PCBs are used in numerous products which are critical to life, security and safety, in a wide range of industries such as aerospace, medical and hospitals, water, oil and gas, prisons and security systems.
The stringent demands of these sectors means that total adherence to industry standards is essential to ensure the reliability, efficiency and safety of the electronic components.
Industry standards provide guidelines for the selection, testing and maintenance of electronic components and one of the most important and widely recognised within the electronics industry is the IPC-A-610 standard, which is used by many companies as a benchmark for quality.
The Institute of Printed Circuits’ (IPC) classification is a globally accepted accreditation and has been developed using input from 29 different countries. It provides a set of inspection criteria for electronic assemblies and is dedicated to furthering the competitive excellence and financial success of businesses within the electronics industry.
The IPC-A-610 standard in particular aims to ensure that electronic assemblies meet minimum requirements for performance, reliability and quality. It covers areas such as component mounting, soldering criteria, marking and labelling, and mechanical assembly.
In this blog we explore how the IPC classifications are broken down to reflect the level of quality required for each circuit board type.
IPC Class Definitions
In electronics manufacturing, printed circuit boards are separated into three categories: 1, 2 and 3, with Class 1 being the lowest and Class 3 the highest. This classification system was developed and is monitored by the IPC. The main difference between each class is the degree of inspection that electronics assemblies must undergo and the quality standards to which they’re subjected.
In addition to quality assurance, factors such as customer requirements and cost can weigh heavily into deciding which class to pursue.
|IPC CLASS 1||IPC CLASS 2||IPC CLASS 3|
|CATEGORY||General electronics||Dedicated service electronics||High reliability electronics|
|LIFE CYCLE||Short||Long||Very long|
|EXAMPLES||Toys, torches, mobile phones||Laptops, microwaves etc||Aerospace military and medical applications|
CLASS 1 – GENERAL ELECTRONIC PRODUCTS
The first electronic products classification is referred to as the ‘general electronics’ category. This consists of printed circuit boards with the lowest quality requirements and is mostly used for high volume products with an expected short life cycle.
CLASS 2 – DEDICATED SERVICE ELECTRONIC PRODUCTS
Class 2 electronic devices encompass all electronics where continued performance and an extended life cycle are required, but only up to a point. Uninterrupted service is desirable, but not critical.
CLASS 3 – HIGH-RELIABILITY ELECTRONIC PRODUCTS
Circuit boards in the third class are subject to strict guidelines due to their importance in the field.
While Class 1 electronics are usually used in cheap and easily replaceable items and Class 2 electronics in those that are more important and require a longer life cycle, Class 3 electronics are mission-critical items.
A product that needs to meet IPC Class 3 requirements must use high-reliability electronic components to ensure uninterrupted service.
These electronics are usually the highest of quality and many manufacturers of products that could pass as Class 2 opt for the IPC Class 3 standard because the benefits of higher-quality electronics outweigh the cost of additional testing and inspection.
Obtaining IPC certification
IPC Certification Programs are provided for electronics industry professionals through IPC authorised training centres. These centres are intended to assist companies that do not have the ability to offer the training in-house.
The IPC training promotes professional development and recognises that an individual has demonstrated the level of competence specified in a given criterion.
There are currently seven IPC training modules in total. A trainee has to complete the compulsory first module to qualify as a CIS (Certified IPC Specialist).
Module 1 introduces the IPC-610H, product quality definitions as well as requirements and flow down, personnel proficiency and inspection methodology.
It also includes ‘Handling Electronic Assemblies’ covering the minimising of Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Electrical Overstress (EOS) which is the resulting internal damage to components. A trainee may also receive training in any additional relevant modules, depending on their area of speciality.
The IPC-A-610 certification is typically obtained by individual operators rather than the company as a whole. Therefore, it is crucial for a PCB assembly subcontractor to ensure that all employees involved in the assembly process have the necessary certifications to meet the standard’s requirements.
All of the MPE Electronics assembly team members are IPC-A-610 certified and we made the decision to bring IPC training in-house in April 2021. The IPC certification is valid for two years, after which time individuals need to be recertified.
IPC classifications at MPE Electronics
As mentioned above, the main difference between the three IPC classes is in testing and inspection. At MPE Electronics we do not batch inspect anything – every board and product is inspected individually, regardless. If the item is not up to Class 3 every time, we will rework it.
It is our policy not to deal with Class 1 products, which tend to be large volume products that are generally not manufactured in the UK because they can be produced more cheaply elsewhere.
Class 2 and Class 3 are the types of products that MPE works on and we look more towards assisting with the high reliability Class 3 electronics that are critical to life (such as in the medical and aerospace industries) and Class 2, where continued performance is important for critical reasons (such as safety/security).
To find out more about IPC classifications and the services we provide, speak to a member of our team today.
MPE Electronics is an established and experienced contract electronics manufacturer specialising in PCB assemblies and full box build assembly for a wide range of commercial and industrial businesses.