Dana on Data: Time for a Data Format Revolution

“Especially in technology, we need revolutionary change, not incremental change.” —Larry Page

What interesting events happened in the 1950s?

  • “I Love Lucy” premiered on CBS (in black and white)
  • Gas was $0.27 per gallon
  • I was born (sorry, I couldn’t resist)
  • The computer modem was developed
  • Gerber data format was created

Starting in the 1950s, the Gerber data format, complemented with several paper and electronic files, was used to transfer the physical PCB data from designers to fabricators and assemblers. RS-274-D and RS-274X gave us incremental improvements to the Gerber format, but still required several additional files to transfer all the data. IPC-D-356 was released in 1992 to provide a data transfer quality check. The 274X format with associated file, are still the most predominant data transfer package in use today, 70+ years later. Hard to believe from the highest technology industry on the planet.

The 1990s and 2000s brought us the ODB++ and IPC-2581 intelligent data formats which dramatically improved the intelligence of the graphical data, reduced transfer errors, and eliminated many additional documents.

The 3D printing and Additive Manufactured Electronics Revolution is Among Us
The industry is in the midst of a revolutionary design and manufacturing change utilizing 3D printing additive manufactured electronics (AME) based technologies. There are many techniques which are tailored to specific applications.

AME-based PCB designs and layouts are not restricted to route traces in the X and Y axes and drill/laser holes to rout in the Z-axis. A trace can now connect through the z-axis without holes. The trace can be the traditional trapezoidal shape, round, a twisted pair, or coaxial. We now have non-planar surfaces and can place or form components on all six sides of a cube. Printed conductive elements can protrude above the traditional flat surface.

Blind vias are currently required to connect into the middle of a BGA pad for the z-axis connection. AME technology just prints the conductive ink into the bottom of the pad without any holes as the structure is built-up.

Material isn’t required to be removed to create the finished board (e.g., panel borders, back drilling, routing). Material is only added where it is required. Traditional layout routing thinks in terms of the number of copper layers with the goal of minimizing layers to reduce cost. 3D or AME technologies have hundreds of layers (called slices) available within the same thickness.

Components are being created inside the board. Discrete capacitors, inductors, and RF components are being created without requiring vias. Placed embedded components will become more common place. Traditional ECAD systems cannot create these 3D shaped components, so designers must create them in a MCAD system and merge the ECAD and MCAD data at the machine.

Now we must contend with mechanical CAD and 2D electrical CAD data along with all the associated e-paper drawings and files that we currently require. We’re going in the wrong direction.

The IC industry transfers design data with a very high accuracy due to the substantial cost and time penalty for making mistakes. The manufacturing companies, design companies, design tools, and CAM tools diligently worked together to create this seamless transfer.

It’s Time for a Data Transfer Revolution
Let’s think out-of-the-box now for the PCB industry. Let’s merge the electrical and mechanical data into one intelligent file. There are very accurate and standardized MCAD file formats, such is STL, SLC, STEP, etc. There is a very robust industry standard intelligent electronics data format, IPC-2581. A proposal was recently made to the IPC-2581 consortium1 to consider merging the MCAD data within IPC-2581 to create a new intelligent revision for this board technology. We need OEMs, MCAD/ECAD companies, manufacturers, and equipment suppliers to support this effort and push back on using Gerber-based data. It will provide a format that will reduce cycle times and improve quality/cost.

Vertically integrated companies may develop proprietary formats optimized for their technology. That is good as competition breeds novel improvements.

The PE/AME industry is ramping up to high volumes over the next few years. There is a staggering amount of innovation occurring. This is an opportune time for the PCB industry to move from multiple data formats to a single high-quality format to support 3D AME technologies. Developing an integrated data format should significantly improve the data transfer quality. Let’s not continue to use a 70-year-old format with this new generation of interconnect.

I loved watching “I Love Lucy” in black and white, but I much more enjoy watching streaming videos on my PC and phone in color. Let the revolution begin.

References

  1. IPC- 2581 Consortium, ipc2581.com.

Dana Korf is the principal consultant at Korf Consultancy LLC.

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2022

Dana on Data: Time for a Data Format Revolution

07-28-2022

Starting in the 1950s, the Gerber data format, complemented with several paper and electronic files, was used to transfer the physical PCB data from designers to fabricators and assemblers. RS-274-D and RS-274X gave us incremental improvements to the Gerber format, but still required several additional files to transfer all the data. IPC-D-356 was released in 1992 to provide a data transfer quality check. The 274X format with associated file, are still the most predominant data transfer package in use today, 70+ years later. Hard to believe from the highest technology industry on the planet.

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Dana on Data: DFM Issue Reduction—Company-specific PCB Acceptance Specifications

05-26-2022

PCB data packages commonly generate fabricator DFM feedback questions that require resolution. Resolving these issues delays the manufacturing cycle time until the issues are resolved. There are many methods and techniques to reduce the DFM issues, such as working with the fabricator to review proposed stackup materials and impedance structures early in the design cycle. Another common method is to generate a company specific acceptance specification that provides requirements that are not covered in referenced IPC specifications and include negotiated DFM issue resolutions.

