Old-School Solution To Counterfeit Control

What to do about counterfeiting? A months-long investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee resulted in a May report describing 1,800 cases of counterfeit parts used in military aircraft and equipment, proving bogus parts are an issue and lighting up headlines across the internet. A variety of companies have developed high-tech labeling or testing methods to combat the problem. But, Jason Dickstein, the president of the Modification and Replacement Parts Association, argues for a much more old-school solution straight out of civil aviation’s playbook: Control your supply network.

“Civil aviation has relied upon the sort of old-fashioned idea of controlling your supply network,” he said. “If you know everything that’s going on in your supply network, you’re going to have a greater assurance that everything is going to happen as it should happen.”

What about advanced labeling mechanisms? According to Dickstein, the problem with some labels is that they can be counterfeited along with the part itself. And counterfeit testing equipment, like that marketed by companies such as Covisus Testing only ensures counterfeits are compliant not legitimate, Dickstein said. A part can be 100% compliant and still be counterfeit, since counterfeiting involves violating a trademark.

According to Dickstein, that means the answer lies in standards like the AS 9100 or the AS9110, along with third party auditors that ensure parts leave a paper trail tracing them back to their original manufacturers.

Dickstein’s ideas may have some traction. The amended Section 818 of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in December seems to include the beginnings of a trusted supply network. Meanwhile, Applied DNA Sciences announced in April that it’s launched a pilot program with a U.S. government agency to show the validity of DNA authentication in protecting against counterfeit microchips in the supply chain.

“In a sense, what space and defense are looking at today with their counterfeit issues are things that are very similar to things that civil aviation faced in the 1990s,” Dickstein said. “As an industry, with the FAA, civil aviation changed its basic programs to ensure that parts are what they purported to be.” 

Still, getting an industry to change and work together could be a massive undertaking, and Dickstein agrees that it’s daunting. But, could it be the answer to the current counterfeit problem? Perhaps this time technology will offer additional options not available to civil aviation in the ‘90s.

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