December 12, 2012

Five Reasons to Partner with Converge in Brazil

Millions of consumers in Brazil’s emerging middle class are now entering the market for personal computing and related technology. In addition, the upcoming World Cup (2014) and Summer Olympic Games (2016) have spawned the investment of billions of dollars in infrastructure. If you are a technology manufacturer or service provider, you are likely exploring ways to capitalize on such opportunities in a competitive marketplace. Converge can help you realize your goals.

Connecting the dots between global component inventory and end-user demand is at the core of what we do. So whether you are a manufacturer looking to recover value from excess inventory or are looking for a reliable supplier with Tier-1 pricing, Converge is a global market leader.

Here are five good reasons to partner with Converge in the Brazilian electronics market:

  1. Converge is a proven and reliable supplier to the Brazilian market – and has been for over 20 years.
  2. Converge provides access to unique channels of supply. Our strong global presence allows you to expand your purchasing power far beyond national borders.
  3. Converge has the ability to import to Brazil through partnerships in Sao Paulo, for those who do not have an import license.
  4. Converge has experience with many of the Brazilian customs regulations and the associated paperwork. Doing it right the first time may save precious time and money.
  5. Selling and exporting excess inventory to Converge allows you to not only recover value from aging inventory, but it also may allow you to reclaim a portion of the importation tax.
If you are currently in Brazil or are looking at entering this growing market, contact us. We’ll review your current situation and outline potential opportunities for your organization.

November 29, 2012

Global Converge Leaders: Meet Johan Dahl, EMEA

Business leaders from Converge had a great opportunity to visit with many of our suppliers, customers, and attendees at Electronica 2012 in Munich earlier this month. Overall, it was an exciting and highly successful show. In fact, we so enjoyed being able to “put faces with names” of people we often work with but rarely see that it gave us the idea for a new blog series. 

Over the next several months, the Converge blog will publish a series of interviews that introduce readers to some of our key business leaders in the EMEA and APAC regions…people you may even do business with but haven’t yet had a chance to meet. We are incredibly proud of our talented global team and the depth of their experience in the independent electronics space. We hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as we enjoy working with them! 

Meet Johan Dahl, EMEA Business Development Manager for Converge

Q: Tell us a little about what you do at Converge and how long you have worked here.

A: I support the European sales team in either opening new accounts or developing new areas of business with our existing customers. Basically, I am always working to identify ways that Converge can help new and existing customers locate hard-to-find electronic components, address end-of-life procurement issues, or remarket their excess inventory. I have been with Converge for 15 years. 

Q: Which office location do you work from? 

A: I am based in Sweden, but I serve the whole EMEA region. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about working with Converge? 

A: I have held many different positions within Converge, as there is always an opportunity to excel and grow within the company. That has made it a very enjoyable place to build my career. I am also very proud of Converge’s outstanding quality control system. Since I have gained a behind-the-scenes view of quality processes from quite a few companies in the independent electronics space, I get excited when I see the in-depth quality control process that Converge offers its customers. 

Q: What services does Converge offer in Europe? And how does the EMEA market differ from other regions? 

A: Since Converge is a global company, we offer all of our service offerings where the customer is located – literally, almost anywhere in the world. Basically, anything you see listed on our website, we offer in Europe. We excel in providing our customers with shortage, excess, and obsolete inventory solutions, with a quality assurance program that is second to none. I think the difference that we have in Europe compared to the Americas is that we have more languages and country regulations to navigate. But we handle those differences on our end so the customer doesn’t have to worry about it. 

Q: What advice do you typically offer to OEMs or ODMs who don’t yet have a partner in the independent market? 

A: All companies in the electronics industry have shortages from time to time, so the question is, have they really thought about a plan for handling this inevitability? Do they know whom they are buying from? Do their sources deliver quality with every shipment and with every component? I suggest that all companies dealing with independent distributors sit down and implement a process, audit potential open market providers, investigate their counterfeit detection practices, and negotiate a contract where all the rules and regulations are stipulated. Doing this will truly help strengthen your organization. 

Q: Tell us a little about your life outside Converge. 

A: I am happily married, with three children, and most of my time outside the office is focused on my family. When I get a (rare) moment to myself, I enjoy playing a game of golf or tennis.  

Thanks, Johan!
If you would like to talk to Johan about how Converge can help your company (or would like to connect over a round of golf in Sweden), you can contact him at 

November 14, 2012

Quality Q&A with a General IC Commodity Manager

How does Converge work to assure quality for customers who need to procure semiconductors from the open market? Global IC commodity manager Mark Baldyga recently sat down for a candid Q&A session about procurement. Mark has spent 14 years at Converge, and has overseen the buying and selling of general ICs for the past seven years.

Q: First of all, IC is such a broad term. What types of components does a global IC commodity manager supervise at Converge?

A: Converge assigns any IC that’s not memory or CPU to the general IC commodity team. Our team buys and sells $300 microprocessors and microcontrollers all the way down to capacitors and resistors that go for $0.002 per piece—and everything in between.

Q: What separates Converge from other companies in the IC space?

A: There are many companies that do one or two things very well. Converge is a dedicated “solutions development” company that prides itself on being the best overall procurement company in the independent distribution space. We have been in business for over 30 years and are considered to be industry thought leaders. Our three decades of customer and supplier relationships with OEMs, CEMs, and franchised distributors, combined with the largest global footprint in the industry, have made Converge the world’s most reliable independent distributor from a quality, delivery, pricing, and market intelligence standpoint.

Q: How big is the general IC commodity team at Converge?

A: We have global general IC commodity managers in the Americas, Amsterdam, and Singapore. Each of those managers has a group of buyers that work for him or her. So customers who source general ICs through Converge are utilizing a team of around 35 people who are dedicated to purchasing and providing market intelligence about that commodity in all three business regions.

Q: Market intelligence is incredibly valuable to any customer looking for hard-to-find components. But the number-one question on every electronic component buyer’s mind right now is how can you guarantee that ICs coming from the open market are safe? Doesn’t outsourcing semiconductors raise a customer’s risk level?

