Tribal Knowledge and Design Data Formats

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After more than six decades in the specialty chemical, electronic interconnect, and electronic packaging industries, I remain puzzled by the resistance to change. Not even higher costs, poorer quality, or impending failure appears sufficient to motivate many to act, even for their own betterment.

One may ask why I am writing about change today. We have seen dramatic changes in our lifetime. A half-century ago, Alvin Toffler reminded us of the inevitably of change in his classic book, Future Shock.

I recently began to investigate “tribal knowledge” in PCB and PCBA operations. My goal was to determine whether anything of value would be lost if it were not recorded or preserved for future industry technologists. In the face of modern material science and industry standards, the descriptive title “tribal knowledge” suggests that one must determine what is fact, what is fiction, and what may just be plain embellishment, coincidence, or even magic. In many cases, tribal knowledge seems to be composed of memories of problems solved due to trial and error, coupled with observations of resulting causes and effects.

During my search for more information, I read the August 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine that focused on DFM from the perspective of the fabricator. Several of the articles discussed the challenges involved in DFM and design data transfer. What seemed to leap off the pages was that much of today’s design and data transfer utilizes a 60-plus-year-old format named Gerber. 

I remember visiting Gerber Systems Corp. (no longer in existence) in Connecticut many years ago. The system is now supported with continuing developments by an entirely different entity. This system does not capture and retain data as the modern intelligent systems do. Important DFM notes are not retained or transferred by Gerber. These notes are lost with the passing of those who have solved manufacturability issues. This important (tribal) knowledge may or may not have been recorded.

That brought back memories of my time as a student technician at MIT Lincoln Labs in the mid-1950s. Designers would lay out a pattern on a large sheet of plastic. We would then apply black tape to the pattern, trimming with an X-Acto knife when needed. This was then placed into a large vacuum frame, photographed with a large Brown camera on a track, and photo-reduced tenfold to produce the artwork (negatives) used to image our circuit patterns with KPR (Kodak photoresist). In 1957, my supervisor, E.A. (Al) Guditz addressed this tortuous procedure and created what I firmly believe was the predecessor of today’s imaging systems. He converted a programmable-head milling machine to directly write, in a “dark room,” a pattern onto Kodak film using a xenon point light source collimated through a hypodermic needle to expose the film.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the October 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.


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