Author Topic: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy  (Read 2641 times)

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Offline SurajgTopic starter

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Hello Everyone,

Hope you all are doing great.
Lets say I have made a PCB for product and I want to share Gerber files with PCB manufacturers, is there is way where
we can be ensured that our PCB don't get duplicated.
May be get the Gerber file encrypted.

What measures you guys take for sharing your Gerber files.
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2023, 01:24:38 pm »
If they are going to manufacture it, of course they can duplicate it as much as they wish. There is absolutely no other way than to build trust in them.
 
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Offline asmi

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2023, 02:33:30 pm »
Hello Everyone,

Hope you all are doing great.
Lets say I have made a PCB for product and I want to share Gerber files with PCB manufacturers, is there is way where
we can be ensured that our PCB don't get duplicated.
May be get the Gerber file encrypted.

What measures you guys take for sharing your Gerber files.
Think about it for a second. Manufacturer needs to see Gerbers in the open form in order to manufacture PCBs, so by encrypting you only protect them from additional parties (as you will need to give a key to manufacturer). Now, what stops them from making a few (or few million) extra panels using the very same photo masks? The answer is "nothing", or more specifically, it's "economics". Meaning they will only do it if they can somehow make money out of it. And the reality is your design is likely not nearly as interesting to them as you think. So unless you work for defence or similar highly-sensitive industry, I wouldn't worry about this at all. Every engineer thinks their designs are pure genious, while in reality more often then not they are yet another garbage bin materiel like many other before them.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2023, 04:13:12 pm by asmi »
 

Offline Infraviolet

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2023, 02:39:24 pm »
"yet another garbage bin materiel like many other before them."
I'd hardly say that, rather its that most designs are for things for which many equally good alternatives are already available, or are solutions for one specific problem which only the designer has and therefore the designer is the only market for a board designed to do that.
 

Offline EEEnthusiast

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2023, 03:04:04 pm »
If your PCB is just analog circuits, then there is nothing stopping them from duplicating your product. Only a patent protection can help in this regard. Add some MCU or FPGA to your design and then they can make the PCB, but not the full product. There are ant-cloning devices out there to prevent the contract manufacturers who has your MCU firmware or FPGA bit files, from duplicating your product.
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Offline Solder_Junkie

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2023, 03:23:22 pm »
Given the huge volume of boards going through a factory, it’s unlikely that your boards will stand out. Even if they do, you don’t need to include component values on the silk screen. U1, U2, R3, etc means virtually nothing.

I appreciate the issue of sending “interesting” designs to countries like China, but if that is an issue there are other manufacturers.

SJ
 

Offline asmi

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2023, 04:12:37 pm »
"yet another garbage bin materiel like many other before them."
I'd hardly say that, rather its that most designs are for things for which many equally good alternatives are already available, or are solutions for one specific problem which only the designer has and therefore the designer is the only market for a board designed to do that.
I meant it is garbage bin material for PCB fab, of course it's not so for designer nor his customers/company.

Offline Karmaslap

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2023, 07:03:45 am »
If you're actually concerned, go through a reputable PCB fab house and set up a NDA. I've done this before for PCBs made for work.

The downside? Companies like that will charge at minimum 20x as much per board as a cheap fab house will for prototyping

Realistically, the people fabricating the board have no idea what it's going to be used for and without that context, they don't care. You can even have a different house do assembly if you're paranoid. Nobody is going to steal your board design and if it's somehow so novel they might, you need a NDA or patent.
 

Offline Shonky

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2023, 09:46:01 am »
As noted you can't prevent someone making more of a product than just the ones they are making for you. They can just build more than you order.

Just use a reputable company, NDAs etc and that's about all you can do.

Now a PCB on its own is not everything to your design. If you really want to, you can obfuscate it somewhat by having little to no silkscreen and in particular remove all the designators. Then have the PCB populated elsewhere (and hope then that the two companies don't collude). This may be as much a hassle during development as it is a help in securing your design.