A: There’s not a customer on the planet that doesn’t go out into the open market without quality concerns, and rightfully so. Believe me, we think that way, too. Not only does Converge assure quality deliveries through an industry-leading inspection process manned by electronic component engineers, but Converge was also one of the first independent distributors to recognize that the key to delivering quality product to our customers was in extremely conservative policing of our open market supply chain. We established a rigorous vendor management process that has passed and impressed even our strictest customer audits.

Q: What does Converge’s vendor management process entail?

A: We keep a scorecard on every vendor generated from a complex matrix of multiple quality and performance characteristics, including product quality history and performance, as well as other key factors. Every vendor’s score results in a reliability rating that allows our buyers to source from the most reliable suppliers. Converge’s conservative approach toward sourcing has been the single most important key to our impressive record of keeping counterfeits out of the supply chain, as well as to our sustained role as the go-to distributor for helping OEMs and CMs procure hard-to-find components.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for a company looking for an open market trading partner, what would it be?

A: Make sure that the supplier you select has a vigorous, auditable supplier management program and a robust quality department, in addition to state-of-the-art inspection and verification capabilities. Inspection capabilities alone are not enough to successfully manage a counterfeit mitigation program. The cornerstone of a vibrant quality assurance program is preventing substandard parts from entering your building in the first place. Choosing a partner who operates on that level of vigilance is absolutely essential to protecting your company from the consequences of poor-quality components.

October 17, 2012

A Short Guide to Electronic Component Quality Assurance

Over the past couple of years, we have written a great deal on the Converge blog about our electronic component testing and counterfeit detection capabilities. As an independent distributor, we are extremely proud of our rigorous 76-point inspection process and our ongoing commitment to quality control. We are proud of our industry certifications, our trained inspectors and component engineers, and our role in helping to define the quality standards that all independents should live by. More than anything else, we are proud of our record of keeping substandard electronic components out of the supply chain.

So how exactly do we do that? We have put together a short guide to Converge’s electronic component quality assurance services for your easy reference. These are the primary techniques that we use to ensure every order is exactly as it was represented to the customer. Some services are done as part of the 76-point inspection required for every single order; others, like decapsulation, are advanced testing techniques that are done only when parts need additional verification. Either way, Converge has invested in the necessary equipment so that our trained in-house experts can utilize these services whenever they are needed. If you would like to know more about any of the capabilities listed below, click through to read the original blog posts.

Baking Oven for Moisture-Sensitive Devices

  • Converge follows the baking guidelines and procedures recommended by J-STD-033B 
  • Parts are baked in our calibrated ovens for the specified time and dry-packed immediately upon removal in a moisture-barrier antistatic bag 
  • Parts are also packed with a new humidity indicator card and the recommended amount of desiccant
XRF Analysis
  • Used to verify RoHS compliance 
  • Verifies elemental breakdown of a scanned component’s content and detects substances of concern 
  • Nondestructive process
CPU Testing and Inspection
  • Processor identification tool used to verify the authenticity of all incoming CPUs 
  • Tool verifies that the CPU type, family, model, stepping, revision, and frequency are consistent with the manufacturer’s specifications 
  • 2D data matrix bar code scanner enables inspectors to quickly capture serial numbers
X-ray Imaging
  • Designed to look inside components (e.g., ICs, capacitors, diodes, resistors, and hybrids) to help detect hidden flaws 
  • Can reveal differences in die size, die frame, wire bond patterns, and internal lead characteristics 
  • Can identify shorts or bridges, detect cracks in the epoxy, and recognize tampering attempts 
  • Nondestructive process
  • Used to properly expose the die architecture of an integrated circuit for full visual inspection and further verification 
  • Verifies die size and manufacturer logo; confirms part numbers
  • Destructive process; used as a last, but necessary, resort 
While these are some of Converge’s investments in testing equipment, there are plenty more – such as the high-powered optical microscopes that our engineers use to detect signs of counterfeiting techniques such as blacktopping, sanding, or retinning. And every year we reevaluate our testing equipment needs based on the marketplace trends and invest in additional upgrades in order to strengthen our counterfeit-avoidance program. 

What parts of the component quality assurance process would you like to know more about?

Contact us to let us know or leave us a comment below!

October 3, 2012

Meet Converge at Electronica 2012

Have you registered yet for electronica 2012?

Excitement is building for the biannual event, which takes place from November 13-16 in Munich, Germany. It has been called the world’s most important trade fair for electronics, covering the entire industry from components and systems to applications and services.

Converge would not miss out on the opportunity to learn from and exchange ideas with so many of our dynamic suppliers and customers. Please stop by and say hello to representatives from our international and European headquarters! You will find us in Hall A5 Booth 239. As always, we will be available to discuss ways that we can help your company solve surplus inventory, market intelligence, and hard-to-find component needs. And while counterfeit detection is such an important topic, we’d love to talk about best practices for quality assurance and how we incorporate those into our 76-point inspection program.

If you’re still on the fence about going to electronica, here are some impressive stats we thought we’d share from their website:

  • In November 2010, electronica boasted more than 72,000 trade visitors, 2,500 international exhibitors, and 540 journalists to help share their stories of innovation.* 
  • Ninety percent of all electronica visitors are decision-makers, and 57 percent hold management positions.* 
  • There is a large share of visitors who primarily deal with the development (39 percent), design (14 percent), and engineering (8 percent) of electronic components and applications.* 
  • A 47 percent share of foreign visitors representing 76 countries proves that the most important markets now and in the future look to electronica for orientation.* 
If you would like to arrange a specific time to meet with Converge representatives at electronica, please check out our events page on our website and let us know. We look forward to seeing you in Munich this November!


September 19, 2012

Surplus Inventory Consignment Has Never Been Easier

Converge specializes in helping OEMs and EMS providers solve their complicated surplus problems with minimal effort while providing maximum return potential. One way that we make the remarketing of surplus materials as customer friendly as possible is through our consignment program. The Converge consignment program is a turnkey solution in which the customer ships excess inventory to Converge, where it is inspected, sanitized, and marketed to our global network of contacts. However, what is unique about the consignment program is that the customer retains ownership of the inventory until it is sold. 

