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The Silent Killer: Suspect/Counterfeit Items and Packaging

1409 F1 coverOver the past several years, U.S. based organizations have curtailed traditional internal verification efforts due to reliance on contract manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to do the right thing. The inspection of ESD sensitive parts is very important, but without special safeguards, the additional handling to remove and repack a product for validation can cause both physical and ESD damage in the process. For parts, including those not sensitive to static electricity, measures must be utilized to detect, inspect and validate the packaging that identifies and protects the product.

In 2010, the author was invited to speak before the NASA QLF (Quality Leadership Forum) and is the first to present on issues of suspect counterfeit ESD packaging & materials in the DoD supply chain. This speaking engagement led to numerous articles and studies on suspect counterfeit or non-compliant materials and packaging used during the manufacturing process. No longer is a supplier’s specification sheet adequate proof that an ESD packaging product is compliant to ANSI/ESD S541 or Military Standards.

Many Federal agencies employ the practice to Google Earth suppliers for verification that the business is not a pass-through entity or garage-style operation.

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Figure 1


In Fiscal Year 2013, the Department of Homeland Security seized counterfeit goods valued at over $1.7 billion at U.S. borders. The facts are as follows (Source:

  1. Counterfeiting costs U.S. businesses $200 billion to $250 billion annually.
  2. Counterfeit merchandise is directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs.
  3. Since 1982, the global trade in illegitimate goods has increased from $5.5 billion to approximately $600 billion annually.
  4. U.S. companies suffer $9 billion in trade losses due to international copyright piracy.
  5. Counterfeiting poses a threat to global health and safety.
  6. Approximately 5%-7% of the world trade is in counterfeit goods.

In Figure 2, the suspect counterfeit fire extinguisher could be filled with compressed air or baking soda. Increasingly, the perpetrators place human lives in the balance just to make more profit. Would the reader have confidence in using the suspect counterfeit fasteners while hoisting a soldier as illustrated in the DUSTOFF helicopter photo, illustrated in Figure 3?

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Figure 2 (Candice T. Bruce, MSgt, Quality Assurance Technician, 440 SCOS/GWAB, 192 SCMS, 23 Sweeney Blvd., Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA 23665)


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Figure 3


In the examples provided for the fire extinguishers and fasteners, and, especially, today one must really understand the global supply chain. Another issue that organizations face is the purchase of products, off the Materials Qualification List, obtained online, in glossy catalogs that land on your desk every month, or reliance upon a vendor specification sheet without verification or validation of the manufactured good’s performance. What does the author recommend? Trust but verify!

Supplier non-conformance and suspect counterfeit packaging can represent a hazard to electrostatic discharge (ESD) sensitive devices or components through cross contamination. Figure 4 illustrates what happens when ESD sensitive devices from the manufacturer were subjected to long-term storage at 160°F for 14 days (accelerated aging). The test compared  new EEE components stored in a suspect counterfeit IC Carrier and a compliant Dip Tube for the same duration. The ESD sensitive device packaged in a safe IC Carrier (Dip tube) exhibits no evidence of antistatic transfer. Suspect counterfeit ESD packaging can, however, incorporate the use of antistats containing harmful amines. Supplying amine safe products can prove costly to the counterfeiter. To dip or to spray packaging with a soapy mixture typically found in a grocery store is sometimes utilized as an unauthorized substitute with consequences. Issues with antistats put to rest in the early 1990s have resurfaced. A launch delay due to contaminating antistatic bubble during long-term storage occurred; suspect counterfeit packaging related damage to ESD sensitive devices has taken place during shipping, storage, incoming inspection and manufacturing. Many of these incidents could have been prevented using a formalized qualification sequence reinforced with periodic verification for chemical, physical and ESD control integrity before use in the supply chain.

