Everything in our lives is becoming more connected, smarter, and processing more data. Today, your smartphone or smartwatch can connect to appliances in your home, your car, your computer, and even your grandfather’s hearing aids.
The same type of connectivity is poised to reach the factory floor thanks to the IPC-CFX standards. These standards define data structure and communication protocol requirements for traditional and additive manufacturing assets in connected factories. Ultimately, these assets will drive greater integration of factories into a connected system and will facilitate the inclusion of additive manufacturing systems as part of traditional manufacturing processes.
Robotic manufacturing equipment in smart factories will be controllable directly from a handheld mobile device.
PCB Design File Transfer Standards Under IPC-2581
The goal of standardizing design data for use when planning PCB fabrication formed the motivation for developing the Gerber file format in the 1980s, which became the de facto industry standard. PCB manufacturing equipment is software-driven, but many manufacturing assets and manufacturers themselves require converting Gerber files into their proprietary file formats. Although Gerbers are the standard design format, they are not a standard file format for controlling a fabrication process.
This motivated the development of an industry standard that defines a universal design file format that can be used to develop instructions for manufacturing equipment and subsequent assembly. Originally released in 2004, IPC-2581 defines standards for printed circuit board assembly and manufacturing data. The PCB design data format defined in IPC-2581 helps streamline the manufacturing process and eliminate miscommunication between designers and manufacturers. Currently, the IPC-2581 format is incorporated in ODB++ and is used throughout the PCB manufacturing industry.
Additive manufacturing systems designed for 3D printing of planar and non-planar electronics should interface with this file format to broaden their applicability to a larger base of designers and engineers. The best additive manufacturing systems will be compatible with a CAD program like SolidWorks that can generate additive manufacturing instructions directly from your 3D CAD files or your Gerber files for your board.
IPC-CFX: Connected Factory Exchange Standards
Compared to IPC-2581, the IPC-CFX standards do not address PCB design file formats specifically. Instead, IPC-CFX defines data exchange requirements that enable smart factories. These standards will filter down to the file and data formats used at the PCB design level, as these data formats inevitably form the basis for manufacturing instructions in smart factories. Specifically, IPC-CFX defines three critical elements required for a true plug-and-play standard within Industry 4.0:
- The first is a messaging protocol. A messaging protocol allows each manufacturing asset to communicate using the same communication method, similar to WiFi or Bluetooth for mobile/IoT devices. This enables manufacturing assets, sensor networks, and other equipment on the factory floor to communicate using a consistent data format, essentially transforming factories into a network of IoT devices. Specifically, IPC-CFX specifies that connected manufacturing assets communicate using the advanced message queueing protocol (AMQP) v1.0.
- The third and final critical element defined in IPC-CFX is a content creation standard. This relates directly to the second element in that it defines how messages between factory assets must be structured and which data must be contained within JSON messages. This provides a structured data format by which traditional and additive manufacturing assets can communicate with each other on the factory floor.
IPC-CFX is designed to connect manufacturing assets and additive manufacturing systems throughout a factory.
The structured messaging system specified under IPC-CFX will enable greater use of big data techniques for analyzing the performance of manufacturing assets, predicting maintenance, a whole host of other tasks. Currently, many manufacturing assets and sensor networks operate with different protocols and data structures. When this data is aggregated, the result is a large, unstructured data set that can be difficult to analyze without data cleaning techniques. IPC-CFX enforces a consistent structure, which expedites and simplifies the analysis of factory data.
These standards help level the playing field for electronics manufacturers and provide greater connectivity between manufacturing assets. It enables connectivity between traditional and additive manufacturing systems, further easing the transition to Industry 4.0 and enabling greater implementation of lights out manufacturing. The goal is to create a plug-and-play environment for connected factories, where new assets can be quickly brought into a factory and integrated into an overall manufacturing process.
How Nano Dimension Is Leading Standards Development
With the number of additive manufacturing systems, processes, available materials continuing to expand, we expect more standards concerning digital manufacturing for electronics, file format, and data exchange requirements for PCBs, and standards for additive manufacturing based-factories to be released over time. Nano Dimension is taking a lead role in this area and is passionate about enabling designers and engineers to create the best new technology.
As a leader in the additive manufacturing space, Nano Dimension is involved in the D-66a 3D Printed Electronics Processes Task Group. This task group is charged with developing IPC-7991, the Process Guideline for 3D-Printed Electronics. This document will provide best practices related to 3D-printed electronics and “will cover items such as equipment, design considerations, substrate requirements, printing materials, printing parameters, and testing for 3D-printed electronics.”
If you’re considering complementing your existing manufacturing assets with additive manufacturing processes, you should work with a company that is knowledgeable about IPC standards for 3D-printed electronics and connected factories, including IPC-CFX. The DragonFly LDM Lights-Out Manufacturing System from Nano Dimension offers unique capabilities for rapid prototyping and complete fabrication of planar and non-planar electronics. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about DragonFly LDM.