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Drexel Student Protects the US Military From Counterfeit Electronics

Posted by Liz Czerpak on Feb 19, 2015 11:01:46 AM

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How I Got Here

During October of my senior year at Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, PA, I was looking for a job. I went to my business teacher about an ad she mentioned about a part-time position filing papers at a local investment firm. She asked me about my qualifications so she could inform the company. As a student also at Central Montco Technical High School in Plymouth Meeting PA, I was a part of the half-day Culinary Arts program. There, I was a part of an organization called SkillsUSA. SkillsUSA is a student leadership and skills organization for career and technical education. I told her all about my experiences - climbing the ranks as a school-wide officer to state treasurer to my current position as the National SkillsUSA Region 1 Vice President (June 2013 – June 2014). I was one of 15 young individuals elected by my peers to represent the over 350,000 members of SkillsUSA across the US and its territories.

She told me that I was allowed to go on the interview at the investment firm – but she had a bigger plan in mind. She had a relationship with a local company that was offering very qualified students the opportunity to apply into their internship program. The company had recently been named by INC Magazine as the 63rd fastest growing private company in the state of Pennsylvania for 2013. The position available at Secure Components was for a sales support position. She explained that this firm was very specific in their requirements and would only accept the most sincere and qualified students. She explained that the company supported the Department of Defense, NASA and aerospace and defense companies. I was intrigued and after going on both interviews and getting both jobs offered, Secure Components was an easy decision for me to make. The goal oriented, fast paced environment that basically acts as a 911 service for supplying much needed parts to the US military is a lot more intriguing than filing folders in a warehouse of cubicles. Little did I know, this would be so much more than just a job.

Once I Was Here

So that October of 2013, I stepped into a small office building in Norristown, PA for my first day on “the job” and I must admit I was a bit intimidated. I remember being told that I was the only employee the company had ever hired after only one interview — I was not quite sure at the time if that was a good thing or not. I knew for sure that this would be a huge challenge and if I could do well, it would certainly help me in other areas of my life. After indoctrination to the company, I began with entering part numbers of specific components that we had sourced and supplied to the military and other contractors; components that were not available through their normal supply chain but were needed urgently. Often times, these parts are entered onto our Secure Components procurement blog and this was now part of my duty. I filed away sales order folders of parts I have never even heard of nor imagined I could understand. For the first few weeks I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Mainly, because I couldn't understand what anybody was really talking about! There were so many acronyms being used that I had yet to understand – DLA, DOD, OEM, QTSL, ITAR, ESD, RFQ, ARO, FOB, NSN. Not to mention international standards like the SAE AS6081 counterfeit avoidance standard, along with the SAE AS9120, and ISO 9001 standards. At first it seemed very foreign to me; what did it all really mean?

But soon, I got all the acronyms down and felt like I could speak the language. My eyes were opened to this fascinating world of all that goes into being an AS6081 Certified Distributor for critically needed parts that, in many cases, would leave our building and soon be on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq or sometimes even outer space. Secure Components was unlike any business I had ever encountered. The team I am now a part of here is amazing. Every person has a role that is in some way a part of the entire process that ensures we meet our customers’ obligations and the requirements of the standards to which we are certified. All this, while at the same time achieving the company’s goals.

It took me a few weeks to really understand what being an “independent distributor” of obsolete and electronic parts really meant. The term distributor is so common that it was difficult at first to see how we differ from those distributors who only sold parts they manufactured or had sitting on their shelves. Our business is really sourcing support; each customer request involves so many different aspects to properly provide a quote to our customer. We must be resourceful, meticulous, and very diligent with every step – then add actually selling those parts to the military and it takes it to an entire new level!  All the while knowing that when we get the call, the proper channel has failed and it’s likely that soldiers on the battlefield are waiting on us to get them the parts they need.

Learning What Certifications really meant.

