Impressive tour, depressing tale
Posted by John McHale
Last week Tom Sharpe, vice president of SMT Corp.
-- a privately-held electronics distributor in Newtown, Conn., gave me a
damn nice tour of his secure and clean facility -- from the electro-static discharge (ESD)
monitoring device and state-of-the-art electronic part testing equipment
right down to the snazzy Starbucks coffee machine and hundreds of vintage World War I and World War II posters.
The poster pictured here was painted by Fred Spear in 1915, depicting a woman passenger on the British cruise ship Lusitania
drowning with a baby in her arms after the ship was torpedoed by the
Germans. Spear reportedly read a detailed newspaper account about bodies
recovered after the attack and it inspired him to create the poster.
The poster was published by the Boston Committee for Public Safety and
is very rare.
Sharpe's facility is quite striking as similar
posters line every wall but the slides he showed me of Shantou, China,
were striking for much different reasons. Shantou is home to the counterfeit electronic parts industry
, which is becoming an expensive and painful headache for defense electronics suppliers.
was there on business, but managed to get into Shantou for a tour. The
main industry here consists of individual families ripping apart
computers and integrated circuit (IC) components then putting them back
together and reselling them to brokers. The small families typically
perform the work out of their living room.
One might think this
business would be lucrative, but the families slapping together the
counterfeit boards and ICs are living in squalor.
The entire town
is one big electronic component dumping ground -- in the rivers, on the
streets, and piled up in backyards. Sharpe says the rate of cancer and
other diseases are quite high as chemicals from the eroding parts seep
into the soil and water supply.
Quality control is non-existent
out there -- sometimes they wash the parts in the rain and let them dry
in the sun. What's scary is once these products are finished they look
just like any other part to the untrained eye and many slip into batches
of good parts that are not counterfeit.
Sharpe says he has spent
considerable money for test equipment to spot them, showing me
different examples. Many times they will change the date on the part,
but sometimes they mess up and send out a part with a date in the
future. Sharpe says he saw one that was labeled as designed in late
2009, but it was still 2008.
Many companies do not have SMT's
equipment at their disposal and defense suppliers and integrators are
quite concerned that one of these parts may find its way into a mission
critical system and result in a lethal system failure.
counterfeits are very available. Just do a Google search for a part
number you are liable to pull up something similar to the Chinese IC
Mart or sites like it.
Many of Sharpe's vintage posters caution
against spreading secrets in case the enemy is listening. In this case
the secret behind the parts needs to get out as does the tale of the
human waste piling up in Shantou -- a futuristic slum.