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I am brand new to EE/ECE. My understanding is that, with distributors, you do pay a premium on the parts you order from them, but bundled with that premium is some kind of protection against counterfeit/non-functional parts. Whereas, with the manufacturers, you get what you pay for, and sometimes that means counterfeit or only semi-functional parts.

As a noob, this piques my interest in several ways:

  • What types of testing/QC do distributors do for you? Do distributors offer refunds or "we're sorry!"-type programs/services when they sell you bad parts, that manufacturers typically don't offer?
  • Are there any online consumer reports comparing/contrasting reviews for distributors and manufacturers? Sure would be nice to get 3rd party testimonials before I start working with a manufacturer/distributor...
  • What sort of recourse does one have if parts are found to be counterfeit or only semi-functional after some initial assembly/integration with other parts has already taken place?
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    \$\begingroup\$ The best way to avoid that is to check on the official manufacturers's site the official distributors. Therefore, these distributors only buy from the manufacturers and are certified so you can trust their products. \$\endgroup\$ – MathieuL Jul 7 '15 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Buy only from franchised distributors and reliable manufacturers. Counterfeit approval markings (for example) are possible even when purchasing direct from a manufacturer. They may take the attitude that you ordered their standard part with UL markings on it (for example), or that "will (might) meet" UL rather than one that actually has inspections and testing and a full pedigree. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany Jul 7 '15 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @SpehroPefhany (+1) - can you please elaborate a bit more on two items: (1) what do you mean by "franchised" distributors? And (2) What do you mean by "counterfeit approval markings"? Thanks again! \$\endgroup\$ – smeeb Jul 7 '15 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Franchised distributors are authorized by the manufacturer and the parts are warranted. See this for example. Counterfeit approval markings are markings and logos such as VDE, CE, UL, CSA that used without proper authorization. The company may not be authorized to use them at all or they may not be authorized to use them on that particular product. CE ("Can't Enforce") is so abused in Asia it's practically worthless. Fake approvals can be a huge safety (and thus liability) issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany Jul 7 '15 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ this type of fraud is a big problem for the manufacturers as well as customers; the IC mfgr where I work has info about this on our website. Always check the manufacturer's website for legitimate distributors. \$\endgroup\$ – MarkU Jul 7 '15 at 20:29
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My experience is not exactly what you describe, distributors are there to deal with the small to medium customers that the factory does not want to directly service. For instance TI doesn't care much if you want to buy 1000 MSP430 chips, but digi-key might, or maybe even Arrow. So unless your volumes are large, or the factory is small you will not be buying direct from the factory, that choice has already been made for you :) If you were able to buy parts direct from the factory I would not expect a problem with counterfeit goods, just as I would not expect one from say an Arrow, Avnet, Future, Digi, Mouser, etc. Those are examples of large and franchised, or authorized distributors for various components. (I'm using factory the way buyers and distributors use it to mean the manufacturer such as a TI, or Samtec for example).

Someone may know otherwise but I've never had a distributor test parts for me, although I have had them program and test things like flash or MCUs. I suppose if I complained they would be able to charge me for such a service but I don't think that is routine. It's the factory's job to test their components before they ship them. As such if you have an issue the disti will point you back to the factory for such things. If you are a good customer, and you're angry, they may take the parts back directly and work it out with the factory themselves, but probably not.

I've never seen any online reports about distributors, they may exist. I tend to stick to people I know and I've worked with in the past such as the names I mention above. That said there are lots of smaller distributors around the world, and my only word of advice is if you suddenly find yourself getting a great deal compared to the other quotes you've received perhaps it's too good to be true :) Another thing is I prefer to try to foster a good relationship with the distributors I do use.

For the last question I'll break it in two. If you bought parts from a franchised or authorized distributor, and they turned out to be fake, that disti would have a lot of explaining to do. In that case I would expect and demand a full refund, and might even demand compensation for damages if it was serious enough. If you got them from another source, say a broker, an unlicensed distributor, another CM or god forbid ebay. You're pretty much screwed.

One of the things I've noticed lately is that large CMs are selling parts they're buying at a volume discount out the back door through various brokers or agents. In fact there seem to be whole companies that have sprung up just to support this. I personally think that's a dangerous game to play if you're worried about quality and genuine product, but it does seem to be popular.

Now what if they don't work or half work after you've assembled them? Assuming you have bought authentic parts from an authorized disti or the factory then the factory should engage you to help do failure analysis. Now your mileage with this will vary depending on how good of a customer you are, and as a small guy you may spend some time talking to the disti's support team to make sure it really is a failed part. Once it's done most people will engage you because it's in their best interest to catch and understand any field failure.

A few notes on that process, one it takes forever, you may be better off analyzing it yourself at a lab and sending them results and samples of the failure. Two there can be a lot of finger pointing, the CM says it's the factory, the factory says it's the CM, or they both say it's your design or spec. So you have to stay on it to find the answer, and of course be open to the possibility that it is in fact your fault. Finally the level of support you get here will vary based on what factory/manufacturer you are dealing with, your relationship and volumes with them, and indeed the region you are in. So while I have seen for example linear tech jump at every problem I've ever uncovered and sent their way, I would hardly expect that kind of service for the $0.10 regulator I'm buying from an overseas off-brand.

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Larger distributors such as Digi-Key, Mouser, Arrow and Avnet will offer several certifications that authorizes legitimate distribution of Manufacturers goods. Typically, these certifications can be located on the homepage of the distributors website.

Some "No Name" distributors try to fool customers by providing certifications that appeal to the eye; however, are limited to the counterfeit prone countries (China and India are most notorious.)

When in doubt, always go to the larger franchised distributors (they typically have everything anyways.) Below is Digi-Keys Authorization. Visit their website to see more thorough descriptions. enter image description here

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