Automation and connected “smart” factory is the new manufacturing trend. Industry 4.0 and IoT is on its way into PCB manufacturing! However, if we continue down the same path with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers, and unintelligent production files, human interpretations are still crucial to avoid mistakes.

CircuitData might solve this because having one language for automated smart factories IS the future!

With the IConnect007 article from the grand opening of Unimicron fresh in mind, I had the pleasure to visit the factory 21st June under the EIPC 50th anniversary. I have seen virtually hundreds of PCB factories, but this was the first time to see a rue Smart-PCB factory. To understand more, I suggest reading Pete and Michaels article from April 30th. (1) I shall not dwell more here, but the visit showed me how far we have come today if we use all the tools available. And, it reminds me of the missing links that disable a true digital chain of information needed to utilize systems available in Smart Factories like the new Unimicron facility in Germany, and Whelen Engineerings GreenSource Fabrication in the USA.

Automating the PCB production
Most processes in a PCB factory can today be automated and Smart factory monitored.
Continued innovation is accelerating the Industry 4.0 transformation of the PCB factory. We strive to analyze and share time production data to be able to understand and act immediately. (2)
When I visit and audit PCB factories these days, I see a growing trend even with more traditional factories to have connected equipment, such as online and real-time monitoring of processes, remote production, and maintenance alarms.

Observing this, it is a puzzle to me that we still feed these factories with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers, and unintelligent production files.
Experts in the industry still claim a fab drawing that is printed out on A3 is vital to understand customers requirements. Corporate requirements, even the measurable parts are given in an analog way into an increasingly digital environment.
We can read in almost every issue of PCB007 and similar publications how Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing is growing and changing the production environment.

Garbage in – Garbage out
The missing link, however, is how we transfer and communicate fabrication data between the Product Owner and the PCB factory. To avoid ambiguous specifications, we need a common language to communicate the specification, using the same terms in all bits of the transmission chain.

CircuitData (3) is today the only language available to communicate in a digital way a complete and accurate specification, with all measurable corporate requirements and standards such as IPC6011 series, included.
We also need an intelligent way of presenting the production data.  IPC-2581 (4) is one of the systems that communicate with sufficient intelligence the electronic design into the digital environment of the Smart PCB factory.

With tools like CircuitData and IPC-2581, we can secure the correct description and sufficient file intelligence, enable a full digital transfer of the data to give full value of the Smart PCB Factory. Without these tools, we retype specifications and accepts human errors just like we did decades ago. Using a less intelligent transfer methodology than IPC-2581 we accept incomplete information.
Garbage in – Garbage out! A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

Data for the future Smart PCB factory requires the same digital quality from transfer between the PCB designer and the Smart PCB factory. Nothing less is acceptable.
Automated Manufacturing, requires Digital Specifications.

This blog post was first published in our column The PCB Norsemen in PCB Magazine:

1.Pete Starkey/Michael Weinholdt, Unimicron Germany Rises from the Asches with new Smart Factory, PCB007 30 April 2018
2.Shavi Spins: The evolution of Industry 4.0, through the eyes of the PCB manufacturer, Evaluation Engineering 22. July 2017


CircuitData is an open source language for communication of PCB Article Specifications, Corporate requirement Profiles, Engineering Change Notes, and Engineering Questions. It consists of a computer-readable file with tools to easily link with your existing software. The file can be updated real-time from design, through OEM, EMS and a Broker to the PCB factory. One file handling it all – no missing information, nor misinterpretations.

IPC-2581 is a generic standard for printed circuit board and assembly manufacturing description data and transfer methodology. Developed in 2004 by IPC, IPC-2581 is used for transmitting information between a printed circuit board designer and a manufacturing or assembly facility. For nearly every step in the industrial process flow, IPC-2581 offers a standard to help companies ensure superior manufacturability, quality, reliability and consistency in electronics assemblies built for their products.