Printed circuit boards are an essential element of many electronic devices because they improve their performance. Therefore, PCB manufacturers understand the importance of maintaining PCB quality at all stages of manufacturing. Most manufacturers follow IPC design layout standards and IPC manufacturing. These standards help them maintain PCB quality during the design, test, and inspection phases.
IPC is a trade organization that standardizes requirements for the PCB production and PCB assembly. The organization was founded in 1957 as the Printed Circuit Board Institute and the Institute for the Interconnection and Packaging of Electronic Circuits. Since 1999, the organization is now officially known as the IPC, which publishes standards for acceptability in the printed circuit board industry. These standards have been accepted worldwide. Currently, IPC has more than 4800 members. These members include companies that specialize in all aspects of PCB manufacturing, from designers to material suppliers to board manufacturers, assembly services and OEMs.
Three general classes have been established to reflect progressive increases in sophistication, functional performance requirements and testing/inspection frequency. It should be recognized that there may be an overlap of equipment categories in different classes. The user has the responsibility to specify in the contract or purchase order, the performance class required for each product and shall indicate any exceptions to specific parameters, where appropriate.
General Electronic Products — Includes consumer products and some computer and computer peripherals suitable for applications where cosmetic imperfections are not important and the major requirement is function of the completed printed board.
Dedicated Service Electronic Products — Includes communications equipment, sophisticated business machines, instruments where high performance and extended life are required and for which uninterrupted service is desired but not critical. Certain cosmetic imperfections are allowed.
High Reliability or Harsh Operating Environment Electronic Products — Includes the equipment and products where continued performance or performance on demand is critical. Equipment downtime cannot be tolerated and must function when required such as in life support items or flight control systems. Printed boards in this class are suitable for applications where high levels of assurance are required and service is essential.
Please NOTE that the final performance class for printed board assemblies (assembled, soldered, cleaned and tested) cannot be any greater than the performance class called out for the bare printed board.
That is, in order to obtain a Class 3 with the assembly printed board assembly, an IPC Class 3 recognition of the bare printed board (anything with a Class 2 or 1 with the bare printed board prevents obtaining a Class 3 with the printed board assembly) must be first obtained.
Design rules differ between these IPC performance classes, so manufacturers must take them into account when undertaking projects that fit into any of these classes. IPC6012 and IPC-A-600 are two important IPC standards for PCB manufacturing that cover PCB inspection and performance. Each PCB manufacturer must refer to or comply with them during the PCB manufacturing and assembly process.
Also known as IPC-600, this specification sets the level of acceptance criteria for each product category. The specification outlines the objectives and acceptable and unacceptable conditions for each product. These conditions may be found in internal or external observations. The specification focuses on the visual interpretation of the requirements presented in the various PCB specifications.
IPC-6012 provides a detailed overview of the performance requirements and qualifications for rigid printed circuit boards. Rigid circuit boards can be designed in a variety of ways, such as single-sided PCBs, active/passive embedded PCBs, metal core PCBs, HDI, etc. All these designs and their performance requirements are broadly classified in this standard.
Compliance with these standards will help PCB manufacturers benefit in the following ways.
Maintaining quality and consistency: As with any other industry standard, the IPC standards for PCB manufacturing are designed to improve quality for PCB manufacturers. As mentioned earlier, these standards control every stage of manufacturing. As a result, manufacturers who strictly adhere to these requirements can be assured of a quality product. By following the specifications and their requirements, manufacturers can ensure consistent quality, which will ultimately improve customer satisfaction.
Ensure seamless workflow during manufacturing and assembly: When following IPC standards for PCB manufacturing, it is important to follow specific workflows that have been streamlined and documented, which helps ensure a seamless workflow within the team.IPC standards also help ensure better communication between suppliers, vendors, customers, regulatory agencies, etc.
Build brand reputation: Most OEMs know the importance of PCBs and therefore prefer to work with PCB manufacturing and assembly service providers that follow IPC standards for PCB manufacturing. This is because these standards help minimize assembly or manufacturing-related errors and produce a quality product. This helps manufacturers build their brand reputation.
Cost reduction: Needless to say, strict adherence to the PCB manufacturing quality standards set by the IPC standards will help minimize manufacturing errors and material loss, and minimize the need for testing and inspection.