Neutral Ground: The Rise of ECXML

29 September, 2021

Engineers have been sharing Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data with their colleagues, using vendor-neutral file formats, for almost half a century. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) published the IGES format, enabling engineers to share CAD files whether or not they were using the same tools, as far as back as 1980.

Sharing CAD files these days is an entry-level skill for most engineers. Decades of development have made it incredibly easy to distribute them throughout the supply chain at the touch of a button, regardless of the systems at the other end.

But for a long time the thermal engineering world didn’t have an equivalent format, despite the wealth of benefits that such a filetype could bring. Component manufacturers were working with Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) models – a challenging, inefficient process that requires them to work with three or more native formats.

We’ve worked hard to change that situation. In 2018, 6SigmaET and specialists from Intel developed and launched the ECXML (Electronics Cooling eXtensible Markup Language) neutral file format, allowing thermal simulations to be moved between multiple thermal simulation platforms. It was the first concerted effort towards a standardization of the electronics thermal simulation field.

Just two years later, our research suggests that 20% of thermal engineers have adopted the file format. This represents a significant shift in the zeitgeist and confirms an appetite for the neutral file format.

Simply put, ECXML allows a selection of objects – along with their material properties and environment settings – to be both imported and exported as non-rotated cuboids/cylinders, or their 2D equivalents. Those objects could be PCBs, solids, heatsinks, fans, sub-assemblies, heat sources, vents, porous obstructions, or entire chassis.

Being able to do this directly tackles the feeling of ‘lock in’ that thermal engineers experienced. Sharing files no longer demands access to – and the development of skills within – a platform that engineers aren’t used to using. On the 6Sigma platform, for example, importing is a simple five-step process.

In 2019, a JEDEC working group was set up with representatives from every major thermal simulation software provider – as well as key electronics companies – to push for the standardization of ECXML as the industry’s de-facto format. 

Such a significant collaboration working towards growing the scope of ECXML is indicative of just how important the file could be for thermal engineers. While it’s lagged behind the standard of CAD for too long, the thermal industry is finally in a position to start building on a powerful neutral file format for greater functionality and speed. 


Blog written by: Matt Evans, Senior Product Engineer

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