available on DVD for interested parties. In addition, the film has been uploaded for public access on YouTube.

-Exploitation of the results
The CHIPCHECK project will deliver an integrated inspection solution to meet the requirements of the EU electronics industry.

Commercialisation of the CHIPCHECK inspection system as a whole is expected to be a joint effort between the SMEs. Lead SME Innospexion will assemble the entire machine using components developed in the CHIPCHECK project, third party components and its own in-house developed hardware and software components. If relevant, and the system becomes a success, adequate discussions will be held to decide whether a production by AP2K in Romania makes sense.

AP2K will manufacture the feeder mechanism mechanics and ship to Innospexion. AP2K will also use the feeder mechanism technology and detector intellectual property in its own DR products.

CIT will licence the database software and the counterfeit detection software module to Innospexion for use in the CHIPCHECK project. CIT will also use the database and counterfeit detection software in its own radiography software products.

An agreement still has to be finalised but it is expected that sales of the CHIPCHECK systems is to be accomplished in market sectors defined between CIT, AP2K and Innospexion. The cost of production plus 20% will be allocated to the producing partner, all additional revenue will be allocated to the selling partner. Five per cent of the revenue will be withheld by the partners in a specific account for future development and/or warranty obligations. Service and warranty obligations have to be defined and agreed upon. Innospexion hope to offer the CHIPCHECK system as part of their product range in the second quarter of 2013.

List of Websites:

http://www.chipcheck.eu
http://www.twi.co.uk
http://www.innospexion.dk
http://www.accent.ro
http://www.cituk-online.com/