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LS16 6QE

+44 (0)113 274 4270

8am - 5pm Monday to Thursday and 8am - 4pm Friday

Email us and we'll get back to you as soon as we can

IPC class standards for classes, 1, 2 and 3 – Definitions and Examples

A laptop, mobile phone and tablet all represent IPC Class 2 products

When manufacturing electronics products such as PCB’s (printed circuit boards), PCBAs (printed circuit board assemblies), and wire harnesses, there are specific IPC standards that must be met, and these vary depending on the type of product being made. The standards are divided into 3 Classes; Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Class 1 having the least strict acceptance or defect criteria, and Class 3 having the highest criteria. 

These IPC class standards set the bar for the reliability and quality of electronic products, dictating the level of scrutiny a product must undergo before it hits the market, and products are often a legal or contractual requirement to achieve a certain criteria before being used in the field.  

In this post, we will take you through each of the three IPC classes, their definitions, and why they matter in the grand scheme of things.  

Understanding the IPC classes, 1, 2 and 3  

Here is a quick overview of the 3 classes according to IPC’s definitions; 

Class 1 – General electronic products. 

Class 2 – Dedicated service electronic products. 

Class 3 – High reliability or harsh operating environment electronic products. 

What is IPC Class 1  

IPC Class 1 refers to the general electronic products category where the primary focus is on function over longevity or performance under extreme conditions. Products that fall under this class are typically meant for consumer use where the expectation of life span and reliability is not as critical. Think gadgets and electronics that you use daily but can easily replace without much inconvenience. 

This class is the lowest tier in the IPC standardisation, meaning the requirements for manufacturing and testing are less stringent compared to the other two classes. It serves as the entry point for products that do not require the robustness demanded by more critical applications. The emphasis for Class 1 is on ensuring that the product works as intended without necessarily guaranteeing an extended lifespan or tolerance to harsh conditions. 

IPC Class 1 Examples 

Firstly, let’s consider home appliances like blenders or coffee makers. These devices are perfect examples of Class 1 products. They are designed for everyday use, and while reliability is important, failure does not result in significant consequences beyond inconvenience or the need for replacement. 

Another example would be toys or consumer-grade electronics, such as standard headphones or portable speakers. These items offer functionality and entertainment but are not expected to endure extreme conditions or have a prolonged lifespan. The focus is on cost-effective production and meeting basic operational requirements. 

a group of standard kitchen appliances such as a blender and kettle all represent IPC class 1 products

What is IPC Class 2 

Moving on to IPC Class 2, this category elevates the standards for electronic products by emphasising not only functionality but also extended life and greater reliability. Products in this class are typically used in more demanding environments than Class 1, including communications equipment, industrial machines, and higher-end consumer electronics where reliability over time is key. 

Class 2 standards strike a balance between rigorous performance standards and cost-effectiveness. It demands more from manufacturers in terms of quality control and testing but stops short of the most extreme requirements reserved for Class 3. For industries where equipment reliability directly impacts business operations, Class 2 offers a reassuring level of quality assurance. 

The significance of IPC Class 2 lies in its ability to ensure that products are dependable and durable enough to withstand more intensive use than Class 1 items. It’s about providing that middle ground where the products are used in environments where failures could cause more significant disruptions than mere inconvenience but are not mission critical. 

IPC Class 2 Examples 

Electronics, such as laptops and mobile phones, serve as prime examples of Class 2 products. These devices are expected to perform reliably over time, facing constant use in a setting where downtime is unexpected to the consumer for a realistic lifespan. 

Networking equipment like routers and switches also fall into this category. Given their crucial role in maintaining communications, they need a higher level of reliability. However, they do not require the extreme durability demanded by Class 3 standards. 

Medical devices used in non-life-support scenarios, such as diagnostic monitors, represent another application of Class 2 standards. While reliability is crucial, these devices are not in the same critical category as life-support equipment, but their performance and reliability are still paramount to patient care. 

A laptop, mobile phone and tablet all represent IPC Class 2 products

What is IPC Class 3 

IPC Class 3 represents the pinnacle of reliability and quality in electronic products. This class is reserved for products that must operate flawlessly under the most demanding conditions, including military and aerospace electronics, life-support systems, and critical industrial controls. Here, failure is not an option, as it could result in catastrophic outcomes, including loss of life or significant financial loss. 

The standards for Class 3 products are the most stringent, requiring meticulous attention to detail during manufacturing and testing. Every component and assembly process are scrutinised to ensure the highest possible reliability. This class is about guaranteeing performance in the toughest conditions, from extreme temperatures to physical shocks and vibrations. 

