Better to Light a Candle: Using Industry Standards as Another PWB Manufacturing Tool

Some people will say, "Standards are so boring!" To that, I might respond, "Well, that's kind of the point." When you're in production manufacturing, a "boring" day (i.e., everything works smoothly with no disruptions, and everybody shares clear expectations) can be a welcome relief from your usual. But what should we do with all of these standards anyway?

Standards bring everybody to the same understanding without having to re-negotiate everything with each new transaction. One book excerpt [1] states, “By using mutually accepted preexisting standards, two parties to a contract need not recreate every technical definition or requirement for every transaction, greatly facilitating commerce.” You can think of international consensus standards as the industrial equivalent of the “Babel Fish.”

Historically, standards came about to facilitate and enhance commerce. “I will buy 50 feet of your 0.5-inch rope if it holds up 200 pounds” is pretty meaningless if there’s no agreed measure of “foot,” “inch,” or “pound.” The earliest standards were based on what leaders set (i.e., the size of the king’s foot or the width of his thumb), but these only worked within that kingdom while that king lived. Once you left that kingdom, most trading time was spent establishing “goodness” and “worth” (i.e., bartering).

It doesn’t matter what the industry is; quick, efficient repetitive trade across distances mostly depends on voluntary, consensus-based standards that describe the trade goods. Standards must:

• Define the goods sufficiently so that buyers can have faith it will serve the purpose

• Be voluntarily accepted as binding by both parties (e.g., the term “voluntary” being included in contract language)

• Describe what to measure, how to measure, and (generally) what measure is acceptable to both parties

• Be useful and achievable, or they won’t be used

The Process

Today, consensus-based standards are ensured by rigidly enforced and internationally audited procedures so that input from all possible sides of a deal—as well as inputs from “knowledgeable neutrals”—are fairly represented. Though the participants in a standards group are typically chosen, standards development organizations (SDOs) generally strive for balanced committees. Users, sellers, technologists, and academia professionals all are invited to participate, and all inputs must be debated, considered, and answered (even if they end up formally rejected by vote).

The standards created should reflect the wishes of the people who show up to work on the process, so companies (or country representatives for some organizations) often participate to ensure their interests are represented. Human beings and businesses being what they are, not everyone who shows up to help create or update a standard has “the fair and equitable treatment of all parties” as their primary motivation. Sometimes, we have to do the standards over until we get it right.

You’d think that, for something destined to ease communication and understanding, what comes out of the process wouldn’t look as much like Sanskrit to most of the world. But precision and clarity do not always apply to the language of the definition. An example of the obtuse (to outsiders) language is “embedded component printed board (ECPB).” From IPC-7092, this is, “The general term for a completely processed printed circuit and printed wiring configuration, which contains an internal base-core that includes embedded formed or placed components (this includes an embedded component base-core, or sequentially laminated HDI configurations using embedded component base cores with additional layers).” I had a hand in this one, so I’m just as guilty as anybody else. Geeks in any field have their own language.

To read the full article, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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2019

Better to Light a Candle: Using Industry Standards as Another PWB Manufacturing Tool

09-27-2019

Some people will say, "Standards are so boring!" To that, I might respond, "Well, that's kind of the point." When you're in production manufacturing, a "boring" day (i.e., everything works smoothly with no disruptions, and everybody shares clear expectations) can be a welcome relief from your usual. But what should we do with all of these standards anyway?

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Four—Next Steps for Developing the Future Workforce

08-12-2019

This fourth installment of Marc Carter's column series will give the prospects and status of repeat (perhaps even expanded) classes at Michigan Tech, and report on developing contacts at other prospective university, industry, and government nodes for similar efforts to ensure basic printed circuit technology familiarity of college graduates over the next few years.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Three—First-year Recap of the PCB Fabrication Course at MTU

06-05-2019

In the third installment of this column series, Marc Carter acknowledges the many organizations and individuals that willingly and freely contributed their time, materials, and support to make this first “prototype” effort a success. This article also gives a sneak preview of some of the efforts underway to expand the efforts at MTU and to start similar grassroots, industry-academia supported programs elsewhere.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Two—Introduction to PCB Fabrication

05-01-2019

As a reminder, “EE4800: Printed Circuit Board Fabrication” is a hands-on class intended to give engineering undergraduate students an introduction to the basics of printed circuit design, fabrication, and assembly, which started on January 14 of this year.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter One—Prepping the Next Generation

01-11-2019

There has been a considerable amount of (electronic) ink and words shared in our industry bemoaning the graying-out of our industry and the growing shortage of skilled people at all levels. (See the May 2017 PCB007 Magazine column “Help Wanted—and How!” for just one example). As is usually the case, though, when all is said and done, more has been said than done.

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