Traceability Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

By Robin Gray, ECIA COO

Traceability refers to the path that a part takes from the component manufacturer to the end customer. The path could be extremely short, i.e., directly from the manufacturer to the end user. On the other hand, a component could have multiple stops before it gets to the end customer. It is the longer situation that requires a road map of where the part has been.

For each stop in the traceability chain, customers often expect proof that the part was properly packaged, stored and handled as well as having no malware installed. Who handled the part is important. If the part never leaves the authorized supply chain, there is less likelihood of it being counterfeited, altered, used or damaged.

For the end customer, the question is:  What evidence is sufficient to show the chain of custody of a part? Paper documents are clearly not the answer, since paper documents are easily counterfeited. One technique used by counterfeiters is to buy a small quantity of parts in order to copy the legitimate documentation accompanying the genuine parts obtained from an authorized source. Other traceability techniques and methodologies also run the risk of being counterfeited.

Finally, traceability does not verify that a part is genuine; properly packaged, stored and handled; free of malware; or unused. Under the best of circumstances, traceability only shows where the part has been. The lowest risk for customers is to buy the part from the shortest authorized supply chain, i.e., buying directly from the component manufacturer or the manufacturer’s authorized distributor.