In addition, Converge’s proprietary Consignment Visibility (CV) application simplifies the process further by allowing customers to view and manage all their consigned materials via one centralized online hub. The CV tool makes it easy to retrieve key inventory information at any time, including quantity received, quantity sold, unit price, vendor share, quantity on hand, inventory location, and build/revenue share data. 

We are now excited to announce that the Converge CV application has been upgraded to make it even more user friendly. Key CV upgrade features include: 

  • Enhanced filtering capability: Users can now sort by number of days in stock, commodity, or situations such as on-hand stock only. 
  • Booked/scheduled revenue visibility: Users can view current and pending opportunities/shipments in the pipeline. 
  • Expanded browser capabilities: The CV application is now compatible with Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox browsers.
Trying to remarket excess electronic components can be a tremendous amount of work when market intelligence and global logistics are not part of your company’s core capabilities. So why take your eye off the ball? It is now easier than ever to get excess inventory out of your warehouse – and recover value – by consigning it to Converge. If our consignment program driven by our CV application sounds like a program that would complement your company’s surplus remarketing needs, contact us to discuss how we can help.

September 5, 2012

The Importance of IDEA-ICE-3000 Certification

Did you know that Converge is one of the top three independent distributors that have more IDEA-ICE-3000 certified component inspectors than anyone else? We currently have 59 certified inspectors on staff. Most distributors have between one and six. 

Why does Converge have so many certified inspectors? There are a few reasons: our large size, our multiple locations around the globe, and, above all, our strong commitment to ensuring quality in every order we process. Every Converge inspector is required to undergo IDEA-ICE-3000 certification upon being hired. 

Tony Tillman, a Converge distribution specialist since 1999, was one of the first inspectors to go through the certification process when the program was first introduced. He highlights that the rigorous steps required for certification are meant to identify inspectors who have a higher level of training and experience in the electronic components industry. 

“Getting certified is a multi-part process,” Tillman recalls. “First you take a pretest about standard information such as electrostatic discharge protocols and moisture sensitivity levels for electronic components. Then you undergo training for both receiving and shipping inspections. Then there is a 100-plus question test.” He points to a foot-high stack of manuals that people use to study for the exam. “You have to know all the industry reference standards, manufacturer labels, inspection protocols … it’s pretty intense. It really requires a combination of book knowledge and real-world electronics experience.” 

Tillman is one of many who believe the IDEA-ICE-3000 certification has changed the independent distribution industry for the better. “The fact that our inspectors are all certified is a big selling point for Converge customers,” he says. “They know exactly what the certification stands for. Back when I started, each company just had its own quality process standards for electronic component inspection, so customers had to take their word that inspectors were well trained.” 

“It’s also a matter of personal pride for the inspectors,” he adds. “Along with the engineers, we are equally responsible for making sure there are no discrepancies with these very expensive shipments. We are professionals following a scientific process. The certification says that we’re not just guessing about this … we know what we’re doing. And we’re certified by an independent agency.” 

Once Converge inspectors are certified, they continue regular training to stay up to date with new industry standards and updates in counterfeit detection techniques. In addition, each inspector’s certification must be renewed through retesting every two years. To see the latest number of IDEA-ICE-3000 certified professional inspectors at IDEA-member companies, you can visit the IDEA website.

August 8, 2012

Protecting Moisture-Sensitive Devices, Part II

In the last post on the Converge blog, we covered the IPC/JEDEC J-STD-020B standard definitions of moisture sensitivity levels (MSLs) and why protecting moisture-sensitive electronic devices is important. In this post, we will explain how Converge does that for our customers.

In our electronic component inspection process, Converge strictly adheres to the IPC/JEDEC J-STD-033B standard, which provides manufacturers and distributors with standardized methods for handling, packing, shipping and using moisture-sensitive devices (MSDs). This standard outlines procedures for avoiding moisture absorption that can result in delamination, cracking, or other types of damage when exposed to high temperatures. Component baking is an important part of those preventive measures.

When an order of MSDs arrives at Converge, our IDEA-ICE-3000-certified inspectors examine the shipping packages and components for any kind of discrepancy – including previous moisture damage. Ideally, MSDs should arrive in a vacuum-sealed bag along with desiccant to absorb traces of moisture and a humidity indicator card (HIC). An HIC features three vertical color spots that are sensitive to relative humidity values. The card changes color (typically from blue to pink) when the indicated relative humidity is exceeded. This tells inspectors that the parts need to be baked to “reset” their ambient room conditions exposure clock before they are shipped.

When indicated, Converge follows the baking procedures recommended by J-STD-033B. Our inspectors determine the length of baking time required for devices based on their MSL and package thickness. The parts are baked in our in-house calibrated ovens for the specified time and dry-packed immediately upon removal in a moisture-barrier antistatic bag, along with a new HIC and the appropriate amount of desiccant. In addition, Converge often bakes parts that arrive with blue (dry) HIC cards. Due to their heightened sensitivity, components rated at MSL 5 and 6 are baked regardless. Even MSL 3 and 4 parts with dry HIC cards will be baked if requested by the customer. And perhaps most important, every step is carefully documented for customer review.

No manufacturer can afford to take chances on parts that may or may not be completely dry. Does your distributor follow the IPC/JEDEC J-STD-033B standard? Be sure to ask before you get burned. 

July 25, 2012

Protecting Moisture-Sensitive Devices, Part I

It goes without saying that water and electronic components do not mix. But even the absorption of the tiniest bit of moisture from the air can damage delicate surface mount devices and other electronic components enclosed with plastic compounds (moisture-sensitive devices, or MSDs). Often, this damage is invisible to the naked eye – which could result in substandard parts being used in production, then causing major problems for a manufacturer (and/or end users) down the road. This is why Converge closely monitors and addresses the moisture sensitivity level of every MSD order that comes through our warehouse as part of our 76-point quality inspection

The problem with moisture absorption and retention inside a component is that the trapped moisture becomes steam when the device is subjected to sudden high temperature, such as during reflow soldering. This applies tremendous internal stresses to the package, which can result in separation (delamination) of the plastic from the die or lead-frame, wire bond damage, die damage, and internal cracks. In severe cases, cracks will extend to the component surface or the component can even bulge and pop. This is known as the “popcorn” effect. When a component cracks or buckles after it has been mounted to a board, it destroys the entire board. Thus, one small part can put an entire production line down, resulting in thousands or even millions of dollars in damage. 

