A Quick Guide to IPC Standards

ipc standards

Manufacturing printed circuit boards or PCBs requires a lot of work. Each part of the process is integral for the board’s proper functioning, and it needs to be perfect. To ensure that each printed board is the same quality, safe for use, and reliable, the manufacturer needs to follow a list of standards. 

But finding out what standards to follow and how each of them works can be challenging to understand. Fortunately, we are here to help you. Here, we will take a look at the IPC standards, how they work, and you should focus on if you plan on manufacturing printed circuit boards. 

What Is an IPC Standard?

IPC is an association with the goal of standardizing both the assembly and production of electronic equipment. The company was founded in 1957, and over the years, they developed numerous standards regarding manufacturing and assembly. 

While the company was initially named the Institute of Printed Circuits, they changed the name to IPC with the Association Connecting Electronics Industries tagline. 

Today, every major OEM and EMS company in the world operates according to IPC standards. At least when it comes to electronics. The standards cover everything from design specifications to materials. 

The company has coaches all over the world who are in charge of training, certification, and testing. Currently, there are three task groups in China, the U.S., and Denmark. IPC offers a standard for every step of the manufacturing process, as well as design, production, and assembly.

Following the standards will ensure that your product is high-quality and in line with every other printed circuit board on the market. If you want to learn more about IPC standards or purchase them for your company, you can check them out on the IPC website

Why Are Standards So Important?

As we all know, electronic devices are an essential part of our everyday lives. But if you plan on buying something, you need to know that the device is manufactured with high quality, reliability, and consistency. 

The safest way to know that the product you are buying is worth the money is to get something that’s verified or approved. That is why standards matter. Similarly to any other standard like ISO, DIN, or anything else, the company that’s operating according to “rules” is guaranteed to deliver the product you ordered. 

Standards provide specifications, requirements, characteristics, and guidelines that companies need to follow. If you plan on buying a TV, for example, you don’t need to worry about your health and whether the materials used during the manufacturing are safe for you. 

Thanks to standards like RoHS, you can be sure that there are no hazardous materials in your TV. The only problem you might encounter is due to watching too many shows. So, the standard keeps us safe, and they ensure that the product you bought is of a certain quality level. 

IPC-6012 and IPC-A-600

During the manufacturing process, the company has to comply with various rules and standards of production based on IPC standards. For PCB manufacturing, the company needs to use specific materials, dimensions, specifications, etc. 

Of course, this only applies to IPC member companies and those that work according to their standards. However, operating without guidance or guarantee will make it challenging for everyone to sell a single product. 

Two of the primary guiding documents for printed circuit board manufacturing are IPC-6012 and IPC-A-600. Both of these standards fall into the performance and inspection documents category. 

Furthermore, both standards work hand in hand, and they can be integral for companies focusing on the PCB design. 

IPC-6012

The IPC-6012 standard defines and establishes the qualification and performance requirements during the manufacturing of rigid printed boards. The performance requirements in this standard apply to single side PCBs, multilayer boards, HDI, active/passive embedded circuitry boards, and metal-core printed boards. 

Some of the specifications included in the IPC-6012 are solderability, visual, dimensional, structural integrity, conductor width and spacing, surfaces, cleanliness, etc. 

One of the most important parts of the standard is related to structural integrity, and it covers every part related to the manufacturing process of the PCB. There is also an IPC-6011 standard, which is a generic performance specification for PCBs. However, the IPC-6012 is more comprehensive than the previous version of the standard. 

The standard also describes types of rigid PCBs, as well as requirements for each category. The first one is Class 1, the products with “limited life” and basic function. These products have a function of the end-use device, such as a door opener for the garage. 

The second type is Class 2. These cover printed boards which have extended life, continued performance, and uninterrupted service. These qualities are desirable but not mandatory. A typical example of the class 2 PCB is the motherboard in your PC. 

Finally, Class 3 boards have high-reliability and high performance. Here, any type of failure is not tolerated, and the device must work whenever required. The example of Class 3 boards are found in medical or military equipment. 

IPC-A-600

IPC-A-600, also known as IPC-600, describes acceptable, target, and nonconforming conditions that can be observable (either internally or externally) on the PCB. It is a visual representation of the minimum requirements described in previous standards like IPC-6012. 

The standard offers illustrations that show particular criteria required by the current IPC standards. Of course, in order to comply with the document, the PCB needs to be manufactured according to the IPC-2220 series of standards and requirements given in the IPC-6012. 

IPC-2221, for example, is a generic standard for PCBs. IPC-600 covers the acceptability of printed boards, and it shares many topics with IPC-6012, which is why many companies can’t decide which one is right for them. 

The main advantage of this standard is that it contains numerous images. That way, the person reading the document can easily see every aspect mentioned in the document, what the common mistakes are, what they should focus on, as well as how it really looks in practice. 

The Difference Between IPC-600 and IPC-6012

As we already mentioned, there are many sharing points between these two documents. For example, both are focused on bare printed board circuits. Bare PCBs are, as the name suggests, printed boards without any components on them. 

This means that both standards focus on printed circuit boards without condensers, resistors, or any other component. However, the main difference is that the IPC-6012 is a specification document, while IPC-600 is a visual representation of the IPC-6012. 

The requirements in both of these documents are identical, but the IPC-6012 offers significantly fewer images compared to the IPC-600. While it is more than obvious that these two documents should be used together, each has its own purpose. 

Which Standard Should You Choose?

Now let’s proceed to the final question. Which standard is right for you? Should you focus on the IPC-600 or the IPC-6012? The answer to this question is quite simple. 

If you are a company designing printed circuit boards, you will need to choose the IPC-6012 standard. Here, you will get all the requirements and specifications you need to follow. Also, it will help you during the fabrication of PCBs. 

It will also help you understand which category of the PCB you are designing, as all of it is described in the IPC-6012. 

On the other hand, if you are not manufacturing PCBs and are instead focusing on the inspection, you should choose the IPC-A-600 standard. This document is written for the companies focusing on inspecting printed boards that arrive at their location and checking if they are compliant with the IPC standards. 

While it is highly recommended to use both, it is not necessary if your company is not focused on the manufacturing process and vice versa. 

Conclusion

IPC has been developing standards for electronic devices for the last half of the century. Each major company follows a set of “rules” and specifications designed to help both the manufacturers and the users. 

Some standards cover specific topics like requirements for soldered electrical assemblies, or just offer a generic standard for PCB manufacturing. Among the primary documents or standards from IPC are IPC-6012 and IPC-A-600. 

Both of these standards are performance and inspection documents, and they are quite similar. The main difference between the two is that the IPC-6012 standard is designed for the manufacturers that are designing bare boards while the IPC-600 is focused on the inspection. 

If you have any questions about standards, manufacturing processes, or anything else regarding PCBs, feel free to contact us. MKTPCB has years of experience manufacturing all types of PCBs, and we will be more than willing to help you with any problem you might have.

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