X-Rayted Files: The Bright Side of the Chip Shortage

In the past year, we’ve seen the broader adoption of countless technologies spurred on by the pandemic.  Many who were resistant to online shopping prior to 2020 have learned to embrace it. Video conferencing, once a last resort for collaboration, has become a mainstay. In my previous column, “The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage: Counterfeits,” I addressed one of unanticipated outcome of the crisis: the shortage of electronic components and predictable wave of counterfeit components likely to flood the market. Combating that tsunami of fakes may also accelerate the adoption of advanced techniques for detecting counterfeit components. 

Electronics manufacturers, as well as component distributors, have developed a suite of tests, a combination of destructive and non-destructive techniques for establishing the authenticity of the parts they use. For those applications that require 100% inspection, no technology has exceeded X-ray inspection for its ability to validate parts.  While as an industry we’ve successfully progressed from manual inspection to sophisticated automated parts inspection, it may be time to make that next leap. With the tremendous demand for a wide variety of components, and incentives high for counterfeiters, the time has come to supercharge component inspection by applying artificial intelligence (AI).

X-ray inspection is currently used to evaluate electronic components for many of the telltale signs of counterfeit parts. Inconsistent die size, inconsistent lead frame, missing die, and inconsistent die attach voiding are all internal features that can be indicative of suspect parts. Indications that a part has been reworked (possibly recycled) or otherwise mishandled include substantial die attach voiding, BGA voiding (possibly a byproduct of reballing), and bent leads. While these techniques have been effective, the current environment may demand that we up our game.

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Figure 1: X-ray inspection easily reveals the counterfeit part.

For those who are disappointed with what we’ve seen from AI to date, it may have less to do with its capabilities than with the hype surrounding it. AI is at its best when applied to tasks that exhibit certain traits. These are typically narrow in their application, but substantial in terms of the data utilized, particularly in the learning process. To put that into context, the Tesla fleet delivers driving data from every connected vehicle in use. This data is more than one million hours of driving, which is greater than a single person would experience in a lifetime. Another example is the creation of a supercomputer to beat the world masters at the board game “Go,” which most people agree is the most difficult to play. The AI system could assimilate thousands of games and learn from them, resulting in an amazing level of “narrow” intelligence, that could outplay even the most experienced human. This is entirely different to human intelligence, which is much broader and complete, something contrary to sci-fi movies, is a long way away.

Narrow, Broad, and General Intelligence
So, narrow intelligence is when large sets of data are used to teach an AI system or a computer a simple task. The computer will seem extremely intelligent in its specialist subject, but dumb in just about everything else. This can and has produced amazing results in tasks like early disease diagnosis or predicting trends in supply and demand.

Broad intelligence is less simple and requires the AI to perform a set of tasks, thereby learning broader skills, but still within set parameters. An example of a broader system might be Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri, with thousands of skills within limited parameters.

General intelligence is much more “human” and currently completely out of reach for AI. This level of cognitive thinking is the stuff of future dystopias, run by computers who manage humanity with a rigorous set of objectives, resulting in decision that seem cold and heartless.

A digital X-ray image contains a vast amount of data, not all of which can be interpreted by the human eye.   Such digital images, and the rich data they represent, can be applied to component validation and counterfeit interdiction by using them to create a “digital fingerprint.” Of course, component fingerprinting already exists in the form of taggants, and have contributed to counterfeit interdiction efforts.  But these taggants, often unique chemical agents, require expensive equipment for scanning, as well as training and certification. While useful, taggants lack the ability to identify features such as excess die attach voiding, which can be indicative of an otherwise authentic part that has been reworked, and thus allow counterfeits to corrupt parts inventories.

By leveraging the narrow intelligence capabilities of AI, algorithms trained on matching components to their fingerprints can rapidly authenticate parts, and can do so with X-ray equipment that most electronics manufacturers and component distributors already utilize. The combination of AI enabled software with automated digital X-ray can provide fast, highly accurate, autonomous screening of all possible internal and external features currently used to confirm authenticity of components. It’s no sci-fi robot detective, but it would surely strike fear in the heart of any counterfeiter. 

Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO of Creative Electron.

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2021

X-Rayted Files: The Bright Side of the Chip Shortage

03-17-2021

In his previous column, “The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage: Counterfeits,” Bill addressed one of unanticipated outcome of the crisis: the shortage of electronic components and predictable wave of counterfeit components likely to flood the market. Combating that tsunami of fakes may also accelerate the adoption of advanced techniques for detecting counterfeit components.

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X-Rayted Files: The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage—Counterfeits

02-17-2021

It’s February 2021, and as the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, another problem plagues the global economy: the electronic component shortage. What some economists have deemed to be a decade of immense prosperity and growth, the “roaring ‘20s” started with a hiccup.