Two industry standards help electronics manufacturers and distributors tackle the challenges of moisture sensitivity: IPC/JEDEC J-STD-020B and IPC/JEDEC J-STD-033B. The IPC/JEDEC J-STD-020B standard defines the classification level of nonhermetic solid state surface mount devices that are sensitive to moisture-induced stress. Generally, the smaller and thinner the package, the more quickly that moisture can reach the most critical areas of the component. The chart below shows the eight sensitivity levels of MSDs, with 6 being the most sensitive: 

The “floor life” is the length of time at each level an MSD can be exposed to ambient room conditions (approximately 30°C/60%RH) before being mounted and reflowed. This presents an added challenge to independent distributors, who often process orders that are no longer in original factory packaging. 

When an MSD order arrives at Converge, the packages must be opened so that components can be properly inspected for any kind of discrepancy. But as soon as the packages are unsealed, the exposure clock starts ticking. Converge inspectors use the MSL chart as a guide to determine how to properly protect components before shipping them to our customers. To find out more about how we do that, including our in-house baking process, read "Protecting Moisture -Sensitive Devices Part II of this series now.

July 11, 2012

What Is IDEA-QMS-9090?

Later this year, the Independent Distributors of Electronics Association (IDEA) plans to formally introduce IDEA-QMS-9090. This new standard is the first of its kind, establishing a quality management system specifically for independent distributors. Converge’s goal is to be among the first independent distributors audited and certified to IDEA-QMS-9090. 

Back in 2011, Converge Quality Manager Dwight Gerardi blogged about how IDEA has changed the electronic components industry. When the association was formed in 2003, it put together the first reference manual of industry best practices and recommendations for inspecting and testing electronic components in the independent market. Prior to that, it was up to each independent distributor to ensure parts met customer requirements based on its current knowledge and experiences. Thus, IDEA helped independents capitalize on a universal truth: collectively we are smarter and stronger. 

Converge has been an IDEA member for years, which our customers value. They know that independent distributors that are accepted into IDEA membership have met a long list of requirements, including ISO 9001 and ANSI/ESD S20.20 certification. ISO 9001 is the internationally recognized generic standard for the quality management of business operations. ESD certification shows that a company has an electrostatic discharge control system in place. 

IDEA-QMS-9090 is not meant to replace these valuable certifications but rather to build upon them. Companies that want to attain 9090 certification must already be certified to ISO 9001 or equivalent. The new certification adds intensive requirements that will help independent distributors align to industry best practices in areas such as component inspection procedures and vendor management. As the standard states, "The objective of this commercial Standard is to establish specific requirements and practices Independent Distributors of electronic components can use to help ensure that they satisfy their customers’ requirements.” Conversely, manufacturer customers of the independent market will be able to more easily identify distributors that meet their exacting quality standards by looking for the 9090 certification. It’s an improvement on both sides of the equation.

June 27, 2012

Independence Day: A Time to Celebrate Independents

On July 4th, Independence Day in the United States, Americans will celebrate their 237th year of independence as a nation. At Converge, we think this aptly named holiday could double as an occasion to celebrate independents … as in independent electronic component distributors. Why celebrate independents? Because the electronic components industry could not survive without them. 

There will always be a need for independent distributors. OEMs and contract manufacturers will always face shortages that could potentially halt production lines. There will always be obsolete electronic components and end-of-life parts that franchise distributors can’t help them procure. And they will always have excess inventory that needs to be remarketed. Without trustworthy independent distribution partners to help them navigate these commonplace supply chain issues, manufacturers would stand to lose significant time and money. This fact has long been known to almost anyone who buys or sells components, but only recently has it started to be acknowledged in the media. 

We have also started to see more articles and industry blog posts that focus on quality process improvements within the independent distribution industry. The Converge blog has long addressed topics such as the value of IDEA standards, strict vendor management policies, and advanced counterfeit detection capabilities. We even produced a video about our 76-point testing and inspection process last fall. But we are delighted to see more widespread recognition of the fact that the independent space has become very quality driven. Every major independent distributor wants to protect the supply chain – and our customers – from counterfeit and substandard parts. 

The industry is also recognizing that an “independent distributor” is not just a “broker.” In March 2011, Converge ran a blog post titled “Broker vs. Independent Distributor: What’s the Difference?” More than a year later, online searches on this topic continue to make it one of our most popular posts. This tells us that component buyers and sellers now realize that there are differences that make one more trustworthy than the other. What are those distinctions? In addition to robust quality programs and high industry standards, our original list included the facts that most independents offer a global footprint, market intelligence, and reliability. We invite you to take a look and let us know if you would add anything to that list. 

This Independence Day, we are proud to celebrate independents and the vital role we play in the electronic components industry. For Converge, it has taken three decades of dedication to build the commodity expertise, vast global network, and stringent quality processes that now make us a respected player in the game. We will continue to build on our quality and service offerings to maintain that respect for decades to come.

June 12, 2012

How to Handle the Rise of Counterfeit Components

If you work in the electronic components industry, you can’t avoid the headlines. Lately it seems as though every news outlet and industry blog is writing about counterfeit components. And for the most part, they all have the same message to deliver: counterfeiting is on the rise. Here are a couple of recent story examples:

  • On May 21st, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee released a report on a yearlong investigation into counterfeit parts. The 70-plus-page document revealed that the SASC found approximately 1,800 cases of suspect counterfeit parts that had made their way into the Department of Defense’s supply chain. That translates into more than one million individual suspect parts bound for use in critical military systems.
  • In early May, market research firm IHS released a report stating that the number of counterfeit parts reported in the electronics supply chain reached a record high of 1,363 for 2011. Additionally, IHS predicted that figure to soar even higher in 2012, particularly surrounding counterfeit semiconductors.
These are concerning facts for any component buyer to read. At Converge, we are concerned about the rising counterfeit numbers as well. But we are also concerned about the advice that we read in some of these well-intentioned articles – namely, that the best way to protect your company from counterfeit incidents is to only source parts directly from suppliers or franchise distributors.

