Dana on Data: An IPC APEX EXPO 2023 Data Transfer Mission

January: Time to leave home and travel to sunny San Diego to attend the meetings, professional trainings, technical sessions, and exhibition at IPC APEX EXPO 2023. I hear that this year promises an excellent turnout for both the large exhibit floor and IPC committee meetings; maybe Tom Cruise will give us a fly-over from the Miramar Top Gun airbase?

For myself, I have a full agenda and new tennis shoes, so my feet won’t wear out as soon as they did last year. (Thanks to one of my committee team members for the shoe recommendation.)

This yearly conference is an excellent chance to learn how to streamline your design and NPI manufacturing process by familiarizing yourself with the newest technology trends and networking with folks from many companies and countries. Learning that you aren’t the only one with problems is vital in this industry; many people and companies actually face the same issues. Over 40 years of attending IPC meetings has immensely upgraded both my knowledge and my trusty contact list.

PCB data transfer is not generally a hot topic. You won’t see large LED signs advertising how well products seamlessly transfer data bi-directionally, but if you peel the onion back, you may be surprised to discover that substantial progress has been made on this topic over the years.

Below are a few suggestions on how you can improve your knowledge of seamless data transfer and emphasize its importance to suppliers at the show. Preparing yourself to have these conversations can help you justify the trip to your company.

Technical Committee Meetings
Get involved in developing and reviewing standards. You will be surprised how easy it is to influence a new technical standard or a new revision just by participating in these meetings and making your voice heard. If you have a request, speak up; there are likely other people in the room who want to raise the same issue or make the same recommendation. Don’t be shy about speaking up in these meetings. Every specification requirement or section starts with one person making an initial suggestion.

Here are my top three recommendations for standards committees to check out:

  • Committee 2-16 (DPMX) IPC-2581 Data Format: Bring in suggestions for new features to enhance the 100% full electronic data exchange for fabrication, PCB assembly, and test. We will be voting on improvements to the impedance section and voting on the proposal to add 3D AME (Additively Manufactured Electronics) mechanical data into the schema in a future revision.
  • Committee 2-12A Digital Twin Task Group: There will be a discussion about the W3C standard and data transfer improvements being used predominately by the PCB assembly industry. This is an important standard for Factory 4.0 initiatives. If the industry adopts the digital twin concept it could revolutionize bi-directional knowledge transfer between designers and manufacturing.
  • Committee 1-14 DFX Standards: This committee is important because it encompasses the entire design process. The Standards Committee strives to integrate many of the IPC standards and design guidelines into a comprehensive approach that reduces the tedious and expensive NPI cycles that currently impact the timeline for releasing designs to manufacturing.

CAD and CAM Software Suppliers
I encourage you to visit as many ECAD, MCAD, and CAM software suppliers at the conference as you can to investigate what’s new with these products. Software suppliers rely on user suggestions and requirements for new products and enhancements, so new features are more likely if customers make a point of pushing for them.

Please visit the many excellent smaller suppliers exhibiting this year, too. Their tools can enhance the Tier 1 suppliers’ solutions. When chatting with suppliers, be sure to emphasize that we all need to have error-free design transfer.

If you are a designer, visit the fabricator or assembly CAM software suppliers to understand how their software works. If you are a fabricator, visit the PCB CAD suppliers to learn about all the data output options and design DFM/clean-up methods currently available.

When you find a supplier you like, remember to support them by buying their products.

Hallway and Luncheon Networking
IPC meetings have always been an excellent opportunity to talk with industry peers. Networking exposes you to different and innovative ideas on how to improve your process. These meetings are also an opportunity to bring awareness to the need for data transfer improvements; by sharing the issues you care about, you could potentially help the industry create more innovative solutions.

We can finish the data transfer quality journey by working together. Over the last couple of years, we have been forced to work in a massively distributed global environment. This year’s IPC APEX EXPO is a great opportunity to meet and interface with real people instead of images in a web meeting. So much more can be accomplished in person, and hopefully, we can avoid the rain this year, too.

If you happen to see me at the conference, stop me and say hi—I’ll be the older person with a grey beard (of course, that narrows it down to about 20% of the attendees). I am passionate about discussing data transfer and data quality. I’m always interested in new ideas and the innovative ways companies are improving quality and performance.

Have a good show and enjoy San Diego.

Dana Korf is the principal consultant at Korf Consultancy LLC.



Dana on Data: An IPC APEX EXPO 2023 Data Transfer Mission


January: Time to leave home and travel to sunny San Diego to attend the meetings, professional trainings, technical sessions, and exhibition at IPC APEX EXPO 2023. I hear that this year promises an excellent turnout for both the large exhibit floor and IPC committee meetings; maybe Tom Cruise will give us a fly-over from the Miramar Top Gun airbase? For myself, I have a full agenda and new tennis shoes, so my feet won’t wear out as soon as they did last year.

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Dana on Data: PCB Data Transfer Non-evolution


The PCB industry still sends scanned copies of paper documents, which I have termed “ePaper,” back and forth to each other; this process requires humans to interpret the information on the electronic copy of a document before manually entering it into a computer. As many as 90% or more of all design data packages sent to manufacturing are still Gerber file-based with additional ePaper files. So much for the concept of continuous improvement.

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Dana on Data: My Holiday Season Data Wishlist


Every year children often start creating their holiday gift list before Halloween. So, I thought that it would be a great idea to provide my holiday present request list to the PCB industry this month. My fundamental wish is simple: I wish to make it easier for designers to output designs and for PCB fabricator front-engineering teams to spend less time reviewing data so they may release production tooling into their factories faster. Secondarily, these requests should reduce the NPI cycle time and cost by reducing the insidious back and forth DFM review Technical Query (TQ) cycle. Here is my gift wish list.

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Dana on Data: Time for a Data Format Revolution


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


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?


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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Dana on Data: Understanding Mechanical Drill Size Capability and Cost


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


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


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


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


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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Dana on Data: Reducing PCB Specification Interpretation Issues


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


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?


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


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


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


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


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


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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