Last year the PCB West conference held a lively panel discussion about data transfer formats for PCB design and manufacturing. Most panelists and many audience members were enthusiastic about IPC-2581, a vendor-neutral, "intelligent" format that can potentially replace many of the various formats in use today. At this year's PCB West September 26, 2012, two representatives of the IPC-2581 Consortium updated the progress that's been made towards this emerging standard.
Here's some quick background. The venerable Gerber format can transfer image data to manufacturing, but it can't transfer stackup data, materials information, design intent, or netlists. Therefore, PCB designers typically ship multiple files in multiple formats to fabrication and assembly houses. One attempt to create a more inclusive, intelligent format was ODB++, but since the 2010 acquisition of Valor Computerized Systems by Mentor Graphics, that format has been owned by Mentor. Thus, there's a renewed push behind IPC-2581, which was originally released in 2004, as a PCB CAD vendor-neutral format.