In a perfect world, that would be great advice. But the truth is, that is simply not always possible. Independents like Converge exist to help fill the gaps when suppliers or franchise distributors can’t meet current demands. Independents are a necessary part of the electronics supply chain. So really, the advice shouldn’t be to avoid non-franchised distributors, but instead to be selective about which independent distribution partner your company chooses to work with.

While counterfeit components are on the rise, so is the level of quality within the independent distribution market. Industry associations such as IDEA and ERAI continue to raise standards and disseminate better information about known quality issues and high-risk parts. The largest independents continue to invest in state-of-the-art testing and inspection equipment, as well as in teams of highly trained inspectors and component engineers. At Converge, every order must go through a robust 76-point quality inspection before it is shipped to a customer. If our engineers uncover even the smallest discrepancy, they can immediately utilize in-house advanced testing techniques such as X-ray and decapsulation for further verification. These processes – like our resolve to keep substandard and counterfeit parts out of the supply chain – have been in place for years. And our resulting record on counterfeit detection is stellar.

So how should your company handle these headlines about the rise of counterfeit components? Do your homework before choosing a distribution partner – whether franchised or independent – and make sure that it has robust quality processes and testing capabilities in place. Visit its facility to be sure. Don’t take anyone’s word for it.

The rising counterfeit problem is not because of the independent distribution industry as a whole; rather, it is made possible by the willingness of any manufacturer or contractor to source parts from any unvetted distributor.

May 31, 2012

Dynamic Memory Serves Commodity Manager Well

Want to gain a better understanding of the memory market? Then Paul Zecher is your man.

Zecher is the memory commodity manager for Converge – a position he has held since flash memory components erupted into the consumer electronics industry in the nineties. “Around 1995, I started to follow the cellular market,” Zecher recalls. “Remember that basic gray cell phone we all used to have? They were just starting to mass produce those at a price that was affordable, and I noticed there was a specific type of memory called NOR flash that went inside them. No one else was paying particular attention to flash, so I decided to focus on this new component and become an expert on it.” Flash memory quickly became an essential part of the technology landscape.

As Zecher explains, tracking NOR trends soon led him to closely follow other types of memory, like NAND flash and DRAM (dynamic random access memory). So when Converge decided to create a memory commodity manager position, it only made sense for Zecher to lead the way. Many years later, his obsessive knowledge continues to make him an invaluable resource to Converge buyers and sellers, as well as their customers.

“The memory market is difficult to follow,” says Zecher. “At least one type of memory goes into almost everything – PCs, notebooks, tablets, phones, digital cameras, printers, TVs, DVRs – you name it. That makes it the most volatile of all the commodity markets. With memory, the market could go up and down five times in a week.”

So when the market changes dramatically, and OEM or CM customers suddenly find themselves with a shortage or surplus of memory, they know that their best chance of getting the problem resolved quickly is by working with an independent distributor with market intelligence and commodity experts at the helm. “You can’t predict the DRAM market, just like nobody can predict the stock market six months from now,” says Zecher. “So my job is really just to stay on top of developments in the market and help buyers and sellers get what they need when they need it.”

It helps that Zecher has a dynamic memory of his own. Not only does he remember and recognize most memory part numbers instantly, but he also leads a team that strives to know every product and company using those parts around the world. “If a customer needs something that’s gone on allocation, we know who might have extra. When another customer needs to unload some excess, we know who might be interested in buying. That’s the kind of information manufacturers just don’t have access to, because it’s not what they do.”

While Zecher says it’s impossible to predict the future of the memory market, he can easily reflect on how much it has changed in the past 15 years. “DRAM modules are the sticks that go inside computers and notebooks, and DRAM chips can be used in just about anything. That used to be our primary type of memory, hands down. But in the last few years, we have started selling an equal amount of NAND flash, which is what goes inside most of your wireless devices. So the market has completely changed, and the one thing I can predict is that it will continue to change.”

At the end of the day, who do you want helping your company navigate changes in the memory market? The broker that has to look up DRAM part numbers or the independent distributor that has a veteran commodity manager with global insights and a dynamic memory?

May 16, 2012

Converge Security Backed by TAPA Certification

Consumers wouldn’t want to put their money in a bank if they weren’t sure that the money would be properly secured. In the same way, no company wants its valuable electronic component assets stored in a facility that is not adequately protected from theft or tampering.

Converge has long been committed to providing state-of-the-art security to protect all electronic assets within our 83,000-square-foot facility in Peabody, Massachusetts. In March, that facility received TAPA (Transported Asset Protection Association) certification for Freight Security Requirements through a third-party audit. TAPA certification has become a worldwide benchmark for security handling guidelines and practices to prevent cargo crime. The Freight Security Requirements set minimum standards for security and industry best practices for facilities that store and handle HVTT (high-value, theft-targeted) assets.

TAPA-certified companies must pass a stringent independent facility audit to ensure compliance with numerous requirements surrounding monitoring systems, access control, employee background checks, intruder security devices, and other areas of concern in warehouses and distribution centers.

Increasingly, manufacturers and suppliers of electronic components are looking for TAPA certification when vetting supply chain distribution partners. Whether the assets are passing through the Converge testing and inspection facility after purchase or being stored on consignment in our warehouse, our customers want assurance that we have the controls in place to keep their high-value assets safe. We understand why. At Converge, we are proud of our new TAPA certification and believe it serves as a testimony to our high security standards and our commitment to our clients’ needs.

