Thursday, March 4, 2010

NAVAIR, NASA team to help fight counterfeiting

Photo by Ottis Whitfield
Katherine Whittington, of NASA, provides Fleet Readiness Center-East artisans and quality assurance specialists with counterfeit electrical component identification training. During their three-day visit, the NAVAIR DMSMS team, working in concert with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, provided instruction for approximately 110 FRC-East employees.
The Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS) team worked in concert with NASA to provide counterfeit electronic part identification training.

NAVAIR teamed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the latter part of 2009 to provide artisans and quality assurance specialists at three of NAVAIR’s eight Fleet Readiness Centers counterfeit avoidance training for electronic, electrical and electromechanical (EEE) parts.

‘‘The purpose of this counterfeit part training is to spread awareness of the counterfeit parts issue,” said Katherine Whittington, a component engineer with NASA JPL. ‘‘Counterfeiting is a world-wide issue and counterfeit electronic parts have infiltrated all areas of the supply system for electronic parts. We’ve taught more than a few hundred people over the last year-and-a-half how to visually recognize the characteristics of a counterfeit part so that people who work with parts can recognize the counterfeit and flag them as suspect counterfeit parts.”

The NAVAIR⁄NASA team traveled to FRC Southwest, Southeast and East on a training tour of NAVAIR’s FRCs that began in October 2009. So far, approximately 380 artisans and quality assurance specialists have taken the class. Whittington said she always sees the ‘‘light bulb” go on while the students are handling the counterfeit parts and looking at them through the lens of a microscope.

‘‘To date, no one really knows the true impact counterfeit parts have had on NAVAIR weapon systems,” said NAVAIR DMSMS Team Lead Ric Loeslein. ‘‘Training like this will give these frontline artisans the tools to help stop non-conforming or suspect counterfeit parts from making their way in to weapon systems.”

The training taught FRC personnel that electronic component counterfeiting is a rampant and an ever-increasing problem. A Department of Commerce survey of 500 participants, requested by NAVAIR’s DMSMS team, found that during 2008 there were more than 9,300 reported cases of counterfeit EEE parts. The survey targeted microchip and discrete electronic manufacturers, electronic board producers⁄assemblers, distributors and brokers of electronic parts, prime contractors and subcontractors and DOD arsenals, depots and the Defense Logistics Agency.

To understand the problem as it is, FRC staff members learned that the start of the problem begins with the industrialized world’s e-waste issue. After watching the video ‘‘Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground,” the artisans learned that approximately 75 percent of the personal computers that have ever been sold have been ‘‘recycled” in such a way that encourages cannibalizing the components.

‘‘The video the instructors played for us really opened my eyes to the counterfeit threat that can be used against Department of Defense,” said Danny Santiago, NAVAIR Cherry Point Depot electronic calibration artisan. ‘‘If it was up to me, I would make this training a requirement for all artisans.”

When the Navy or other customer makes it known there is a need for a certain part, counterfeiters seem find a way to supply what is needed. Loeslein said that to emphasize the problem, one NASA customer provided his telephone number as the part identification number he needed. Result: Normal means of acquisition failed but within three days three suppliers offered a part with those exact digits. Of course, the part was counterfeit. Counterfeiters will meet whatever demand exists, even if that demand is fictional.

‘‘For me, this training helped me realize how invasive the counterfeit problem is. Training definitely has to be increased,” said Kenneth Martin, FRC East Quality Investigator. ‘‘I also think we need to set up an anti-counterfeit team and create policies so that all the players know what their responsibilities are to curtail this problem.”

During the training, artisans received a hands-on lesson on how to identify counterfeit micro-electronics. With simple microscopes and a little knowledge, the artisans learned that detecting counterfeit products can be as simple as knowing what company logos actually look like, but also that some counterfeiters can be tricky and very good at producing look-alike parts. Sometimes it takes several clues that add up to being counterfeit. Loeslein said that continued training and a 180 degree culture change is needed to really get on top of this phenomenon.

‘‘This is great training that exposed many things about counterfeit electronic components I previously wasn’t aware of,” said Donnie Toler, NAVAIR Cherry Point Depot instrument mechanic. ‘‘I think anyone that handles these electronic components — engineers, quality assurance specialists and artisans — should receive this type of training.”

NAVAIR also took surveys gathering information about the JPL class to see if any of it would be useful to FRC employees in their identification process.

‘‘The pre-surveys measure whether or not the employee is familiar with certain processes,” said Brenda Dilts, of ARINC. ‘‘We want to know how much they know about processes like GIDEP reporting, identification of counterfeit components or [what to do once one suspects] counterfeit components. And we ask about their internal management, if they have a checklist for checking counterfeit components. We’ve found that either people feel they know everything they need to know about counterfeit or have never heard of it. We get both extremes.”

The post surveys, Dilts said, have indicated that students have enjoyed the class and feel motivated to help fight the counterfeit phenomenon. The information gathered will be used to help a simultaneous effort to develop a Defense Acquisition University class geared toward counterfeit electronic component identification.

For more information on counterfeit electronic component training or NAVAIR’s DMSMS team, please call 301-342-2179.

(Submitted by NAVAIR’s DMSMS team)