The Importance Of The Gerber File Format In PCB Assembly

In the next four years, there is an expected growth within the PCB industry. Revenues are expected to increase by 4%. The increased demand for PCB Design and PCB Assembly may be attributed to the major drivers of the industry. This includes the unprecedented demand for communication, computer, and consumer electronics applications worldwide. There is also an increased demand for automotive, defense and aerospace components, which need PCB technologies. There are also continuous advancements in smart phone technologies, tablets, laptops, and generally all consumer electronics.

PCBAll PCB design data are crucial, and should be protected. Even though these components are small, they contain parts that could result in the proper functioning of an electronic device. All PCB design and engineering systems use the Gerber file format as its standard for PCB image data transfer. Gerber, a hybrid file format that contains both image and control language, has become the standard electronics and PCB file format. Gerber is now run by a Belgian-based company. They have published a standard set of user’s guide for the PCB industry.

US-based PCB Company Imagineering, Inc. uses Gerber files as one of the main components of its PCB assembly process.

All PCB design machines have a Gerber file output and all PCB engineering machines can input Gerber files. Due to its availability in the PCB industry, PCB-related data such as images and drill data are exchanged in an efficient but secure manner. The great thing about the use of well-constructed Gerber files is that its format is not complicated and the image is seen precisely and accurately. Also, it gives comprehensive information in one single file. The file extension of a Gerber file is .gbr.

The Gerber file format that Imagineering, Inc. prefers for their PCB assembly process is the RS-274X.

Its features are it has an embedded format which contains unit and data information, embedded and custom apertures, film control statements, special definitions for polygons, and multiple layers embedded in one single file. Extended Gerber, as it is called, is the preferred file format because it has numerous high level commands and controls. It allows the designer of the Gerber data to precisely plot the PCB design. In preparing and submitting a Gerber file, all the layers within the design must be aligned.

Printed circuit boardsThe parameters of the Gerber RS-274X can both apply to multiple or single layers. When it is laid out in the file, it is clearly grouped based on their function in the file. The sequence which it appears in is the following: directive parameters which control overall file processing, image parameters, aperture parameters, layer-specific parameters, and other parameters which cannot be categorized in the groups mentioned above.

The Gerber RS-274X format is a complete vector 2D binary image. It is defined by graphics that are dependent on resolution. One single Gerber file is composed of a stream of commands, but it is complete in itself and does not need external files anymore. This means that it contains all the imaging commands needed to produce a clear image. A Gerber command could either be an extended code or a function code, which when combined produces the final image.

Gerber files provide the PCB assembly company a picture or an image of where the copper in the PCB should remain. However, there is more to it than that. In addition to providing the image of the copper, Gerber files also provide pictures of the exact location of the silkscreen paint; solder mask paint, and stencil-cut-outs. It provides precise information on where all these components will go.

Pcb fabricationMetadata can also be augmented to a single Gerber file. A special feature called attributes allows this function. Attributes are like special labels that give pertinent information. This information is typically associated with the given image files. There are also given information on the features contained within the image files. Attributes that could be conveyed through the metadata function are the following: file function, the PCB part represented in the file, and the pad function.

It is typical for Imagineering, Inc., for example to receive up to a total of nine files for a typical two-layer PCB. These files are all needed for PCB assembly and contain the following important images: the copper conductor from the top side of the circuit board, the copper conductor from the bottom side of the circuit board, where the solder mask is to be placed on the top layer, where the solder mask is to be placed on the bottom layer, where the silkscreen is to be placed on the top layer, where the silkscreen is to be placed on the bottom layer, precise locations and property descriptions of drilled holes, the board outline, and a text file with the specific identification, description and use of all the files mentioned above.

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