When the electronics industry transitioned from the military standard MIL-S-13949 to the industry standard IPC-4101 in 1997, the electronics supply chain lost something fundamental: the Qualified Products List (QPL) for all the laminate and prepreg materials. This was the go-to list for anyone purchasing base materials for printed boards—not only for military applications but for consumer products, automotive applications, communication electronics and the computer industry. The industry also lost the list of base materials suppliers who were the trusted partners of the board shops and OEMs alike.
I remember when IPC-4101 was completed and released in December 1997 and the question came up: “Should IPC create a policeman program to enforce it?” To a person that helped create IPC-4101, absolutely nobody wanted such an audit program ever again, including me. But 20 years later everyone would say that this was a mistake based on the response from OEMs and EMS companies that participated in a recent IPC survey. Of the people surveyed, 86% saw value in an IPC registration base for a Qualified Manufacturer’s List (QML) and a QPL. Why? It was reported that some suppliers of base materials certifying to IPC-4101 were not following the manufacturing and testing protocol required in the document. The products were not being Qualification Tested as outlined in paragraphs 3-1 and 3-2 of IPC-4101. There were no IPC-1730 Self-Declaration reports as required. The supply chain was no longer trusted.
In the last 18 months, IPC has created and implemented a new QPL program for IPC-4101. The QPL program involves an audit of the base material supplier to IPC-4101 and a set of Qualification Tests pursuant IPC-4101E Table 3-1. The IPC website now lists three trusted base-material suppliers (TUC, Ventec and Arlon) and QPLs covering six IPC-4101E specification sheets:
For these six specification sheets, there are 28 individual products that have been qualification tested and QPL listed. The test reports which show the test data for all of the performance characteristics for each product on the QPL are clickable links. The test reports show the actual data from the testing not just indicating as “passed.”
The companies that pass the qualification audit and the qualification testing are free to advertise the IPC QPL logo on their business cards, letterhead and as part of their trade show booths. Arlon showed everyone their success with the IPC-4101 QPL at IPC APEX EXPO 2018 in San Diego.
IPC also actively markets the companies listed on the QPL to OEMs, EMS facilities and printed board suppliers. The listings and the test reports on the IPC website are free and available to anybody in the world who is looking for a trusted supplier. A number of OEMs are considering making it mandatory that CCL and prepreg used in their products must come from the IPC-4101 QPL.
Any company that is interested in in the Validation Services Program should contact Randy Cherry at IPC (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Doug Sober is the president of Essex Technologies Group.