Is That Part A Counterfeit? Here Are A Few Pointers

If you order an electronic component, how do you know what it is you are receiving? It has the right package and markings, but have you got the real thing from the original manufacturer or have you got an inferior counterfeit? We hear so much about counterfeit parts, and sometimes the level of effort put in by the fraudsters is so high that from either a visual or electrical standpoint they can be hard to spot.

[Robb Hammond] writes for Aeri, with an extremely interesting guide to some of the cues for spotting a counterfeit semiconductor part. In doing so he gives us something of an insight into the techniques used by the fraudsters.

The first feature of a package to be examined are the indents. Relabeled chips often have their old markings sanded off and a coating applied to simulate the surface of an unmolested chip, and this coating can either obliterate or partially fill any indentations. Using comparison photos we are shown discernable hidden indents, and partially filled indents.

We’re shown textures and paints, and how markings can sometimes be shown as counterfeit by washing with solvent. A Cypress-marked part is found to be a cheaper Altera one under the paint, and other parts are shown with misaligned markings and markings placed over indents. Wildly varying countries of origin are claimed while seemingly retaining the same batch codes, an impossibility confirmed by manufacturers.

If you order your parts from legitimate distributors then it’s likely that what you receive will be the genuine article. However with the popularity of online auction sites and online bazaars the possibility has become ever more likely of being left with a counterfeit. Knowing some of these tips might just make the difference between the success or failure of your work, so it’s an interesting read.

Have you had any dodgy parts on your bench? Tell us about them in the comments. Meanwhile, it’s a subject we’ve covered before.

Via Hacker News.

Vintage Logan Lathe Gets 3D Printed Gears

In December 2016, [Bruno M.] was lucky enough to score a 70+ year old Logan 825 lathe for free from Craigslist. But as you might expect for a piece of machinery older than 95% of the people reading this page, it wasn’t in the best of condition. He’s made plenty of progress so far, and recently started tackling some broken gears in the machine’s transmission. There’s only one problem: the broken gears have a retail price of about $80 USD each. Ouch.

On his blog, [Bruno] documents his attempts at replacing these expensive gears with 3D printed versions, which so far looks very promising. He notes that usually 3D printed gears wouldn’t survive in this sort of application, but the gears in question are actually in a relatively low-stress portion of the transmission. He does mention that he’s still considering repairing the broken gears by filling the gaps left by the missing teeth and filing new ones in, but the 3D printed gears should at least buy him some time.

As it turns out, there’s a plugin available for Fusion 360 that helpfully does all the work of creating gears for you. You just need to enter in basic details like the number of teeth, diametral pitch, pressure angle, thickness, etc. He loaded up the generated STL in Cura, and ran off a test gear on his delta printer.

Of course, it didn’t work. Desktop 3D printing is still a finicky endeavour, and [Bruno] found with a pair of digital calipers that the printed gear was about 10% larger than the desired dimensions. It would have been interesting to find out if the issue was something in the printer (such as over-extrusion) or in the Fusion 360 plugin. In any event, a quick tweak to the slicer scale factor was all it took to get a workable gear printed on the third try.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen 3D printed gears stand in for more suitable replacement parts, nor the first time we’ve seen them in situations that would appear beyond their capability. As 3D printer hardware and software improves, it seems fewer and fewer of the old caveats apply.

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A Guidebook to the World of Counterfeit Parts

We’ve all experienced it: that sinking feeling you get when you’ve powered up your latest circuit and nothing happens. Maybe you made a mistake in your design or you shorted something while soldering. It’s even possible that ESD damaged one of your chips. All of these issues and more are possible, maybe even inevitable, when designing your own hardware.

But what if your design is perfect and your soldering skills beyond reproach? What if your shiny new device is DOA but you’ve done everything right? A fascinating report by [Yahya Tawil] makes the case that it’s increasingly possible that you’ve run across a counterfeit component. While it’s still relatively unlikely the hobby hacker is going to get bit by the counterfeit bug, the figures and examples referenced in his report may surprise you.

One of these is an ATmega328, the other is literal garbage.

[Yahya] points to a number of government studies on the rising scourge of counterfeit components, and the numbers are rather surprising. For example, the U.S Department of Commerce conducted a study between 2005 and 2008 where over 50% of respondent manufacturers and distributors had encountered counterfeit components. Another estimate claims that up to 15% of the semiconductors purchased by the Pentagon are counterfeit, presenting a serious risk to national security.

But how exactly does one counterfeit a microcontroller or transistor? Interestingly, in the vast majority of cases, old chips are pulled from recycled circuit boards and new labels are written over the original. Sometimes the forgery is as simple as changing the date code on the component or up-rating its capability (such as labeling it military spec when it isn’t), but in some cases chips with the same package will be labeled as something else entirely. Other tricks are decidedly low-tech: the documentation for the device may list functions and capabilities which it simply does not possess, artificially raising its value.

The report is a worthwhile read, even for those of us who may not be purchasing components in the same quantities as the Pentagon. It may make you think twice before you click “Buy” on that shady site with the prices that seem to good to be true.