Finally if there's any firmware involved, implement proper security processes to prevent it being copied. That may be simply you program them in house for example but even then there is no guarantee that any read protection in the MCUs you use is infallible. You can go furter with signed/encrypted firmware etc too of course.

It's a lot of effort so make sure you really need that level of protection, since you probably don't.
 

Offline eugene

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2023, 01:44:26 pm »
One technique that's not uncommon with mechanical systems is to have different machine shops fab different parts so that none of them know what the whole machine looks like or even what its function is. Not sure how practical that is with PCBs...
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Online Kean

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2023, 06:51:43 pm »
One technique that's not uncommon with mechanical systems is to have different machine shops fab different parts so that none of them know what the whole machine looks like or even what its function is. Not sure how practical that is with PCBs...

Yes, you can split parts of your schematic off into daughterboards and have the PCBs fabbed and assembled at different suppliers.  With some thought it may not add much cost or increase size.
Could actually save money if there are parts of the PCB that need 6+ layers (or other special requirements), and other parts only 2 layers.  Not so much with 4 layer as it has become relatively cheap.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2023, 07:33:58 pm by Kean »
 

Offline Feynman

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #11 on: July 15, 2023, 07:24:06 pm »
One technique that's not uncommon with mechanical systems is to have different machine shops fab different parts so that none of them know what the whole machine looks like or even what its function is. Not sure how practical that is with PCBs...
It's actually very common to have a domestic company buy and assemble the components and a Chinese company to fabricate the bare PCB.
Usually it's the assembly shop having all information, because they are ordering the PCBs, too. But it's a lot easier to develop trust in a domestic than in a Chinese company.

Technically it's possible to buy the boards yourself so that the PCB fab only has the bare PCB data and the assembly shop only has the assembly data. But that creates A LOT of friction and is usually not worth it.
 

Online Smokey

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #12 on: July 15, 2023, 10:20:17 pm »
Just do what I do.  Include "strategic errors" in the PCB that require manual cuts and jumpers rework to make the circuit actually function. 
I'm so good at this technique now that I always include at least a couple of these "strategic errors" on my prototype RevA boards that I get made in China, even without thinking about it! 
 
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Online Smokey

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #13 on: July 15, 2023, 10:22:48 pm »
One technique that's not uncommon with mechanical systems is to have different machine shops fab different parts so that none of them know what the whole machine looks like or even what its function is. Not sure how practical that is with PCBs...
It's actually very common to have a domestic company buy and assemble the components and a Chinese company to fabricate the bare PCB.
Usually it's the assembly shop having all information, because they are ordering the PCBs, too. But it's a lot easier to develop trust in a domestic than in a Chinese company.

Technically it's possible to buy the boards yourself so that the PCB fab only has the bare PCB data and the assembly shop only has the assembly data. But that creates A LOT of friction and is usually not worth it.

A legit production assembly shop typically needs the gerbers for making the paste stencil that matches their paste machines and processes.  I guess you could only give them top and bottom layers and keep the inner layers secret.
 

Offline Fire Doger

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2023, 10:29:08 am »
A couple years back when I was fiddling with the website of a very well known PCB manufacturer I realized that I had access to every order file (zip with gerbers, pnp, etc) in their server. It was around 700k orders, plus delivery address for each one.  :)
Your designs can leak even if manufacturer is unaware of it.
The reality is that if someone wants to copy your design he can send a working board to specialized facility where they take care of the rest.
They can give you bom, pick and place, grind the pcb and get the gerbers by scanning the board. Also many MCUs are prone to power line attacks and can be copied without much effort.
Not to mention about your security measures, you are a possible attack vector for someone to get access to the files.
Everything can be copied with enough time and money.
 
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Offline Infraviolet

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2023, 09:15:24 pm »
" I guess you could only give them top and bottom layers and keep the inner layers secret. "
They could just use a multimeter to work out what the nets of those inner layers do, or the type of flying probe testing setup that PCB manufacturers will already have (and I'd expect assembly houses to have that sort of thing too, so they could check arriving boards themselves before wasting a component soldering it on to a board which may have shorts/breaks in it.

