IGES stands for Initial Graphics Exchange Specification. It is a neutral data format that allows for the cross-platform digital exchange of computer-aided design files, or CAD files. With IGES, engineers and other CAD modelers can transfer their designs in the form of wireframes, circuit diagrams, or a variety of other styles. The official title of IGES is Digital Representation for Communication of Product Definition Data, and it was first published in 1980 by the National Bureau of Standards.
Even in the early years of CAD modeling, modelers suffered from an inability to transfer their design files to different programs and people. The CAD designer had to be sure that he was using the same program and the same file type as everyone else he was working with. This could be very costly and time-consuming, as CAD programs were initially quite complex and expensive. A great deal of time and money could go into ensuring that designs were usable on a given company's systems.
In the fall of 1979, a two-day Society of Manufacturing Engineers meeting concluded with the decision to make an IGES. A core team was formed to examine the problem and create a neutral file type. Many different companies, including Boeing and General Electric contributed data and personnel to the project. On 10 October 1979, another meeting was held at the National Academy of Sciences to announce the birth of IGES.
Another similar, ongoing project is STEP, the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data. Its development began in 1984, and it was intended to be the successor of IGES. Its purpose was to provide a platform for the transfer of all product data through the entire life cycle of the product. IGES, on the other hand, was intended only for the neutral transfer of CAD data. Because of the overwhelming complexity of the project, STEP is still in development.
Computer aided design has become an integral aspect to many industries. Without it, teams of drafters poring over papers and making measurements by hand would be doing a job that a single person with a computer can do today. The information presented in the CAD drawing is meaningless, however, if it can not be accessed on a variety of systems by all of those who need to use it. That is the role of IGES. The neutral file format allows for the easy exchange of CAD data across systems, ensuring that CAD designers remain cost-efficient and useful.