For manufacturers and designers, adhering to IPC Class 3 standards is a significant commitment. It often involves advanced materials, precise engineering, and rigorous testing protocols. However, the payoff comes in the form of products that can be relied upon in the most critical applications. These products are built to last, ensuring continuous operation even when the stakes are high. This level of assurance is what sets Class 3 products apart from the rest. 

IPC Class 3 Examples 

Aircraft avionics and controls are perfect examples of IPC Class 3 electronics. These components must operate flawlessly in the face of rapid temperature changes, vibrations, and other harsh environmental conditions. The safety of passengers and crew depends on the reliability of these systems, making the Class 3 standard non-negotiable. 

Medical life-support devices, such as ventilators and heart monitors, also fall into this category. These are devices where failure could directly result in loss of life. The stringent requirements of Class 3 ensure that these products are manufactured to the highest levels of reliability and safety. 

Military communications and control systems represent another application of Class 3 standards. Given the critical nature of these systems in defense scenarios, they must be able to perform without failure in any environment, whether it’s in the desert heat or the cold of high altitudes. The rigorous standards of Class 3 ensure that these systems can be depended on when it matters most. 

An image of an airplane flying overhead represents an example of an IPC Class 3 electronics standard

Exploring The Difference Between IPC Class 2 and Class 3  

The distinction between IPC Class 2 and Class 3 centers on the level of reliability and the environments in which the products operate. While both classes emphasise quality and dependability, Class 3 takes this to the extreme. The key difference lies in the potential consequences of failure and the operational demands placed on the products. 

Class 2 is suitable for products where reliability is important, but the impact of failure is less catastrophic. These products need to be durable and reliable over time, yet the standards recognise a balance between performance, cost, and the critical nature of the application. In contrast, Class 3 is reserved for situations where failure is unacceptable, demanding the highest standards of reliability and quality. 

Understanding this distinction is crucial for manufacturers and designers. It influences material choices, design considerations, manufacturing processes, and testing protocols. Choosing the appropriate IPC class for a product involves assessing the operational requirements and potential risks associated with failure, ensuring that the final product meets the necessary standards for its intended use. 

Who decides the Class of Product 

The class of product is almost always decided by the customer and should always be agreed on as part of any pre-build documentation and contractual discussions. Electronic assemblies can be manufactured to criteria outside of that stated in any of the IPC standards, however, they must meet the minimum requirements set out in the IPC standard to be inspected or approved for meeting the customer defined Class. Build criteria can be required to be built to a stricter standard than that set out in the Class 3 acceptance and defect criteria.  

It is also important to note that when you are manufacturing a PCBA, you must ensure continuity of Class throughout the supply chain. For example, if you are assembling your components to IPC Class 3, but your printed circuit board is only manufactured to IPC Class 1, then your overall product can only be classified as IPC Class 1. This process highlights the importance of becoming IPC Certified if you work in these supply chains.

Who sets the IPC standards 

IPC are the organisation who embody the standards. They produce the textbooks and write up the standards for training centres such as The Electronics Group to implement in the IPC training courses. However, the standards are in fact produced and agreed on by committees made up of over 3000 professionals from across the electronics industry.

Get IPC Certified With Us 

Navigating the world of IPC classes can be complex, yet it’s a crucial step in ensuring the quality and reliability of electronic products. Whether you’re dealing with consumer electronics, industrial equipment, or critical systems for aerospace or medical applications, understanding the IPC classes, 1, 2, and 3, is fundamental. 

By getting IPC certified with us, you’re not just meeting industry standards; you’re committing to the highest levels of quality and reliability. It’s about making a statement that your products are built to perform, regardless of the class they fall into. We can run our IPC training courses at either of our training centres in Leeds or Chippenham, we can also come to you to facilitate the course. Some of the courses can even be done remotely. We are also flexible with our course dates so we can work to find a time that’s best for you. 

There are two common myths in the IPC certification world that we would like to debunk…. 

  1. There is no such thing as training to IPC Class 3. All delegates, whether CIS, CSE, or CIT will learn the criteria for all 3 Classes. 
  1. You cannot be certified to IPC Class 2. You can work to IPC Class 2 but a specific certification to that Class is non-existent. As with point 1 above, all delegates will learn about all Classes. 

If you would like to learn more about IPC certification, speak with the experts and get in touch with our team today to discuss your specific training requirements. 

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