Counterfeit components certainly seem to be on the rise from where we’re sitting. We’ve covered a number of other studies on this increasingly common trend, as well as first hand accounts ranging from successful recoveries to frustrating failures.

JST Is Not A Connector

When reading about cool projects and products, it’s common to see wiring plugs labelled “JST connector.” This looks fine until we start getting hands-on and begin hacking things together. Inevitably we find the JST connector from one part fails to fit in the JST connector of another. This is the moment we learn “JST” is not a connector specification. It is short for Japan Solderless Terminals Manufacturing Company, Ltd. A company whose history goes back to 1957 and their website (styled in 1999) lists hundreds of different types.

We can simplify to “JST connector” when chit-chatting about projects. But when it comes to actual hardware specification, that’s not good enough. Which JST connector?

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New Part Day: A fake Sun

LED technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, with what was once considered unachievable being common place now. Two of the main parameters of interest, total input power and conversion efficiency have been steadily increasing over the years. An efficacy of 120 lumens/watt is fairly common nowadays, and it may not be improbable to expect double this figure in the near future. Input power ratings have also steadily increased, with single LED units capable of 100 W or more becoming common.

But the Chinese manufacturer Yuji seems to have hit the ball out of the park by introducing their BC-Series, 500 W, high CRI, high Power, COB LED. Single, 500 W COB LED’s are not new and have been available since a couple of years, but their emitting surface areas are quite large. For example, a typical eBay search throws up parts such as this one – 500 W, high Power LED, 60,000 lm, 6000-6500K. It has a large, square emitting area of 47.6 x 47.6 mm. By comparison, the Yuji BC-Series are 27 mm square, with an active emitting area only 19 mm in diameter. This small emitting area makes it easier to design efficient reflector and/or lens units for the LED.

Luminous Flux is between 18,000 to 21,000 for a color temperature of 3200 K, and between 20,000 to 24,000 for the 5600 K type. Further, this high power rating is accompanied with a pretty high color rendering index (CRI) above 95. This allows the LED to faithfully reveal the natural colors of objects due to its wide spectrum. Electrically, it is rated for 12 Amps with input voltage between 35 V to 39 V. This translates to between 420 W ~ 468 W of input electrical power. Some quick math tells us that the efficacy efficiency works out to just a little over 50 lm/W, which isn’t all that great. But with light sources, you can have high-efficacy high-efficiency or high CRI, but not both – that’s just how the physics of it works.

At US $ 500 a pop, these eye blinders do not come cheap and may not find much use for individual hackers. But for some applications, such as studio and theatre lighting or photography, they may be just what the Doctor prescribed. In the video after the break, you can see [Matt] from DIY Perks give a rundown of the LED’s features and take it for a test ride.

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A Sandbox for DIY Pinball Design

If you’ve always wanted to build your own pinball machine but have no idea where to start, this is the project for you. [Chris] is in the process of building a 3/4 size pinball table and is currently in the waiting-for-parts stage. As they arrive, he is testing them in a sandbox he built in an afternoon. Let [Chris]’s proving ground be your quick-start guide to all the ways you could approach the two most important parts of any pin: the flippers and targets.

The field of play is a sturdy piece of particle board, and the cardboard walls are attached with hot glue. [Chris] designed and printed a pair of flippers that are driven by some cheap remote door lock motors he found at a popular online auction house. You can see how snappy are in the test video after the break.

We love the crisp action and elegant simplicity of the spring-loaded drop targets [Chris] designed. Right now he resets them manually, but soon they will be reset by a solenoid or maybe a motor. We can’t wait to see how the table turns out. In the meantime, we’ll have to go back to drooling over this amazing life-size 3D-printed pinball machine.

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Heavily Hacked Printer for DIY PCBs

Sometimes we get tips that only leave us guessing as to how — and sometimes why — a project was built. Such is the case with this PCB printer; in this case, the build specifics are the only thing in question, because it puts out some pretty impressive PCBs.

All we have to go on is the video after the break, which despite an exhaustive minutes-long search appears to be the only documentation [Androkavo] did for this build. The captions tell us that the printer is built around the guts from an Epson Stylus Photo 1390 printer. There’s no evidence of that from the outside, as every bit of the printer has been built into a custom enclosure. The paper handling gear has been replaced by an A3-sized heated flatbed, adjustable in the Z-axis to accommodate varying board thicknesses. The bed runs on linear rails that appear custom-made. Under the hood, the ink cartridges have been replaced with outboard ink bottles in any color you want as long as it’s black. The video shows some test prints down to 0.1 mm traces with 0.1 mm pitch — those were a little dodgy, but at a 0.2 mm pitch, the finest traces came out great. The boards were etched in the usual way with great results; we wonder if the printer could be modified to print resist and silkscreens too.

[Androkavo] seems to have quite a few interesting projects in his YouTube channel, one of which — this wooden digital clock — we featured recently. We’d love to learn more about this printer build, though. Hopefully [Androkavo] will see this and comment below.

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