Separated daughter boards made at different fab houses is the only anti-copying technique which would really achieve something, but to be truly obscuring of overall circuit design details you'd have to have some pretty inconvenient and illogical seeming choice of which traces leave which board to go where. This would make it quite likely you might accidentally misdesign things unles your software toolchain can take a schematic and let you conveniently split across multiple boards. For other reasons, namely that I hadn't quite enough space summed across both sides of a mechanically x-y constrained PCB to get all the components on, so had to use headers to stack another board above it to fit the rest of the parts in, I once tried designing such a single-schematic-across-multiple-boards layout with Eagle. It worked, but it wasn't pleasant to manually double check that all the headers went to and from the things they should on the two boards. Splitting in an even mroe convoluted way to make copying hard would make designing it without errors very painstaking indeed.
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #16 on: July 19, 2023, 05:55:47 pm »
Really,

1) your product is for public sale -> it can be copied anyway
2) your product is top secret, for your internal use, military customers etc. -> better choose your contract manufacturers carefully, and sign NDAs with them.
 

Offline peter-h

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2023, 05:20:25 pm »
NDAs are worthless :)

Especially as the biggest risk with china are "inside jobs" i.e. employees stealing stuff. They commonly steal customer details so if you order from one company (JLCPCB is one, ITEAD is another) you soon get contacted by other PCB companies from there.

So if they see gerber data for something obviously valuable, it will likely be stolen.

Best safeguard is not put on the PCB the name of the product.
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Offline Bud

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #18 on: July 22, 2023, 06:07:08 pm »
You guys really think someone is sitting in a backroom at JLCPCB or whatever and analyzing gazillion PCB gerbers to determin which one they want to clone?
Even if they do, which is ridiculous speculation, whithout intimate knowledge of your application and/or design parameters it is not possible to replicate the end product. Sure it can be seen my PCB has a topology for a bandpass filter, so what? How do you know the filter design frequency ? And this is even not getting into firmware layer yet.
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Offline floobydust

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #19 on: July 22, 2023, 07:30:50 pm »
Anything you send to china gets stolen, copied. For the good of the People. They are opportunists after all, and everybody want to get ahead.
Get used to this as being their way.

i.e. I'm now making your board and selling it for 1/10 the cost. You can do nothing about it without registering your company and trademark in china. Otherwise, it allows someone else to legally claim your brand name as their own, thereby prohibiting you from using it. source

Shenzhen they have entire buildings dedicated to reverse-engineering, getting F/W read out, making counterfeits.
Gerbers are easy to import and edit etc. Not a source file but good enough to replicate.
 

Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #20 on: July 22, 2023, 08:03:24 pm »
If you're really that paranoid, The best thing you can do is not have any identifying info on the PCB, nondescript filenames etc.
In amongst the thousands of PCBs the PCB house makes, how would they know yours is something worth stealing?
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Offline peter-h

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #21 on: July 22, 2023, 08:43:55 pm »
If your product has any obvious value, not having product names is important, not just for PCB firms but also for any pick/place subcontractor.

For sure you should have your company URL; that is handy in all kinds of ways e.g. often you will sell only via a disti, and if/when he goes bust, you want to be able to sell direct, so you want to make it easy for anyone who opens your box to find you.

There is zero value in  saying what the PCB does, on the PCB.

I've been doing this for 45 years :)
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Online Smokey

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #22 on: July 22, 2023, 11:22:13 pm »
If your product has any obvious value, not having product names is important, not just for PCB firms but also for any pick/place subcontractor.

For sure you should have your company URL; that is handy in all kinds of ways e.g. often you will sell only via a disti, and if/when he goes bust, you want to be able to sell direct, so you want to make it easy for anyone who opens your box to find you.

There is zero value in  saying what the PCB does, on the PCB.

I've been doing this for 45 years :)

Isn't it one single step for someone to visit the web site printed on the PCB and see exactly what the board is used for? 
 

Offline peter-h

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Re: Sharing Gerber files with manufacturer without risk of copy
« Reply #23 on: July 23, 2023, 06:44:04 am »
May not be obvious. And a new product won't be on the website yet.
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