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.
A lively panel discussion Sept. 29 revealed that PCB designers have some strong opinions about the data formats that convey design intent to manufacturing. Several audience members expressed support for the Gerber data format that has been around for over 30 years. But other audience members and panelists agreed that a more intelligent and up-to-date format is needed, and that an open industry standard called IPC-2581 appears to be the best way forward.
PCBs have changed significantly over the past three decades, yet to the surprise of many, we still commonly use 30-year-old ways of communicating design intent to manufacturing. These decades’ old data-communication formats were originally conceived to drive the emerging numerically controlled machines. Adoption of these formats was further driven by the growth of computer-aided design tools in the early 1980s and the need to move from reprographic photography artwork to digital data-driven manufacturing.