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Detecting Counterfeit, Substandard, Nonconforming, and Improperly Processed Material


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Battlespace, Chemical/Biological Defense, Ground/Sea Vehicles, Human Systems, Nuclear Technology, Sensors, Space Platforms, Weapons


OBJECTIVE: The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) seeks to provide responsive, best value supplies consistently to our customers. DLA continually investigates diverse technologies which would lead to the highest level of innovation in the discrete-parts support of fielded weapon systems (many of which were designed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s) with a future impact on both commercial technology and government applications. As such, advanced technology demonstrations for affordability and improved industrial practices to demonstrate the combination of enhanced discrete-parts manufacturing and optimized business methods are of interest. All these areas of manufacturing technologies provide potential avenues toward achieving breakthrough advances. Research and Development efforts selected under this topic shall demonstrate and involve a degree of risk where the technical feasibility of the proposed work has not been fully established. Further, proposed efforts must be judged to be at a Technology Readiness Level of less than 6 -- system/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment -- but greater than 3 -- analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept -- to receive funding consideration.


DESCRIPTION: DLA procures thousands of different components made from metals, plastics, composites and/or rubber for use as spares and replacement parts for weapon systems and critical safety equipment. This includes almost every air, land and sea vehicle; and the support equipment for all of those weapons systems that the DoD employs. From missiles, to rifles, vehicles, aircraft and naval systems, to support equipment for troops, problems abound with substandard, nonconforming, improperly processed or manufactured base materials and with counterfeits parts. The DoD weapon systems and warfighters rely on hundreds of defense contractors to purchase subcomponents, or to design, manufacture, process, and assemble parts into the material that will supply the end items’ system and critical subsystems. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the U.S. Congress has been busy investigating reports of substandard, substituted, fake, nonconforming, counterfeit, and/or damaged parts in the U.S. supply chain. The GAO claims that 40 percent of the DoD supply chain is suffering an adverse impact from fake or defective parts.

When the mechanical components/raw materials of legacy systems become difficult to source because of obsolescence, company closures/buy-outs, etc., they are usually located and sourced using unauthorized suppliers, or reverse engineered and manufactured by other vendors. Suppliers search for parts and materials from their own stock, contractor or government excess stock, aftermarket sources, and often from internet listing sites, which list available components and materials. Components and or materials from alternate locations, and in particular from internet listing sites, run a high risk of being counterfeit or substandard. Vendors trying to figure out how to reverse engineer items will often have to “guess” at the required materials and manufacturing processes, (example, this can be very difficult when trying to recreate a composite item that may have complicated fabric lay-ups). Some base materials visually appear to be the correct substance with proper processing. They will pass a cursory authenticity evaluation. However, the material below the surface may have different properties and not meet the requirements. The very serious risk comes when parts manufactured from substandard material, or without the proper material processing, enter the DoD supply chain.

For example, there have been a number of situations when improperly processed or counterfeit unfinished materials enter the supply chain. There were two episodes where a heat treatment facility processed and sold tons of incompletely heat-treated aluminum to both Government activities and to industry. These incidents seriously contaminated the U.S. supply chain. Another more recent issue was the use of hot ingot titanium to counterfeit forged and rolled titanium. In all of these cases, there was no technology to sort good items from nonconforming or counterfeit items in a nondestructive method.

The general assumption is that through maximum use of authorized suppliers, the mitigation of risk management for active parts is much less difficult; however, this is not always possible for mechanical items and materials. This risk is present for all purchases from unauthorized suppliers and from reverse engineering activities, regardless of the obsolescence status. There are many needed supply items unavailable from authorized suppliers, and most mechanical items purchased from authorized suppliers (such as a raw unfinished casting or forging) will still require further manufacturing processes (such as final machining, heat treatment, stress relief, shot-peening, chemical coatings, paint, etc.) performed by a contractor to become a finished product useable by the DoD. Things can become even more complex if there is an unapproved substitution of a base material (such as a foreign-made casting, with internal defects or incorrect alloys). Even if the vendor does all the final finishing manufacturing processes correctly, the item(s) made from that material substitution can fail (prematurely or catastrophically).

