Dana on Data: Is the Customer Always Right?

Is the customer always right when it comes to customer PCB design data? Fabricators would be taking the design data and building the supplied data verbatim if this was true. The fabricator would only need to compensate conductors to account for etching processes and map finished hole sizes to drill sizes.

But, alas, the standard industry practice assumes that the customer data is wrong. Industry data transfer processes assume that the incoming data can’t be built per the supplied documentation. There are all sorts of quality systems, but none of them sufficiently had a positive enough effect on data quality improvement. The industry has accepted this low-quality level as the norm.

We need to fundamentally change our data transfer process. Here are a few reasonable improvement suggestions:

  • OEMs create metrics to track data issues and create defect reduction plans for departments and designers
  • Fabricator’s charge more for time spent correcting designer design and documentation issues
  • OEMs add fabricator-provided design guideline completeness to their supplier qualification and yearly quality audit check lists
  • Yearly OEM fabricator quality audit metrics should include a data package quality KPI
  • Fabricators should create OEM quality audit metrics for a data package quality KPI
  • Corrective actions should be given by the fabricator to the supplier of a bad data package, just like companies that order boards require when the fabricator ships a bad board
  • IPC should form a committee to specify a common dielectric constant (Dk, Er) test method used by material suppliers, SI engineers, and fabricator impedance test operations. This would eliminate common impedance test method Dk issues and fabricator fudge factors
  • OEMs should quit sending duplicate masters (e.g., Gerber files and fab print dimensions) and use intelligent IPC-2581 data instead
  • Designers should update the Revision B design with the approved Revision A DFM comments from the fabricator. The current process assumes that the fabricator edits rev B the same as rev A

OEMs and designers should take this feedback as positive feedback. I don’t know of many designers who enjoy spending time addressing the issues rather than working on the next design. There are cycle time and PCB cost improvements to be made when the supplied database does not require editing.

Companies that implement a true digital twin relationship between design and manufacturing will create a significant amount of data that can be used to improve design manufacturing yields and cost. This will also provide significant feedback that can be used to improve future design rules.

There have many decades of articles written about how to reduce errors. There have been many excellent design software updates created to catch the issues during design. Unfortunately, in parallel with these improvements, fabricator CAM/DFM review systems are also being continually updated to find more complex issues and automate more editing because data is not improving.

The industry is stuck in this loop. It reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” in which Bill Murray’s character keeps reliving the same day over and over with the same result. We need leadership from all segments of the data creation, data formatting and data users to work together. We need to change the process to create motivation to break this cycle.

Dana Korf is the principal consultant at Korf Consultancy LLC. 



Dana on Data: Is the Customer Always Right?


Is the customer always right when it comes to customer PCB design data? Fabricators would be taking the design data and building the supplied data verbatim if this was true. The fabricator would only need to compensate conductors to account for etching processes and map finished hole sizes to drill sizes.

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Dana on Data: Understanding Mechanical Drill Size Capability and Cost


Fabricator capabilities are generally initially provided on a one-page summary as part of the general marketing presentation. The technical values that are presented provide the “check mark” information so the potential customer can determine if the fabricators capability is greater than the design requirements. Often, this is the only method used for design rule knowledge transfer.

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Dana on Data: The Critical Importance of the Fab Product Engineer


Billions of dollars are spent yearly on CAD and CAM software to produce complex PCB designs and fabricate PCBs. The final technical manufacturing decisions generally are made by one person for each design. This is the PCB fabricator product engineer. But I don’t think most design, procurement, or NPI teams understand how critical this person is to the data transfer success and liability protection.

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Dana on Data: Effective Front-end Engineering External KPIs


PCB fabricator front-end engineering departments are always under great pressure to be kept small, generate production tooling instantaneously from customer data and never, ever, make a mistake. Key performance indicators (KPI’s) emphasis internal process improvements and are generally simple in nature, such as jobs/person/day and scrap dollars/month.

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Dana on Data: Factory 4.0 NPI Compatible Industry Specification Format


IPC APEX EXPO’s emphasis on the Connected Factory Initiative based on CFX and IPC-2581 is underway in a virtual mode this month. One area that has not been addressed is the automation of industry technical specifications from organizations like IPC, ASTM, UL, IEC, etc.

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Dana on Data: Factory 4.0 NPI Data Transfer Improvements


The recently released IPC Connected Factory Initiative scope is similar to other Factory 4.0 models with the same glaring omission: They all seems to assume that the incoming design data can’t be used as-is and must be reviewed and potentially manually modified prior to manufacturing release.

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Dana on Data: Reducing PCB Specification Interpretation Issues


The PCB industry has accepted a low-quality level of provided documentation from its customers for the past several decades. In this column, Dana Korf reviews one common fabrication print note and asks, “How do you interpret this note?”

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Dana on Data: A Team Method to Reduce Fabricator Engineering Questions


Hundreds of PCB designs are released to be quoted or fabricated every day around the world, and most will have engineering questions or technical queries generated once the data package has been received and analyzed. Dana Korf outlines seven fundamental steps based on Lean/Six Sigma concepts to reduce data transfer issues.

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Dana on Data: How Can the PCB Industry Improve From COVID-19 Responses?


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world transformed a very slow medical approval process into the equivalent of a concurrent NPI process by challenging some of the golden rules. Dana Korf shares his thoughts on four areas the PCB industry can re-evaluate and improve.

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Dana on Data: The Importance of PCB Technology Roadmaps


Peter Drucker once said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Dana Korf explains how it is critical that PCB fabricator technology roadmaps and capacity planning align with their customers’ product development and volume requirements to ensure that optimum cost, reliability, and performance goals are achieved.

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Dana on Data: Automating DFX Transfer and Analysis Using IPC-2581C


We are inching closer to a world where a complete intelligent PCB data transfer is realized. The IPC 2-16 Digital Product Model Exchange (DPMX) Subcommittee has just sent revision C out for IPC-2581 Consortium review with final industry approval targeted for this June. Dana Korf discusses the significant additions and their impact.

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Dana on Data: Creating IP-protected PCB Design Rules


One of the primary reasons that data packages aren’t compatible is the fabricator/assembler does not provide a complete set of design rules out of concern of giving away their intellectual property (IP). Dana Korf explores the design rule development hierarchy as well as what should be included in an IP-protected design rule document.

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Dana on Data: The DFM/Data Transfer Process Is Broken


In a world that is showing great strides toward implementing a Factory 4.0 world, why can’t a design be passed from a designer to the fabricator without errors every time? Dana Korf emphasizes moving the responsibility up in the food chain, examines key design package error categories, and proposes creating a cultural change.

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New Column—Dana on Data: IPC-2581 Intelligent Bi-directional Data Flow


The IPC Consortium is nearing completion of transferring notes on drawings and working with IPC on converting key IPC specifications into attributes that can be automatically loaded into CAD and CAM systems. This format is extendable to created automated company-specific acceptance files that can be automatically loaded into the CEM’s or fabricator’s engineering systems. IPC-2581 data format is being widely used globally and now needs to become the standard to reduce NPI cycle times by associating critical design information automatically to the physical features.

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