Chinese chips on ebay

Thread Starter

Denesius

Joined Feb 5, 2014
98
I hear a lot of negative comments about buying IC's from Chinese vendors on ebay, so I surreptitiously purchased a half dozen function generators. The Mouser price is around $40 each, and I bought them for $7.50, free shipping and about 2 weeks delivery. They're stamped similar, but not identically, to the US sourced parts. The issue is, so far, all but one of the the lot that I've tested have performed according to the original manufacturers specs.
Question: are these cheap because they're direct sourced, stolen, surplus, ripped off dies and/or illegal copies, or are they the original manufacturers rejects for some reason or another? Even with a DOA rate of 75%, I feel I'm ahead. Any shared experiences out there would be appreciated.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
8,769
Any or all of the above. Counterfeiting is big business in China. Sometimes inspectors hired to find counterfeiting collaborate with the counterfeiters to make counterfeit product that they can turn in for payment. Sometimes the investigators set up their own companies to manufacture counterfeit goods that can be surrendered for payment from the company that hired them.

Sometimes the parts are rejects that were stolen. Sometimes they're defective parts that were relabeled to be higher spec parts. Some might be from a lot with high defect rates that are unscrupulously being sold as prime.

The Oregonian had an article about this in today's paper; it was based on AP research.
 

kyka

Joined Jun 7, 2015
24
But how do they counterfeit them in the first place? Isn't making ICs a difficult process that requires special expensive machines and clean rooms and people with tons of know-how (among other things)?
 

Lestraveled

Joined May 19, 2014
1,943
In the past I have made a few purchases of power Mosfets with a low Ron spec (IRFB4110) from China. Once, I received a batch that did not meet the Ron spec. I did get a partial refund on that order. On later orders I would email the seller before ordering, telling them that I would be testing the parts before leaving feed back. The companies that responded with," Go ahead and order, our parts are good" always delivered good parts. There are good sellers in China, you just have to talk to them first. Chinese companies that don't respond to your queries should be avoided.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
8,769
In some cases, it's factories that manufacture legitimate product for a foreign company. Sometimes they just make fake parts (nothing in them). Sometimes it's product pulled out of dumpsters. Sometimes it's out of spec parts. Sometimes it's lower grade parts relabeled as premium.

Not anyone can do it and the government has to turn a blind eye. In the article I referenced, investigators reported that certain businesses were exempt from police raids.
 

Lestraveled

Joined May 19, 2014
1,943
In the case of the mosfets I was buying, they would make more profit by substituting a lesser part with a altered part number.
 

JohnInTX

Joined Jun 26, 2012
3,774
I hear a lot of negative comments about buying IC's from Chinese vendors on ebay, so I surreptitiously purchased a half dozen function generators. The Mouser price is around $40 each, and I bought them for $7.50, free shipping and about 2 weeks delivery. They're stamped similar, but not identically, to the US sourced parts. The issue is, so far, all but one of the the lot that I've tested have performed according to the original manufacturers specs.
Question: are these cheap because they're direct sourced, stolen, surplus, ripped off dies and/or illegal copies, or are they the original manufacturers rejects for some reason or another? Even with a DOA rate of 75%, I feel I'm ahead. Any shared experiences out there would be appreciated.
If they are stamped similarly but not identically to the manufacturer's part, they are likely counterfeit. Its not an impossible task for someone in the industry to reverse engineer IC designs. Sometimes they 'design' their own to someone's datasheet. Common parts with a ready market (OpAmps, 3 terminal regulators etc) are frequently found from questionable sources. Sometimes, there is outright theft, truck hijackings etc.

No quality IC manufacturer will sell their seconds - substandard parts would damage their reputations. Sometimes, they grade parts into subscript part numbers xxxB has tighter specs than xxxA but if something doesn't meet a real spec, it is destroyed, not sold.

I think ST published some internal pictures of some of their stuff that had been counterfeited. The parts were similar but sloppy with smaller dies and didn't work and had been returned under warranty. Didn't get any relief on that one and suddenly life was expensive for the user. But, not everybody runs everything close to specs so the junk-merchants get away with it enough to make it worthwhile for them, I guess.

I disagree with your sentiment that you are ahead even with a 75% DOA rate. That means that you are building systems with junk. How are you going to test the ones that do function to ensure that they won't fail to meet spec later on? Even if you are making a super widget as a hobby project, is your aim to make a super widget or test parts?