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Dana on Data: Is the Customer Always Right?

03-03-2022

Is the customer always right when it comes to customer PCB design data? Fabricators would be taking the design data and building the supplied data verbatim if this was true. The fabricator would only need to compensate conductors to account for etching processes and map finished hole sizes to drill sizes.

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2021

Dana on Data: Understanding Mechanical Drill Size Capability and Cost

09-29-2021

Fabricator capabilities are generally initially provided on a one-page summary as part of the general marketing presentation. The technical values that are presented provide the “check mark” information so the potential customer can determine if the fabricators capability is greater than the design requirements. Often, this is the only method used for design rule knowledge transfer.

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Dana on Data: The Critical Importance of the Fab Product Engineer

07-29-2021

Billions of dollars are spent yearly on CAD and CAM software to produce complex PCB designs and fabricate PCBs. The final technical manufacturing decisions generally are made by one person for each design. This is the PCB fabricator product engineer. But I don’t think most design, procurement, or NPI teams understand how critical this person is to the data transfer success and liability protection.

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Dana on Data: Effective Front-end Engineering External KPIs

05-13-2021

PCB fabricator front-end engineering departments are always under great pressure to be kept small, generate production tooling instantaneously from customer data and never, ever, make a mistake. Key performance indicators (KPI’s) emphasis internal process improvements and are generally simple in nature, such as jobs/person/day and scrap dollars/month.

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Dana on Data: Factory 4.0 NPI Compatible Industry Specification Format

03-11-2021

IPC APEX EXPO’s emphasis on the Connected Factory Initiative based on CFX and IPC-2581 is underway in a virtual mode this month. One area that has not been addressed is the automation of industry technical specifications from organizations like IPC, ASTM, UL, IEC, etc.

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Dana on Data: Factory 4.0 NPI Data Transfer Improvements

01-14-2021

The recently released IPC Connected Factory Initiative scope is similar to other Factory 4.0 models with the same glaring omission: They all seems to assume that the incoming design data can’t be used as-is and must be reviewed and potentially manually modified prior to manufacturing release.

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2020

Dana on Data: Reducing PCB Specification Interpretation Issues

11-12-2020

The PCB industry has accepted a low-quality level of provided documentation from its customers for the past several decades. In this column, Dana Korf reviews one common fabrication print note and asks, “How do you interpret this note?”

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Dana on Data: A Team Method to Reduce Fabricator Engineering Questions

09-03-2020

Hundreds of PCB designs are released to be quoted or fabricated every day around the world, and most will have engineering questions or technical queries generated once the data package has been received and analyzed. Dana Korf outlines seven fundamental steps based on Lean/Six Sigma concepts to reduce data transfer issues.

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Dana on Data: How Can the PCB Industry Improve From COVID-19 Responses?

07-16-2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world transformed a very slow medical approval process into the equivalent of a concurrent NPI process by challenging some of the golden rules. Dana Korf shares his thoughts on four areas the PCB industry can re-evaluate and improve.

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Dana on Data: The Importance of PCB Technology Roadmaps

05-14-2020

Peter Drucker once said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Dana Korf explains how it is critical that PCB fabricator technology roadmaps and capacity planning align with their customers’ product development and volume requirements to ensure that optimum cost, reliability, and performance goals are achieved.

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Dana on Data: Automating DFX Transfer and Analysis Using IPC-2581C

03-19-2020

We are inching closer to a world where a complete intelligent PCB data transfer is realized. The IPC 2-16 Digital Product Model Exchange (DPMX) Subcommittee has just sent revision C out for IPC-2581 Consortium review with final industry approval targeted for this June. Dana Korf discusses the significant additions and their impact.

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Dana on Data: Creating IP-protected PCB Design Rules

01-09-2020

One of the primary reasons that data packages aren’t compatible is the fabricator/assembler does not provide a complete set of design rules out of concern of giving away their intellectual property (IP). Dana Korf explores the design rule development hierarchy as well as what should be included in an IP-protected design rule document.

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2019

Dana on Data: The DFM/Data Transfer Process Is Broken

11-14-2019

In a world that is showing great strides toward implementing a Factory 4.0 world, why can’t a design be passed from a designer to the fabricator without errors every time? Dana Korf emphasizes moving the responsibility up in the food chain, examines key design package error categories, and proposes creating a cultural change.

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New Column—Dana on Data: IPC-2581 Intelligent Bi-directional Data Flow

09-12-2019

The IPC Consortium is nearing completion of transferring notes on drawings and working with IPC on converting key IPC specifications into attributes that can be automatically loaded into CAD and CAM systems. This format is extendable to created automated company-specific acceptance files that can be automatically loaded into the CEM’s or fabricator’s engineering systems. IPC-2581 data format is being widely used globally and now needs to become the standard to reduce NPI cycle times by associating critical design information automatically to the physical features.

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