May 2, 2012

The ABCs of CPU Testing and Inspection

Before your company buys CPUs through an independent distributor, what kind of inspection capabilities should you check for to ensure that quality can be completely verified? 

Converge CPU commodity manager Matt Bergeron says that beyond doing the typical visual inspection, the best distributors will offer additional in-depth testing services. In fact, the industry veteran says there are three key capabilities buyers should look for. We’ll call them the ABCs of CPU testing and inspection:
  • Authenticity Tool – Does the distributor use a processor identification tool to verify the authenticity of all incoming CPUs? This tool will verify that the CPU type, family, model, stepping, revision, and frequency are consistent with the manufacturer’s specifications, and it will also verify that the CPU is not an engineering sample – all of which are impossible to tell from a visual inspection alone. 
  • Barcode Scanning – Does the distributor use a 2D data matrix barcode scanner? This enables inspectors to quickly capture the serial numbers of each CPU and verify that there are no discrepancies or duplicates.
  • Controlled Environment – Is the distributor ANSI ESD S20.20 certified? This verifies the implementation and maintenance of an electrostatic discharge (ESD) control program to protect ESD-sensitive electronic parts. CPUs can be unintentionally damaged by static electricity if handlers are not properly protected. At Converge, inspectors wear grounded wrist straps and ESD-control foot straps and work on ESD-protective floors and workstations. CPUs are securely packaged in ESD-protective JEDEC trays. Would you want your order being handled with any less control? 
It sounds like simple advice, but not all independent distributors follow the ABC rules. Some manufacturers have learned that the hard way.

Converge, on the other hand, carefully follows the ABCs of CPU testing and inspection – and has an unsurpassed quality track record to show for it. “Our CPU customers typically buy from Converge again and again,” says Bergeron. “And I think the top reasons are the security and peace of mind that our testing and inspection program gives them.”

April 18, 2012

An Inside Look at Electronics Commodity Management

When technology manufacturers and service providers need to procure hard-to-find electronic components or recover value from excess electronics components inventory, they often work with an independent distributor like Converge. In addition to these solutions, some independents also offer a valuable resource that few other sources can provide: in-depth market intelligence. 

Converge has a team of dedicated global commodity managers who are solely focused on knowing everything about their specific electronic parts procurement commodities – who makes the parts, who uses the parts, what they’re selling for, and how those price points are affected by world events. This knowledge makes them an invaluable resource to buyers and sellers. 

To offer more insight on what makes a commodity expert, this post is structured in a question-and-answer format with Mike Gately, director of commodity management at Converge.

Q. First of all, do all independent electronic component distributors have commodity managers?

A. Most of the larger independent electronics distributors have some form of commodity management. At Converge, we divide our commodity management team into major commodity categories – such as memory, CPUs, ICs, LCDs, and storage – with each having an assigned manager in all three global regions. Of course, we have buyers and sellers who specialize in non-commodity electronic products as well. Franchised distributors also have commodity managers. They might refer to them by different titles, such as product managers or product specialists.

Q. What makes someone a commodity “expert”?

A. You have to know products, and you have to fully understand the market of the commodity that you’re managing. Understanding the market includes pricing, availability, demand, liquidity, and so on. And the commodity manager has to constantly watch what’s happening in the global marketplace. They have to be able to spot trends, know when supply is tightening, and recognize when demand is ramping up or slowing down.

Q. How do you become a commodity expert?

A. Do you take a class and study to become a commodity expert? No. Most of the commodity experts at Converge advanced into the role through years of experience in the electronic components industry. Everyone takes different paths – some as buyers, some as sellers, and some as both. I was initially hired in sales and then moved quickly into a position in purchasing. I also held key roles as group leader, purchasing manager, and commodity manager before becoming director. All members of the team have worked in different roles where we became accustomed to a certain product or commodity type we were buying or selling, and we dedicated ourselves to learning the intricacies of that market. Like anything else, the more experience and insight you have, the more of an “expert” you become.

Q. Do most of Converge’s customers have commodity managers of their own?

A. OEMs and CMs have some form of a commodity manager. However, their focus can be limited more to the parts they use, their internal demand, and what their suppliers are telling them about the marketplace. Converge commodity managers have a broader scope of market knowledge because we are looking out into the global marketplace 24-7-365 and managing components that many different customers are using or selling.

Q. So why is it beneficial for OEMs and CMs to work with an independent distributor that has commodity experts?

A. Because we look at the market from a different perspective than they do and therefore can offer our customers a wider view of what’s going on in the world that could affect supply and demand. Companies can really benefit from our market intelligence, especially in exception-based scenarios. They can use our expertise when they need to know what their inventory is worth, what’s marketable, what’s liquid, and what needs to be scrapped – no matter which commodity they’re dealing with. They can also trust that finding parts from a reliable source during a shortage electronics issue is part of our unique selling proposition. And when customers need to remarket excess electronic components, they know that our commodity experts have the insight and connections to identify a buyer.

Q. What is the most satisfying aspect of your job as commodity director?

A. Putting a deal together that fulfills the needs of both the supplier and the buyer. At the end of the day, we’re a service-based company, so if our team can help customers alleviate supply chain problems on both ends of a transaction, that’s a good feeling and a win-win for everyone. 

Mike Gately
Director of Commodity Management

April 4, 2012

New Converge Podcast: Quality Assurance in the Independent Market

How can you be sure that you are getting true assurance of quality when procuring electronic components in the independent market? That’s the topic of a new podcast available on the Converge website. Counterfeit prevention is a hot topic that everyone in the electronic components industry is talking about. In a Q&A session highlighting some of the most commonly asked questions, Converge supply chain expert Scot Hennessey addresses issues such as these: 
  • What has led to the rising concern about counterfeit components? 
  • What is the real risk from substandard parts in the independent market? 
  • What steps does Converge take to provide quality assurance for its customers? 
  • What should manufacturers look for in an independent electronics distributor they can trust? 
Managing a supply chain is a challenging job. Not only are you responsible for keeping production lines moving, but you are also responsible for protecting your brand reputation. To learn more about keeping substandard parts out of the electronics supply chain, listen to “Quality Assurance in the Independent Market."

