The Top PCB Specification Options for Manufacturing

May 31, 2019 , in Blog

I have always been intrigued by courtroom drama. It is refreshing to watch attorneys like Perry Mason and Matlock who not only successfully defend their clients against false charges but also discover the actual perpetrators. Probably, the most important lesson to be gleaned from these shows is that it is almost impossible to reach the correct verdict without knowing both sides of the story. This truism is not just limited to the courtroom but should be applied to all other endeavors, as well.

PCB specification of components and traces

This connection between full disclosure and an accurate result certainly applies to PCB design and board manufacture. Regardless of your choice for fabrication and assembly services, the ability to build your boards hinges on the accuracy and completeness of your design file package. Now, there are many formats that can be used to convey your design data and information to your CM; so how do you know which one to use? Before trying to answer that question, let’s take a look at the PCB specification options that are available.

PCB Specification Options

For much of the recent history of PCB design and manufacturing, Gerber files have been the most used PCB specification format for circuit board designs. This popularity has endured as Gerber files have evolved and continues today. In spite of this, there continues to be a rise in the number of alternatives to Gerbers with advantageous attributes, such as a single file structure instead of the many files required for Gerber file usage. These alternatives and Gerbers can be classified as one of the types below.

PCB Specification Types

Today, there are many PCB design file formats available. Some of these were developed for convenience and others to improve upon the transfer process from designer to CM. All of these can be included in one of the PCB specification types below.

  • Generic

This type includes formats that are intended to be generic and open to utilization by any PCB designer or CM. These include Gerber files by Ucamco, ODB++ by Mentor Graphics, and IPC-2581.

  • Design transfer format

This is probably the largest group of alternatives as most PCB design software programs have a preferred design transfer format; although, it may also possible to export your design in one or more of the generic types. These *.brd files by Cadence Allegro, *.brd by Autodesk Eagle and *.brd by KiCad.

The formats listed above are not exhaustive; however, they are representative of the most used PCB specification options.

What are the Top PCB Specification Options for Manufacturing?

If you or your organization is vested into a particular PCB design software package and the program is able to export your design in the format preference of your CM, then one of the design transfer formats may be a good fit. However, to have the greatest degree of freedom in terms of PCB design software and choice of CM, one of the generic types is a better choice. The top design file formats for this PCB specification are compared below.

PCB SPECIFICATION OPTION COMPARISON

Attributes

GerberODB++

IPC-2581

Single file structure

NOYES

YES

Exportable by any software

YESNO

NO

Importable by any software

YESNO

NO

Accepted by any CM

YESYES

NO

Includes component placement specifications

NOYES

YES

Includes BOM info

NOYES

YES

Open format

YESNO

YES

As shown in the table above, Gerber files have the advantage of being open and available for use by all designers and CMs. This, coupled with the long history of utilization, have thus far proven to be formidable buffers against replacement by ODB++ or IPC-2581, although both of these have distinct functionality advantages.

Tempo‘s Custom PCB Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than 1 day.
  • Performs entire turnkey process in as fast as 3 days.
  • Emphasizes DFM to eliminate time-consuming back-and-forth design corrections.
  • Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.
  • Provides support throughout the PCB manufacturing process, beginning with design.
  • Smooth transition from prototyping to production.

When deciding which design file format to use, there are a number of options to consider. These include ensuring that the design package is accurate, comprehensive, and usable by your CM. At Tempo Automation, we are able to use all of the top PCB specification options; however, for maximal accuracy, completeness, and openness, we recommend the IPC-2581 format. Regardless of your choice of format, we are committed to delivering your boards with the shortest turnaround time and highest quality.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on PCB specification or the options available for your design, contact us.

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