Avoid These 2 Threats to Your Aerospace Supply Chain

Airplane in hangar

Although consumers tend to associate counterfeiting with currency or popular high-tech gadgets, it can happen in nearly any industry.

In military or aerospace applications where reliable parts are essential for safety, a counterfeit can mean the difference between life and death. There are unique risks for the aerospace supply chain caused by counterfeit parts and conflict minerals. When assessing your supply chain, keep these two potential threats top of mind. 

Counterfeit Parts

A counterfeit part is an illegal imitation represented as authentic. Counterfeiting includes any misrepresentation of the part to the purchaser, including mislabeling or claiming it as new when it has in fact been recycled or refurbished.

Representing a counterfeit as genuine may enable counterfeiters to get a higher price, but counterfeits typically feature defects that can make them dangerous — especially in high-risk applications.  

Electrical parts are the most commonly counterfeited, but there are other counterfeit items that may show up in the aerospace industry, such as:

  • Pipe trees

  • O-rings

  • Hex nuts

  • Rotor blades

  • Brackets and spacers

  • Drum lids

  • Chemicals

  • Plastics and composites

  • Fuel oil

Counterfeit parts typically won’t measure up to the required specifications, which puts projects and people at risk. For safety and quality control, it's essential to guard against counterfeits.

The following tips will help you protect your employees, products, and customers:

  • Source parts from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or an authorized distributor. Never purchase from another source unless you can trace the origin of every part back to the trusted manufacturer.

  • Train employees in best practices for avoiding counterfeit parts and materials, such as purchasing from trusted sources and testing to verify the integrity of parts.

  • Monitor your projects for parts that become outdated, obsolete, or aren’t functioning as they should. Be prepared to source a new manufacturer if your current supplier is providing inadequate parts.

  • Establish a protocol for identifying suspicious parts. Removing them from circulation isn’t enough—they must also be reported to the appropriate authorities to ensure that the fraudulent supplier doesn’t sell them to anyone else.

Conflict Minerals

Gems and minerals being mined in this unethical fashion with little regard for human rights or safety are known as conflict minerals. Conflict minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (known as 3TG) are of the biggest concern to the aerospace industry.

Tin

A corrosion-resistant element, tin is used in food preservation as a coating on cans. Tin alloys are often used to join electrical circuits and pipes.

Tantalum

A versatile metal, tantalum is used extensively in electronics. It is easily shaped and highly resistant to heat and wear. In various forms, it is used in vacuum furnace parts, electrical circuits, chemical processing equipment, medical devices, and light bulb elements.

Tungsten

Corrosion-resistant and highly heat-resistant – it’s the metal with the highest melting point – tungsten is used for electric filaments, heating elements, x-ray targets, and TV tubes.

Gold

Gold is malleable and makes an excellent conductor. It's also used as a protective coating that reflects radiation and as a lubricant for mechanical parts.

As with counterfeit parts, companies must stay diligent to avoid accidentally accepting conflict minerals into their supply chain. Train your employees and implement a process for ethical mineral sourcing as well as identifying and reporting conflict minerals.

Keeping Your Supply Chain Free of Counterfeit Parts and Conflict Minerals

Counterfeit parts are especially dangerous in the aerospace industry where a low-quality part can cause a serious malfunction, while conflict minerals often support violent regimes and human rights violations. Keeping them out of your supply chain is an ongoing process. Your diligence will help ensure safety, product quality, ethical business practices, and peace of mind.

Image Credit: Jirat Teparaksa

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