The certifications Secure Components abides by makes sure everything leaving our facility is of the utmost quality. At first, the standards and quality aspects were difficult to really wrap my head around. As time passed, it finally began to make sense of just how important the standards represented by these various certifications really are. Basically, these documents are the foundation of everything we do. All employees perform their jobs based on these standards and procedures. The best way to describe it to those not familiar with a Quality Management System (QMS) is that it is basically the instructions on how we run the company, in literally every single aspect. Management works with the employees to create them and then auditors come and test us to ensure we document exactly what we do and do things exactly as we documented.

 

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The standard the company is most proud of is the AS6081 standard. Secure Components is the first company in the world certified to the AS6081 Counterfeit Avoidance Standard. We are all very proud of this accomplishment as the Department of Defense Adopted this standard giving it significant credibility and validating what we are doing for our customers. Being AS6081 certified sets us apart from other independent distributors. It provides our clients with proof that we go through extensive processes designed and approved by Subject Matter Experts. It ensures that every aspect of sales, purchasing, quality, inspection and testing is done in a constant manner and within the guidelines of our approved AS6081 processes. Because we are asked by our customers to find components that are not available from the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), we are forced to go to what is called the “Open Market” and this dramatically increases our chances of receiving a counterfeit or substandard part. The point of the AS6081 standard is to ensure companies follow a process that will greatly mitigate the likelihood that a counterfeit component could be released into the supply chain.

This standard was brought about because in 2010 the US Senate Arms Services Committee did an investigation that revealed more than 1 Million Counterfeit Electronic components likely exist within the US Military’s supply chain. It also stated that the majority of these counterfeits were supplied by Independent Distributors. For this reason, we take our inspections seriously here and it impresses me every day just how much work goes into each order we ship to our customers. When I think of the word distributor it doesn’t really convey a sense of urgency. However, when you consider the responsibility that goes into what we do and the fact that someone’s life could be relying on what we accomplish each day, it starts to have an interesting impact on you.

One day I was being shown our ESD (electro-static device) room and actually was not allowed to enter the room because I tested for conducting too much static - I must’ve been dragging my feet on the carpet that day. If you walk into our ESD room conducting too much static or without the proper gear, you run the risk of destroying the electronic components we store and inspect in there. For this reason the room is always locked and each time someone enters the room it must be logged.

Why I Am Staying Here

What I love most about Secure Components and the team is that they find value in teaching. The amount I have learned while working here is so much more than I could have imagined learning anywhere else. I learned much more than just the company processes. I was able to see just how a company is run in all aspects. I think what I learned most as a young intern and that I will carry with me is how to be a dynamic and dedicated player of a team.  Experiencing the feeling of leaving the office each day with a sense of pride and accomplishment is wonderful. Knowing that I was a small part of something that made a big difference to someone has been very rewarding. I have played sports since I was 5 years old and it surprised me how there is still so much to learn about playing on a great team.

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I am also currently a full-time student at Drexel University in Philadelphia majoring in culinary science. As a culinary science student, you have a variety of paths that lie ahead of you regarding what you want to specialize in. There is product research and development, molecular gastronomy, nutrition, and one I have become increasingly interested in; food safety.

While there are counterfeit electronic components all the way from the military supply chain to your child’s learning tablet – there is also a large epidemic of counterfeit food. Everything from high end seafood to the powdered milk in your newborn baby’s formula is affected by the counterfeit crisis.

I have learned so much about the attention to detail and quality that is needed to ensure people’s safety. When it comes to military standards, it is more than meets the eye and much more than what can be explained in a blog post. The multiple standards and certifications that Secure Components holds serves to demonstrate the great amount of work and processing being applied to every piece of hardware, electronics, and whatever else enters our doors. Secure Components has taught me something very valuable for my future in culinary science before I even started my career within the field. I have learned the true meaning of quality and safety of products and all that one must go through to ensure the utmost quality – and the utmost safety of the customer.

Please comment with your thoughts, questions, or your own personal story!

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