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3 min read

What Does the IPC 6011 Standard Mean to PCB Manufacturing?

ipc 6011 pcb manufacturing

In the strict world of printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication and manufacturing, one key factor in the OEM’s success is paying close attention to industry standards. The guiding light for PCB manufacturing is IPC 6011. 

The Institute of Printed Circuits is a global trade association that helps PCB manufacturers “build electronics better.” The association goes about this by:

  • Creating proven industry standards
  • Educating and certifying companies on these standards
  • Providing thought leadership to increase electronics makers’ ability to meet future safety/reliability needs

In 1996, the organization created IPC-6011, “Generic Performance Specification for Printed Boards.” 

Although IPC 6011 is more of a standard for bare board creation, as opposed to PCB layout and assembly, it’s still important for OEM and contractor to get a grasp of how these guidelines impact material choice, testing, and more.

IPC 6011 Standard FAQs

IPC 6011 guidelines establish general requirements for printed boards and outline the level of quality and reliability they must meet. These standards etch into stone the ground rules for every step in:

  • PCB design
  • PCB assembly
  • PCB testing
  • PCB inspection
  • PCB documentation 

Electronics OEM engineers and even purchasing managers often wonder what role they have to play in making sure their end products meet IPC guidelines. This FAQ should give you a jump-start in understanding the following factors:

  1. How is IPC 6011 broken down into three definitions?
  2. Is my industry affected?
  3. How does IPC 6011 influence PCB material and design choices?
  4. Where does IPC improve my defect rate?
  5. Who of those on the project needs to worry about IPC regulations?
  6. Who’s ultimately responsible for IPC -- my company or contractor?

Q: What Are the IPC Class Definitions?

A: The IPC 6011 standard specifies three class definitions, which reflect the level of quality from lowest to highest. The major difference in classifications is the degree of inspection required.

  • IPC 6011 Class 1 Electronics: General Electronics Products
  • IPC 6011 Class 2 Electronics: Dedicated Service Electronics Products
  • IPC 6011 Class 3 Electronics: High-Reliability Electronics Products, with little room for error.

A Class 1 electronic device, like your kid’s talking Batman figure, has minimal impact on daily life if it breaks. A Class 2 device, such as a TV, is annoying to lose, but not devastating. A Class 3 device -- including medical and aerospace electronics -- absolutely cannot fail, or else human life could be at risk.

Q: Which Industries Does IPC 6011 Affect?

A: IPC 6011 affects every industry that uses PCB components. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Telecommunications
  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Military & defense
  • Computer design & manufacturing
  • Industrial equipment & wireless controls
  • Medical equipment & devices
  • Energy
  • Mining
  • Transportation
  • Instrumentation

Q: How Does IPC 6011 Influence Bare Board Design And/or Materials?

A: IPC standards detail three levels of design producibility, which correlate to the need for higher sophistication in tooling, materials, and processing. 

  • Level A: General Design Producibility — Preferred
  • Level B: Moderate Design Producibility — Standard
  • Level C: High Design Producibility — Reduced

Something more difficult to produce may require increased testing and tighter tolerances, or additional assembly. Any of these needs will increase fabrication costs.

Q: What Are Some Defects IPC Standards Help Reduce?

A: Although the end goal is always to produce high-quality stuff, defects are a way of life in PCB production. You can, however, reduce them by following proper protocol to avoid:

  • Open solder joints, solder bridging, and insufficient solder coverage
  • Component shift or misalignment
  • Plating voids
  • Non-wetting
  • Acid traps
  • Electromagnetic issues
  • Inoperability
  • Inability to meet wear and use demands of the usage classification
  • Failure to meet end user needs

Q: Who in an Organization Is Responsible for IPC 6011 Standards?

A: At the start of a project, the project leader and electronic designer are responsible for crossing initial planning items off the IPC checklist.

  • The CAD department will work on tolerances and additional exceptions, plus formatting the data files.
  • The purchasing department takes over when it comes time to calculate costs and component availabilities.
  • After any prototypes have been tested to prove the board can meet the OEM’s needs, the PCB assembly department ensures that all staff members involved are appropriately trained and certified. 

An engineer or a team of engineers will usually oversee the entire process from start to end.

Q: Does IPC Fall More on the Supplier or the OEM?

A: While (most) PCB manufacturing and assembly services certainly strive to create reliable boards, it’s important that the OEM accurately specifies the class of board it wants. If you want to meet IPC Class 3 standards, work with a supplier that has the 3 “E”s relevant to those projects:

  • Expertise
  • Equipment
  • Experience

If your electronics support human life or safety, it’s especially crucial to share this information with the assembler.

Other factors that impact a PCB supplier’s ability to do its job include:

  • Cost and time constraints
  • Availability issues for components
  • Configuration management
  • Document control

Maintaining Business as Usual

Don’t take materials and design for granted when you get a third party involved in a Class 3 (or even a Class 2) electronics project. For the best results in attaining IPC-level quality, work with an electronics contract manufacturer that’s already well versed in IPC classifications.

For more on compliance requirements and standards that may affect your ability to do business, grab our free e-book below:

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