There are a number of non-destructive methods used for certain types of material authentication. They can include traceability, magnetism (to determine if they are magnetic materials), optical & infrared (if applicable), dimensional inspections, visual (including magnification), chemical, X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), Eddy Current (surface & near surface on conductive materials), and Ultrasound (for nonporous items). While each of these methods can evaluate and test certain materials and mechanical items to a point, they cannot determine if the material has been properly and fully processed, may not be useable on all types of materials, nor (for the most part) determine if a finished items construction is only from authentic materiel. None of these test methods can reliably test or compare properties such as internal hardness, tensile strength, alloy/composite compositions, material lay-ups, and other internal material properties.

This topic solicits innovative technology development with the goal of being able to determine if manufacturing materials/items have undergone the required proper processing and to determine the authenticity of materials/items. To do this will require baseline comparative studies of manufacturing materials’ properties, setting up certain materials with a known certified processing/manufacturing history as reference standards, and then using innovative methods of determining whether the physical properties & characteristics of the base material used to manufacture parts fully meets those standards. The seven most critical requirements for this counterfeit component/nonconforming material avoidance technique are:

  1. Identify for further development a non-destructive inspection (NDI) method to ensure that the material in a component or in an unfinished state meets all processing requirements, and is not substandard nor does it have nonconforming physical properties.
  2. Identify for further development a non-destructive inspection (NDI) method to ensure that the material in a component or in an unfinished state is authentic, (not made from counterfeit subcomponents or substances).
  3. The process must be applicable to both conductive and non-conductive materials (both metallic and non-metallic).
  4. To the maximum extent practicable, address the prospective costs and benefits of the candidate NDI process.
  5. To the maximum extent practicable, address the time requirements imposed by the candidate NDI verification processes.
  6. Develop a comparative “library” of known good materials/items with known good processing as reference standards.
  7. Initiate the development of a standard for both commercial and Government use.

The performance of development and testing must progress with the goal of meeting the seven critical requirements above. Phase I development work should focus on meeting the first three critical requirements. Phase II should address the fourth and fifth critical requirements (cost-effective and simple fast detection). The third Phase should address the sixth and seventh critical components (“library” development and standard development).


PHASE I: Develop a method for identification of different base materials and different processing of the same materials. This method must be able to determine differences in processing, such as being able to identify similar appearing rubber components made from different rubber mixes, or to sort out components that have been made from the same mix, yet processed differently. This same sort of requirement must also be demonstrable for metals such as aluminum, i.e., with different alloys or the same alloy with different tempers. If Phase I is accomplished, DLA shall approve all test plans.


PHASE II: Develop production-level methods that allow for cost-effective, efficient, positive material identification. Verify the capability to support positive material identification (100 minimum different combinations of known good materials/processing). (Examples could be one series of Aluminum with different tempers, and multiple grades or types of rubbers.) Demonstrate the NDI process for the actual items as well as known counterfeits (e.g. rolled titanium vs cast titanium) to ensure detectability. Acceptable detection methods at this level may include sending samples to the developer’s facility for analysis. Estimate minimum amount of material per component to achieve 100% confidence. Generate a cost model for the implementation. At this point, either the contractor or DLA representatives will solicit other DoD Components, prime contractors, and component manufacturers for endorsement of the effort. The Phase II cost estimate assessments will be a high-ranking factor in determining feasibility.

A partnership with a current or potential supplier to DLA is highly desirable. Identify any commercial benefit or application opportunities of the innovation. Innovative processes should be developed with the intent to readily transition to production in support of DLA and its supply chains.

DLA shall approve all test plans.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Develop a “library” of known certified good materials/items with known good processing as a baseline. Develop a plan to use this baseline to establish in-house counterfeit detectability methods for manufactured components that are 100% accurate. Determine implementation timeframe, and develop a cost and time estimate for developing equipment available for purchase. Situate the equipment for use within the manufacturing and the purchasing facilities to determine whether components are of authentic material. This inhouse assessment capability must be stand-alone, but will include exchange of data with the developer in order to confirm base material properties are accurate. DLA and the developer present final information to DoD to develop plan forward for adoption (e.g., no adoption, adoption for only critical components, full adoption as DLA recognizes that this library will become an on-going effort as new materials are inducted). Initiate the development of a commercial standard for use by both industry and the Government during the development of the “library.”

(Due to the time needed for standards development, this standard does not have to be balloted or released at the end of PHASE III.)


KEYWORDS: Counterfeit, detection, substandard material, nonconforming, fake, conforming, improperly processed, non-destructive testing, NDI, NDT, quality, authentication, verification, unapproved substitution, material substitution, certified, remarking, reference standards, traceability, non-metallic, physical properties and material characteristics

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