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X-Rayted Files: The Year of 2020 Vision

01-20-2021

What else can we say about 2020 that hasn’t been said? We have so much to reflect on, both to mourn and to be thankful for. The global pandemic has made an indelible mark on us all, and we, like everyone else, are changed forever. With the year behind us, and light at the end of the tunnel, we take a moment to look back as well as look forward.

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2020

X-Rayted Files: Solving for the Limits of Human Visual Inspection

12-16-2020

Because a key element of quality control in manufacturing is still good old-fashioned visual inspection, it’s important to understand the ability of operators to sustain their focus and what we can do to support their success. And while the fallibility of human inspection presents challenges, Dr. Bill Cardoso details how there are many ways to address shortcomings.

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X-Rayted Files: iPhone Transparency—A Window Into SMT

11-17-2020

Though we don’t do them just for fun, teardowns are fun, but they have also taught us more than we could have imagined. Modern teardowns provide critical insights into the nature and construction of these devices. As an example, Dr. Bill Cardoso details the history of the iPhone as told through X-ray.

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X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 2

10-28-2020

As one of the main users of X-ray inspection, the automotive industry has been one of the main drivers for the development of higher power and higher resolution X-ray imaging systems. Dr. Bill Cardoso continues with Part 2 of this column series.

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X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 1

09-29-2020

If you have read any of Bill Cardoso's previous columns, you know that he is passionate about X-rays, cars, and electronics. In this column series, he talks about some of his idols, including Curie, Roentgen, Marconi, Galvin, and Ford.

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X-Rayted Files: Is Quality Really Priceless?

08-19-2020

In a day and age when we can learn virtually anything online, manufacturers still manage to be opaque about pricing, especially when it comes to specialty equipment. Some may say, “Quality is priceless,” but Bill Cardoso explains how it isn't.

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X-Rayted Files: Marching Toward 2021, 20 Miles at a Time

07-29-2020

We’re only at the halfway mark, and 2020 has been a real challenge. Our best-laid plans have been cast in doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this transformational time, Dr. Bill Cardoso looks back a century for a bit of inspiration from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

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X-Rayted Files: E-Commerce Boom Fraught With Risk—X-Rays to the Rescue

06-17-2020

It’s not news that online sales are increasing dramatically during this global pandemic. However, with increased sales comes the increased risk of return fraud and abuse. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains how X-ray can help detect dummy and counterfeit merchandise.

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X-Rayted Files: Why Do We Break Stuff? Intelligence From Teardowns

05-20-2020

The impulse to break a new gadget to "see what's inside" and to “learn how it works” is often the first sign someone will become an engineer. We’ve learned a lot in over a decade of teardowns, which have helped us to understand how the SMT industry has changed over these years. Bill Cardoso investigates.

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X-Rayted Inspection: Manufacturing in the Eye of a Pandemic

04-08-2020

Dr. Bill Cardoso usually writes about X-ray inspection, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and how it all connects to Industry 4.0. This month, however, he shifts gears and shares some of the things Creative Electron has been doing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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X-rayted Files: X-ray and AI—A Match Made In Heaven, Part 2

03-18-2020

In Part 1, Dr. Bill Cardoso covered the basics of the relationship between X-ray inspection and artificial intelligence (AI). In Part 2, Cardoso takes a step forward to cover some of the practical ways we use AI to improve the efficiency of our X-ray inspections.

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2019

X-Rayted Files: Will Radiation Damage My Electronic Component?

12-17-2019

Before I start talking about radiation damage on electronic components, let me warn you: if you are looking for a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question, "Will radiation damage my electronic component?" stop reading now. Things will get complicated. You may feel like I did not answer the question at all, and you would be correct. There are whole conferences dedicated to this question (check IEEE’s Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference), so the goal of this column is to give you some background to guide you to the right answer for your specific situation. Ultimately, the best way is to ask an expert.

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X-Rayted Files: The Currency of Technology

11-11-2019

In the ever-moving tide of technology, the need to innovate requires a constant shift in vision, and this need has never been more evident than in PCB manufacturing. In fact, innovation has become so valuable that PCBs are quickly becoming the currency of technology. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains.

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X-Rayted Files: The Risk of Installing Counterfeit Parts

10-02-2019

In high-tech manufacturing, the use of sub-standard components can be catastrophic. There is no greater need for quality control than in PCBs, as they are only as good as the components installed on them; therein lies the problem. Some components shipped to manufacturers are counterfeit!

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X-Rayted Files: Just Because You Can't See the Problem Doesn't Mean It's Not There!

08-20-2019

In this new column, Dr. Bill Cardoso will cover everything related to X-rays from cool historical facts to the latest in technological advancements, starting with the discovery of X-rays in 1895.

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