Why Does the PCB Industry Still Use Gerber?


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Every so often, I hear technologists ask why so many PCB designers still use Gerber. That is a fair question. Ucamco has over 35 years of experience in developing and supporting cutting-edge software and hardware solutions for the global PCB industry. Our customers—small, medium, and large PCB fabricators—include the electronics industry’s leading companies, and many of them have been with us for over 30 years. We are dedicated to our industry and excellence in everything we do, which includes our custodianship of the Gerber format.

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With us, the Gerber format has undergone a significant evolution in the past 10 years, and a near revolution in the past five years alone. Like the previous Extended Gerber (X1) format, today’s Gerber X2 is simple, easy to use, and freely available to our industry, but simple and free doesn’t mean dumb—far from it. Thanks to the use of cleverly designed attributes, Gerber X2 is an intelligent format that can do all of the things that some critics say it can’t. Gerber X2 can differentiate between pins, vias, and traces, and anyone who cares to read section 5.6 of the Gerber X2 specification will see that it does so in more detail and with greater precision than the ODB++ and IPC-2581 formats.

The industry’s professionals know this because we talk with our customers daily and listen very carefully to what they tell us about being at the electronics production coalface. What they tell us is confirmed by a quick glance at the industry’s use of the different formats. IPC-2581 is used for a negligible fraction of the world’s fabrication data sets, ODB++ is used for 5%, Gerber X2 is used for 10%, and the rest—the vast majority—uses the traditional Gerber X1 format.

Supporters of ODB++ and IPC-2581 point to the “intelligence” of these PCB data formats, but Gerber X2 is the global PCB industry’s most popular intelligent PCB data format. Sure, these formats are more intelligent than the old Gerber X1, which can’t differentiate between SMD and BGA pins. But when ODB++ was launched, it did not contain any component information either.

Figure 1 shows an apples-to-apples comparison of ODB++, IPC-2581, and Gerber X2. These screenshots from the Reference Gerber Viewer illustrate the level of information carried in a current Gerber X2 file. The pad selected on the left is identified as a via pad, and the pad selected on the right is identified as a copper-defined SMD pad, and as pin 1 of R13 with net /IRQ-7. With Gerber X2, a designer can easily distinguish between a pin, via, and trace.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of Design007 Magazine, click here.

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