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Figure 4 (Items courtesy of Albert Escusa, TI)

Several aerospace related occurences have involved long-term storage issues for supplier non-conformance with antistatic foams, antistatic bubble, vacuum formed antistatic polymers and ESD safe moisture barrier bags. The late John Kolyer, Ph.D. (Boeing, Ret.) and Ray Gompf, P.E., Ph.D. (NASA-KSC, Ret.) were advocates in the utilization of a formalized physical testing material qualification process. Today, however, some prime contractors and contract manufacturers rely heavily upon a visual inspection process for ESD packaging materials. Over the past 10 years, however, suspect counterfeit ESD packaging materials have continued to infiltrate the global supply chain.

Despite a visual inspection of an outer package label and bar code scanning by an electronic component distributor, suspect counterfeit re-topped electrostatic discharge (ESD) sensitive components could still be purchased in error. To compound the matter, a new and very inexpensive method of removing a component’s lettering is now being utilized by the counterfeiter that does not exhibit evidence of tampering as illustrated in Figure 5.

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Figure 5: Left: Original  Right: Tampered

One countermeasure for detection is the use of RFID in packaging for incoming inspection and inventory tracking. Another measure constitutes hands on training for incoming shipping and receiving personnel by use of advanced inspection techniques of packaging materials. For example, ESD sensitive components are typically protected by packaging that industry identifies by color: i.e., pink or blue for antistatic bubble, black for carbon loaded polymer JEDEC trays and Tape & Reel.

No longer can color be an indicator of static control packaging performance, however, this identification marker is widely accepted by semiconductor, automotive, medical device, aerospace, and defense. A simple and cost effective electrical resistance test can very easily determine if the packaging is compliant beyond misidentification by color. If a package fails this initial test, then it should be flagged for further investigation as components could have been compromised. A simple rule to remember constitutes: A counterfeiter will not be motivated to package fraudulent ESD sensitive components in compliant static control packaging that could add much more in material costs alone.

In the packaging area, suspect counterfeit ESD packaging materials that have compromised the supply chain include IC Carriers (The Dip Tube), JEDEC Trays and Tape & Reel. See Table 1 for a more comprehensive list.


  • Blister Packs
  • Antistatic Bags
  • Conductive Bags
  • Static Shielding Bags
  • Moisture Barrier Bags
  • ESD Corrugated Boxes
  • ESD Paperboard
  • ESD Plastic Corrugated
  • Plastic Hinged Boxes
  • Downgraded Corrugated Kraft Box Liner
  • Antistatic Clamshells
  • Antistatic Trays
  • Static Dissipative Trays
  • IDPs Polymers
  • ICPs Polymers
  • Carbon Loaded
  • Carbon Coated
  • ESD Tubing
  • ESD Foams
  • Cross-linked
  • ESD P E Films
  • Antistatic Films
  • Antistatic Pallet Wrap
  • ESD Cleanroom Paper
  • Antistatic Paper
  • Antistatic Tape
  • ESD Work Carriers
  • Antistatic Work Carriers
  • ESD Polystyrene Peanuts
  • ESD Tape & Reel
  • ESD Rubber bands
  • ESD Dip Tubes
  • Antistatic End Caps
  • ESD Labels
  • Antistatic Labels
  • ESD Wafer Boats
  • ESD Wafer Packs
  • ESD Wafer Separators
  • ESD Tubing, IC Carrier or Dip Tubes
  • ESD Air Filled Bubble
  • ESD JEDEC Trays
  • ESD Microscope Covers
  • Humidity Indicator Cards
  • ESD Grid Bags

Table 1

IC Carriers, JEDEC Trays and Tape & Reel are utilized in equipment centers (Figure 6). Due to limited space for a single publication, the author will focus on the consequences of using a suspect counterfeit JEDEC tray that is non-compliant to ANSI/ESD S541.

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Figure 6

The strapping was charge generating to 2260 and -1295 peak volts as illustrated in Figure 7. Earlier, another set of JEDEC trays was evaluated for 2-point resistance that measured a failing value of 6.7 x 1011 ohms at 50%RH.

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Figure 7


When a suspect counterfeit insulative JEDEC tray is populated with ESD sensitive devices that could be from a legitimate source, then the act of removal of said components for inspection could damage that device Figure 8).

