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The techniques used for moving printed board design data to manufacturing have many shortcomings, but the industry has never settled on a single approach for transferring data. Over the past couple of years, IPC and the IPC-2581 Consortium have teamed up in a concerted effort to change that.
With help from the consortium, IPC recently released IPC-2581B, Generic Requirements for Printed Board Assembly Products Manufacturing Description Data and Transfer Methodology. It was completed in a short 12-month timeframe. That quick cycle underscores the high level of interest that brought together companies from throughout the supply chain.
“This is the first time so many contributors and partners came together for one document,” said Hemant Shah, product marketing manager at Cadence Design Systems. “The result is an innovative way to collaborate between design engineers and their fabrication partners using stack-up exchange before the design is created. The standard provides a complete data set for combining a complete design and its fabrication intent together in one file.”
Input from OEMs that are in the consortium highlights demand from end users.
“Right now, for assembly, I have to rely on a proprietary format that I’d love to retire,” said Gary Carter, manager of CAD engineering at Fujitsu Network Communications. “I prefer to go with a standard instead of having my team develop a solution or work with a proprietary format that’s old and requires a lot of attention.”
Now that the standard has been released, the focus shifts to moving it into production. As with many standards, there’s always concern about adoption. Since previous attempts to standardize this application have been disappointing, there’s already a significant effort to make sure IPC-2581B sees adoption.
“Manufacturers require a lot of validation,” Shah said. “Most system houses in the consortium are all doing tests with their partners. One of the reasons we created the consortium was that validation needs to happen in steps. OEMs need to work with their partners. Validation of a new standard is a slow process, but one good thing is that the consortium members all know that.”
OEM partners throughout the supply chain are doing their part. Many tool providers have already started making the specification an integral part of their software.
“The CAD tool providers are creating tools that provide the output and the CAM providers are creating tools for the next level,” said Ed Acheson, product engineer with Cadence Design Systems. “For this effort to succeed, tool providers have to offer compatible product and customers have to say that IPC-2851 is a format that they want.”
There’s a concerted effort to make sure the standard starts strong and builds momentum. Consortium members also note that this document has many positive traits that will drive acceptance.
“It takes gumption to be the first to move to a new format, just like it did when people moved from Gerber to ODB,” Carter said. “With the new capabilities of IPC-2581, people will see that it’s easy to use. There are many benefits, for example, to use it for collaboration. Features added in IPC-2581B make it possible to collaborate with our bare board fabricators to determine the material stackup to meet our design requirements and constraints.”
Though standards are widely accepted in most electronic fields, the broad design tool field has not had good success creating and promoting standardization. That’s why the consortium was founded in 2011. “The industry needed a consortium,” Shah said. “For this to succeed, we needed to have a commitment from many companies. Then, all these companies need to interpret the standard correctly so everything will be compatible. The consortium is the best way to make this happen.”