March 21, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: Decapsulation

For the past month, I have been blogging about advanced testing methods for electronic components, discussing XRF analysis and X-ray imaging. The last advanced testing process I will explain in this series is decapsulation. 

At Converge, we have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to substandard components, and we have invested in numerous advanced testing capabilities to help ensure the safety of our supply chain. If any discrepancy raises a red flag during our 76-point inspection – from suspicious markings to inaccurate measurements – our engineers can use these advanced methods to further investigate the authenticity of the components in-house at no additional cost to our customers. Both XRF analysis and X-ray imaging are nondestructive processes. Decapsulation, on the other hand, is used as a last resort. 

Decapsulation is a destructive testing process used to properly expose the die of an integrated circuit for full visual inspection and further verification. Integrated circuits, or ICs, are complex, high-density parts that are often encased in a plastic or resin compound known as a mold. Molded ICs can be difficult to verify for authenticity, since the die is no longer accessible. 

Converge uses a jet etcher to decapsulate sample ICs from a questionable lot when more answers are needed to properly identify the materials. This intricate machine carefully uses nitric and sulfuric acid to remove the outer layers of the mold. Once completed, the process exposes what is underneath – bond pads, bond wires, die markings (manufacturer logos, ID numbers, die revisions, etc.), and lead frame interconnects. 

Photos: A decapsulated IC package is examined under a high-power microscope. The average IC is just a few millimeters in diameter, and the die inside looks like a mere speck to the naked eye. With this technique, engineers are able to authenticate details that would be impossible to verify with only a visual inspection.   

Following decapsulation of the IC, a Converge engineer examines each part with a high-power microscope. By comparing the microscopic images with the original purchase orders, the manufacturer’s data sheets, and/or the internal structure of golden samples with the same date and lot codes, trained engineers can detect minute discrepancies that would otherwise be impossible to see. If a substandard part is identified, it is immediately pulled from the supply chain. This makes decapsulation an important, if not critical, part of any quality-driven distributor’s counterfeit-prevention program.

The advanced testing equipment that Converge has in-house makes decapsulation relatively quick and efficient. It enables our trained engineers to leave no stone left unturned when verifying IC authenticity, providing an extra level of quality assurance to our customers at no extra cost. Many independent distributors do not offer this service. Others outsource decapsulation to a third-party testing service, which increases the cost for the customer. 

Yes, purchasing decapsulation machines for in-house use and hiring the engineers who use them have required a significant capital investment on Converge’s part. But we believe it is worth every penny. Our customers shouldn’t have to pay extra to ensure that the electronic components they are ordering are actually what they are purported to be. Converge believes that quality assurance should always be part of the original package – not an added feature. Would you agree?

If you missed Part I-XRF Analysis and Part II-X-ray Imaging of our Advanced Component Testing Series, you can read them now. 

March 7, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: X-ray Imaging

In my last post, I wrote about XRF analysis in the first of a three-part series on advanced component testing capabilities. Converge offers each of these capabilities in-house as an added quality assurance measure for our customers. If any discrepancy raises a red flag during our initial 76-point electronic component inspection – from suspicious markings to inaccurate measurements – our in-house certified engineers use advanced testing methods to further investigate the authenticity of the components. One of those testing methods is X-ray imaging. 

Everyone is familiar with X-ray technology. It is very likely that you have or someone in your family has needed at least one medical X-ray at some point. Even young children can understand how the advanced imaging that X-rays provide is beneficial to physicians. 

X-ray imaging for electronic components works in the same way. There are smaller high-resolution X-ray machines that are uniquely designed to look inside components (e.g., ICs, capacitors, diodes, resistors and hybrids) to help detect flaws that aren’t obvious through exterior examination. In addition, X-ray imaging is able to provide this internal view without destroying the parts. 

By comparing a component’s X-ray image with the manufacturer’s data sheet, or the internal structure of a known-good sample with the same date and lot code, Converge engineers can detect substandard or counterfeit components that might otherwise go unnoticed. X-ray imaging can reveal differences in die size, die frame, wire bond patterns, and internal lead characteristics. It can identify shorts or bridges, detect cracks in the epoxy, and recognize tampering attempts. This makes X-ray imaging an important part of any quality-driven electronics distributor’s counterfeit-prevention program. 

These side-by-side X-ray images show integrated circuits in discrepant condition. While the lead frame and die pad is the same for both parts, the size of the die is different. This is suspect for parts within the same date or lot code. It would not be suspect for different date codes if there was documentation of a die redesign.

However, X-ray equipment is also very expensive and requires expertise to operate. Therefore, many smaller independent electronics distributors do not offer this testing capability. It requires a significant capital investment that many are not able – or perhaps willing – to make. In some instances, other distributors outsource their X-ray testing at significant added cost to their customers. 

Converge is proud to offer, at no additional cost, in-house X-ray inspection whenever extra verification is needed, as an added level of protection for our customers. It helps us ensure the authenticity of every order that passes through our warehouse and maintain the integrity of our supply chain. More important, it helps us provide peace of mind to every company we serve. 

If you missed Part I - XRF Analysis or Part III - Decapsulation of our Advanced Component Testing blog series, you can read them now.

February 22, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: XRF Analysis

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have written a number of blog posts to help educate our OEM and CEM customers about our in-depth quality assurance process. We even produced a video that takes viewers inside one of our inspection facilities. Now I’d like to take a deeper dive into some of the advanced component testing capabilities that Converge is able to perform in-house – specifically, what are these techniques and why are they needed? This three-part series will cover XRF analysis, X-ray testing, and decapsulation.

What Is XRF Analysis?

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis is primarily used to verify Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) compliance. This European Union 2003 directive, designed to reduce toxic e-waste, restricts the use of six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic components equipment: Lead (Pb); Mercury (Hg); Cadmium (Cd); Hexavelent Chromium (Cr6+); Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB); and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE). The maximum permitted concentrations are measured in parts-per-million (ppm) by weight of homogeneous material.