Dealing with the junk-merchants puts heavy and unfair competitive pressure on legitimate outfits. Things cost a certain amount and the market will find their price. The problem you can't compete with the junk-merchants selling seconds, counterfeits or stolen parts and still stay afloat long enough for users to realize that they really should buy the real stuff. By then, many legit outfits are gone and they don't come back. Then what?

Finally, keeping these guys in business makes it challenging for the rest of us to build quality products. I have more than a few clients that got sold popcorn parts, sometimes through a turn-key assembly shop saving a few pennies, and incurred severe expenses in troubleshooting, rework and warranty costs. Road trip to Qatar for a batch of counterfeit LM358s? Nice. One of my guys is on the ropes - warranty costs, you see.

[/rant]
But I'll leave you with some others' observations:

"The bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."
Ben Franklin

“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey. It’s unwise to pay too little.”
John Ruskin
 
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Sensacell

Joined Jun 19, 2012
2,430
Sometimes they don't even send the parts!

That's actually better than getting parts that are no good- they did me a favor.
 

MrSoftware

Joined Oct 29, 2013
1,512
I was at an industry show not too long ago and met a company that specializes in validating the authenticity of IC's. Apparently the counterfeit devices are so good that you sometimes cannot tell the difference by looking at them. In these cases they actually grind away layers of the IC's and compare to the real thing under a microscope. My understanding was this is a big deal in industries such as aerospace, where a counterfeit may behave just fine in the lab, but not be as solid once in the harsher environment of high altitude, space, etc..

This is an interesting read:

http://www.aeri.com/counterfeit-electronic-component-detection/
 

JohnInTX

Joined Jun 26, 2012
3,774
@MrSoftware Interesting! Thanks for the link.
That's why I only buy from franchised distributors. They get burned on occasion but not very often and at least I have some recourse.
I don't understand why buying from grey market/broker/eBay sources is so attractive given the risk. But, that's just me.
 

alfacliff

Joined Dec 13, 2013
2,449
back in the 70's while working at NCR, parts shipments came in with "country of origin marked on part". American companies like Signetics, TI, Motorola and such. the parts were marked singapore, malasia, tiwan and other countries. the "American" manufacturers built factories overseas to make their chips. making chips isnt labot intensive, it is mostly done in robotic plants where the last person out the door turns off the lights, and the chips are made in darkness. later the manufacturers were complaining about cheap foreign made chips on the market., how many of these chips came out of their own plants? how did the overseas manufacturers come up with the technology? GUESS.
 

Thread Starter

Denesius

Joined Feb 5, 2014
98
OK- That was an interesting link!
I looked at my parts under a microscope and surprise, surprise: about half of the warning signs are present. From the location of the shallow pit (comparing to the one piece I bought from Mouser) and the other surface dimples, I believe my lot is from the original manufacturer, but resurfaced/remarked for some reason. I'll put them to a test at electrical maximums and see how they hold up. Except for the one DOA unit, functionally they seem to work fine, with outputs comparable to the genuine unit.
Always learning something new here...
 

kyka

Joined Jun 7, 2015
24
Wow... I've seen similar pics before in various digital devices (for example, the following HDD) but I never expected to see an analog equivalent.

 

ian field

Joined Oct 27, 2012
6,543
But how do they counterfeit them in the first place? Isn't making ICs a difficult process that requires special expensive machines and clean rooms and people with tons of know-how (among other things)?
Semiconductor manufacturers sell off old equipment.

Counterfeiter have discovered that fake ICs get less jail time than running drugs.

Sometimes they just encapsulate bare lead frames - sometimes they stamp whatever number is selling well on whatever reject stock they can get for scrap money.
 

Brevor

Joined Apr 9, 2011
297
back in the 70's while working at NCR, parts shipments came in with "country of origin marked on part". American companies like Signetics, TI, Motorola and such. the parts were marked singapore, malasia, tiwan and other countries.
Back in the 70's and 80's I worked at a large company that used LOTS of IC's, so much so that there was an engineer who's job it was to communicate any issues we had with all the IC vendors. He told me the IC dies were made in the US, then shipped to the countries you listed to be encapsulated in the epoxy then shipped back to the US. This was the reason for the countries marked on the part. Somehow it was cheaper to do the packaging overseas.
 
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