Power Electronics

Do Old ICs Fade Away?

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Have you ever wondered about what happens To all the old electronic equipment that is discarded each year? A United Nations Environment Program report released on Feb. 22, 2010 says that China generates 2.3 million metric tons of electronic waste each year domestically, second only to the United States, which produces 3 million tons.

An article by the IPS, Inter Press Service, said that much of that U.S. waste is exported to developing countries like China, where imports of electronic waste are banned but not enforced, says Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network. About 1.7 million tons of e-waste is processed each year in Guiyu, China, according to the local government.

Puckett says most of what comes into Guiyu is imported from abroad. “There’s no hard data, but it’s probably above 90 to 95 percent (overseas waste),” says Puckett, who has visited Guiyu three times since 2001. “I really looked at the writing on the machines and types of plugs. Guiyu doesn’t get a lot of Chinese waste.” Recently published studies by researchers at Shantou University Medical College show high levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) from flame retardants, lead, cadmium and chromium in blood samples of infant children of e-waste workers.

A 2008 study produced by the Shantou health researchers found that 81 percent of blood samples from Guiyu infants has “significantly higher levels of blood lead.” Another 2008 study found high cadmium levels in 20.1 percent of infants there. High chromium exposure leads to DNA damage in infants. The research indicates that these are leading to stillbirths, low birth weights and premature deliveries and impacts on the childrenís growth rates and neurobehavioral development.

All the effects of e-waste aren’t in China, the U.S. has also been affected by it, via illegal counterfeiting. In one approach, devices are removed from scrap printed circuit boards (that have been discarded as e-waste) in a process that is highly unsafe. Following superficial repairs, these devices are branded with a manufacturer’s logo - and passed on to an unwary buyer as genuine.

In the last five years, reports of counterfeit components have increased exponentially. In 2008, export of fake ICs accounted for more than 8% of global merchandise trade, which is equivalent to lost sales of $6 billion.

In 2009, three men were charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods in connection with the alleged sale of counterfeit ICs to the U.S. Navy, as well as conspiracy and mail fraud. The three acquired counterfeit ICs from sources in China, imported them into the U.S., and sold them via the Internet. They also bought trademark-branded devices and altered them to make it appear that they were of a certain brand, newer, higher quality, or were of military grade, according to the indictment.

The defendants entered into three separate contracts with the U.S. Navy between March and July, according to the indictment, and subsequently shipped counterfeit devices bearing false trademarks, the indictment alleged. It also alleged that the defendants imported more than $140,000 worth of counterfeit ICs from China and Hong Kong in 22 separate incidents.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) maintains an anti-counterfeiting task force, which works with U.S. customs and border protection to address the growing problem of semiconductor counterfeiting. SIA president George Scalise said, “Counterfeiting of semiconductors is a growing problem.” Scalise warned electronic equipment manufacturers to buy semiconductors only from trusted sources. “Semiconductor counterfeiting is fraud, pure and simple,” he said. Given the potential for catastrophic injury and damage from failure of a counterfeit microchip, vigorous enforcement actions are necessary to deter this type of illegal activity.” Scalise’s advice: “buy semiconductors only from trusted sources.”

Combating counterfeiting and supply chain security in electronics markets will head the agenda September 14 and 15, 2010 when experts meet at a Product Authentication + Security Summit (PASS) in New Brunswick, New Jersey to discuss strategies for improving product security and tackling brand piracy.

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