To Improve the Standards Process, Get Involved

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Jan Pedersen, senior technical advisor at Elmatica, and Ray Prasad, president of Ray Prasad Consultancy Group, spoke with the I-Connect007 team about the current state of PCB standards and where the process might need improvements, including the many difficulties around transparency, slow updates, limitless numbers of variations, and a variety of other topics.

Nolan Johnson: Jan Pedersen and Ray Prasad are two of our columnists, and they are also very well-versed in standards and the standards process. Can you start by talking about why standards are important?

Jan Pedersen: Yes, standards are important for the customer and supplier to be able to communicate requirements and be clear about what they need. You need standards. Instead of all of these corporate requirements that make everything blurry, it’s much easier if you have a clear standard and everyone knows what you mean by defined terms.

Ray Prasad: I agree with Jan. In addition, when you standardize something, it becomes a lot cheaper. For example, think of different kinds of sockets. If you are traveling around the world, you would need all kinds of sockets. The same thing goes for all of the chargers we have to carry around. When we standardize something, it makes it cheaper and sets expectations for the customers and manufacturers about what requirements they have to meet.

Barry Matties: Right now, I’m traveling with a bundle of power converters. Are the standards global, or are we also seeing regional standards?

Prasad: Yes, that’s one of the things IPC can do that other people will have a harder time doing. Anybody can start a standard, but you need followers. Some of what we call “standards” a lot of people think are specifications, which they’re not. Many people end up using standards as specifications.

Matties: How would you define the difference?

Prasad: There’s a huge difference. Standards are requirements that IPC sets up for everybody to follow. But with a specification, for example, the customer says, “It has to meet the IPC-610 standard that has 25% void. But I want a 5% void, not 25%.” Then, the supplier will say, “If you’re not following the standard, I will have to charge you more. I can do a 5% void, but it will be more expensive.” IPC has Class 1, 2, and 3. Some people can say, “That’s fine with me.” Others might say, “I want something different.” That’s the difference between a specification and a standard. The specification is only set by the person who writes the check.

Pedersen: Having a clear language to communicate is important. That’s also why I’m into IPC-2581 and dealing with how we can communicate the specification between the designer and the manufacturer. The goal is to be 100% clear on what the designer wants.

Prasad: The other thing worth noting is that the standards are global, but the specifications can be for a specific company and different.

Happy Holden: For 30 years, I was never allowed to use or even look at any IPC standards because the Hewlett-Packard specifications were better than anything IPC had. They were more correct, supplied by data, and the standards are a place where you start. And for people who have no data, that’s better than nothing.

Prasad: It starts with the committee, and then it goes to China, India, and everywhere else. We want the membership of all of these companies so that they get to have their input. You have to compromise not to get too many negative votes. For example, in my standards, I tried not to get even one negative vote if I could, but there are times that you can’t compromise.

Pedersen: When you say that IPC’s standard is not good enough, Happy, it’s still like that. It is not easy to keep up to date. They’re coming after the technology continuously. I have some good examples, especially when I’m working with medical. You cannot follow the current design standard because this is much denser. Then, we introduce a new design level, but it’s only for medical right now, and it should be for all standards.

Prasad: Even for medical, some companies could go looser or tighter than that. And remember that the standards are a slower process; think of it as dictatorship versus democracy. Democracy is messy and slow, but it works because other people buy in; that’s part of the idea behind the standards process. We keep changing it. We release it, and then next month, we start this process of updating, which takes a year or two. It depends on how many dedicated volunteers we get; nobody is getting paid.

Johnson: There are some people in our industry who are critical of standards because they are behind the time. A few people also suggest that standards should be pointing toward the future. Is that even possible?

To read the full article, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.


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