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Figure 8

What happens when a JEDEC tray is not properly banded in comparison to a process utilizing ANSI/ESD S541 compliant strapping by a grounded operator using an ANSI/ESD S4.1 work surface during the banding process? A non-compliant strapping process generated ESD events at over 300 volts for a 3 banded JEDEC tray system (Figure 9). Therefore, affixing strapping over a JEDEC tray package (placed in quarantine) without conductive corrugated top and bottom pads should be avoided for ESD compliance.

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Figure 9

Conversely, using ESD corrugated pads with a protective non-sloughing finish facing inward insures that a charge generating strapping process will not compromise the package. As illustrated in Figure 10, the black strapping is static dissipative with ESD corrugated shielding pads. Thus, sound protocols were utilized by the component maker who utilizes a formalized materials qualification sequence in packaging of EEE ESD sensitive devices. The banding process therefore was unremarkable for ESD events at 9 volts.

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Figure 10

In short, testing static control materials and packaging that protects ESD sensitive electronic components needs to be mandatory. It is our view that mission critical parts and components that require ESD packaging must be verified on a regular basis due to supplier non-compliance or suspect counterfeiting. As a consequence, device integrity is less likely be compromised or to become a cause for damage or failure due to the packaging. favicon


Special Thanks to Albert Escusa of Texas Instruments for his support.

  1. Vermillion, R. 2010. “Non-compliant or Suspect Counterfeit Materials Can Lead to ESD Hazards and Long-Term Storage Issues.” NASA Quality Leadership Forum, Kennedy Space Center.
  2. Bruce, C. T. “Fire Extinguishers.” Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA 23665
  3. Electronic Part Damage by Antistat Vapor, John Kolyer, Ph.D., Arie Passchier, Ph.D. and WG Peterson, The Boeing Company
  4. ESD from A to Z, Dr. John Kolyer and Watson, 2nd Edition
  5. Mil Handbook 1686C
  6. Mil Handbook 263B
  7. Packaging Materials Standards for ESD Sensitive Items, EIA-541, June 24, 1988, Appendix C, “Triboelectric Charge Testing of Intimate Packaging Materials”
  8. ANSI/ESD S20.20
  9. ANSI/ESD STM11.13
  10. ESDA Adv. 11.2
  11. Using An ESD Packaging Materials Qualification Matrix for Contract Manufacturing and Supplier Conformance, Sep 1, 2006, Albert Escusa, Texas Instruments and Bob Vermillion, RMV Technology Group, LLC
  12. Dr. John M. Kolyer, Ph.D., Rockwell International, Telephone interview in 2004
  13. The Charged Device Model & Work Surface Selection, John Kolyer and Donald Watson, October 1991, pp. 110-117
  14. Humidity & Temperature Effects on Surface Resistivity, John Kolyer &Ronald Rushworth, EE, October 1990, pp. 106-110
  15. Vermillion, R. June 1, 2010. ”The Dip Tube.” Interference Technology.
  16. Vermillion, R. November 2010. “JEDEC and Tape & Reel Issues.” Interference Technology UK.


author vermillion-bob BOB VERMILLION
Bob Vermillion, CPP/Fellow, is a Certified ESD & Product Safety Engineer-iNARTE with subject matter expertise in the mitigation of Triboelectrification for a Mars surface and in troubleshooting robotics, systems and materials for the aerospace, disk drive, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and semiconductor sectors. Bob is a member of the ESDA standard committee and Vice Chair of the Aerospace & Defense Working Group 19.1Vermillion formerly served on the BoD with iNARTE. SME Speaking engagements include Suspect Counterfeit Presentations/Seminars at NASA, DOE, Aerospace & Defense, California Polytechnic University, Loyola University and others at . Vermillion is CEO of RMV Technology Group, LLC, a NASA Industry Partner and 3rd Party ESD Materials Testing, Training and Consulting Company. Bob serves on both the SAE G-19 & G-21 committees. Bob can be reached at 650-964-4792 or




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