A handheld XRF “gun,” or analyzer, uses X-ray fluorescence to determine the elemental breakdown of a scanned component’s lead material. The analyzer offers material concentration results within seconds, along with a pass/fail result that indicates whether or not the component is RoHS compliant. Everything that can be identified as a homogeneous material must be below the concentration limit of 0.1% (except for Cadmium which is limited to 0.01%). In other words, if one material part of a product exceeds the maximum permitted concentrations, the entire product would fail the requirements of the directive.

This information is essential to global electronics manufacturers who need to ensure that their products meet RoHS requirements. Outside the European Union, other countries and states are developing similar hazardous substance regulations, so proving compliance that meets the strictest global regulations is becoming more critical than ever. No manufacturer wants to be held accountable if a component used in a marketed product later turns out to be noncompliant.

Alternatively, some manufacturers need leaded parts for military or aerospace builds. XRF analysis can likewise verify that the parts are indeed leaded and meet the customer’s requirements.

In either case, Converge engineers can compare our XRF analysis results to the manufacturer’s specifications (when available) or to a known good device. When the elemental breakdown doesn’t match, that’s a red flag. When combined with other advanced testing methods, XRF analysis provides an extra layer of protection in our mission to keep substandard components out of the supply chain.

As an independent electronics distributor, Converge specializes in procuring hard-to-find and obsolete electronic components for customers who desperately need to buy obsolete parts. While we carefully screen all our vendors, this is one more reason that Converge believes XRF analysis is an essential tool for every reputable independent distributor. Has your distributor made the XRF investment?

If you missed Part II-X-ray Imaging and Part III-Decapsulation of our Advanced Component Series, you can read them now.

February 8, 2012

Why a 76-Point Quality Inspection?

One question that we continually receive from customers is “Why does Converge have a 76-point quality electronic component inspection?” Not that they’re complaining about our obsession with quality – rather, they’re just curious about the number we proudly tout on our website and brochures.

Why 76?

When Converge originally created its robust multi-point quality assurance checklist (which is based on the industry-leading IDEA 1010 standard), we wanted to ensure that no portion of a shipment was overlooked in the inspection and verification process. Our quality team compiled the electronic component inspection criteria from the IDEA 1010 standard and then also incorporated the best-in-class requirements from our customers and their site inspection audits. Seventy-six actions were required to ensure that our criteria met or exceeded the highest quality requirements of ALL our global customers. We made all 76 steps mandatory, and the rest is history. Now every order processed by Converge must pass through one of our three global hubs and pass this inspection before it can be sent on to the customer.

Our multi-point quality assurance process has three phases: first, there is a visual inspection to verify that everything is exactly the way the original order says it should be, from the packaging, weight, and order numbers to the physical condition and markings of the materials. Orders that pass the first phase go on to a more in-depth inspection by a certified engineer. Here our engineers perform microscopic inspections on a large sampling of components from each order, as well as marking permanency tests, moisture level checks, and x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis.

Escalation points have been developed that require the use of additional advanced in-house testing methods, such as x-ray and decapsulation, when additional verification is required for questionable parts. Every step of the process is carefully documented and recorded, including numerous photographs, in order to protect both Converge and our customers.

Only after successfully completing the first two phases are parts released for shipping. This is the third and final phase: the order is inspected one last time before being packaged, photographed, weighed, and proper shipping labels are verified. Any failure within this process will result in the order being rejected, after which a discrepancy alert process is initiated and followed.

We’re not saying that 76 is a “magic number” when it comes to electronic component inspections. We’re continually working to improve our processes, and one day Converge may be talking about our 100-point quality inspection. But to date, this scrutiny and attention to detail is keeping our customers’ supply chains clear of suspect electronic parts procurement and their operations running smoothly.

So perhaps the question shouldn’t be why does Converge have a 76-point quality electronic component inspection, but rather…why doesn’t everyone else?

January 25, 2012

Converge 2011 Survey Respondents Seek Quality Assurance

Several months ago, Converge conducted its biennial customer satisfaction survey, which many blog readers probably received. If you were one of the hundreds of people who took the time to give us your valuable feedback, we cannot thank you enough. We view this survey as an opportunity not only to gauge (and improve) our performance level, but also to gain valuable insights about the electronic components industry from our global customers.

Converge customers are the innovators of today’s latest technology. They build electronics to fulfill every vertical need from telecommunications to consumer electronics to the industrial market – and beyond. And, of course, almost all our customers work with larger franchises and authorized distributors on a primary basis. But there are times when those normal supply channels become disrupted and a trusted independent distributor becomes the best option for sourcing the parts needed in time to keep production lines moving.

Alternatively, when the market slows and companies find themselves saddled with surplus inventory, they need a remarketing partner that can help them recover value while allowing them to remain focused on their core competencies. So we were not surprised to learn that the No. 1 reason that 2 out of 3 of our 2011 survey respondents say they come to Converge is for shortage solutions, followed by surplus remarketing and then market intelligence.

Keeping these results in mind, we did find it particularly telling that when asked to rank the most important service Converge offers, more than 30 percent chose “quality inspections” and nearly the same percentage chose “onsite anti-counterfeit equipment.”

When more than 60 percent of survey respondents say they come to Converge primarily for sourcing shortage materials, it is little wonder that the same percentage places the highest importance on our robust quality inspection program and our advanced on-site component testing services. Yes, our customers need parts that can be found only on the independent market, but in this day and age, they also know the risks involved in working with “any broker” to procure them. And many of them have decided that working with a distributor that doesn’t have in-depth electronic component inspection capabilities is not a chance they are willing to take.

Our survey respondents also told us that order accuracy and on-time delivery are highly important to them. We thought so. And we’re proud that more than 95 percent of them believe that Converge is meeting or surpassing their expectations when it comes to getting quality parts to them in time to meet their deadlines.

At Converge, we really love what we do – thanks, in no small part, to all of our innovative customers. Converge is proud to be your quality-driven partner for sourcing and remarketing quality electronic products in the independent market. When you need to buy obsolete electronics parts, think of us. We look forward to serving you even better in 2012.