independence matters

Independence Matters: Why IPC-2581 is Worth Supporting

If you’ve been following the blogosphere and online news over the past few months, you might have noticed that an unlikely subject – PCB electronic data transfer formats – is getting special attention.

Interest has grown in IPC-2581 (a neutral format for PCB manufacturing data) since a consortium of software vendors, customers and manufacturers formed to promote the format.  The IPC-2581 Consortium’s goal is to accelerate the adoption of IPC-2581 as an open, neutrally maintained global standard.

Do we need another format?

I guess that depends on how you look at it. For decades, Gerber formats RS-274-D and RS-274X have been the most common. But these formats couldn’t handle the whole manufacturing, assembly and test process. This led to additional data formats to fill the gaps. That has worked after a fashion, but supporting multiple formats and maintaining consistency between them has proven to be tricky (at best). Since the mid-1990s, ODB++, offered by Valor Computerized Systems, has served to fill this gap and was even released into the public domain for a time, but later removed.

The acquisition of Valor by Mentor Graphics has raised a concern with vendors, customers and manufacturers alike. The history of our industry has shown that once a single vendor gains control of a product or format (such as ODB++), they exercise that control in ways that limit the availability of the product or format to their own customers. Products once widely supported by multiple vendors became the sole domain of their new owner.

Why should you care?

Few steps in development of a PCB product are as mission critical as the manufacturing process – and everyone has to do it. As someone once said, “It ain’t real until you build it”. The best design in the world isn’t useful to anyone until it becomes a manufactured product.

Our position is that an open, independently maintained standard offers the greatest benefit to the widest audience. We all need an independent format that is widely supported and accepted throughout the industry. The IPC-2581 standard and the IPC-2581 Consortium are well positioned to do just that.

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