For many young innovators, getting a blinking LED on a Arduino is the ultimate success. For others that is clearly not enough. Take Henrik Forsten, a graduate student studying electrical engineering in Espoo, Finland. He is pushing himself to do some hard stuff by making his own radars and doing experiments on circuit design with evolutionary algorithms. Now we are talking!
The workspaces we see in Circuit Cellar are fascinating. The engineers who open up their rooms, garages, and cellar’s normally have a lot of equipment and sufficient access to components and facilities. But what about an Indian university student’s workspace? Wisse Hettinga recently visited with Nishant Mittal, a student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay). Mittal discussed his small workspace space in his dorm room, as well as his plans for the future.
Many Circuit Cellar readers dabble in both mechanical and electrical design. Jared Harvey—a senior electrical engineer at Howell Laboratories—recently shared with us a photo and description of his home workspace in West Newfield, ME, where he tackles interesting electromechanical projects.
Here is what he says about his space:
I was once told that a clean work space is a sign of a dirty mind. I hope that holds true in the inverse as my work space is always messy. For hobby stuff, I can never seem to prioritize the cleaning operations, I pretty much always choose to put those energies into building something.
Located in the basement, on the left is an oak bench with a vise, which is used for mostly mechanical stuff, in the middle is a metal bench for mostly electrical stuff. on the right is another metal bench for anything else. Also in view is an old drill press and one of those circular magnification glasses with a light, mounted on a move-able arm. I also have a large-ish garage with car lift, which allow for larger projects like the little red suby.
I have a small collection of electrical tools including HAMEG spectrum analyzer, DSO Quad, China logic analyzer, Metcal soldering station, and a couple misc bench top power supplies and misc function generators. It’s pretty basic tools, and whenever I need real tools I have always had access to good NIST traceable tools at work. I have made a re-flow toaster oven out of an B&D Infrawave, which is PID controlled using a thermo-couple controlled and generates mostly IR as well as some conduction heaters in the bottom.
Someday I’d like to help develop an open source multi meter, also I’d like to re-purpose my old AC units making them into a geothermal heat ex-changer. Lately I’ve been spending a bunch of time helping develop rusEFI, and in the past have helped with project like OpenServo. Projects these days have limited time as the 5 year old and 7 year old are higher priority and take up most of my spare time. So it’s generally 10 minutes a day late night or early morning.
Visit Jared’s webpage to read about his projects, including the following: FEA Magnetic encoder Analysis, Radio Propagation Analysis, and Solid Modeling and Gif Animation.
Christopher Coballes is a Philippines-based freelance R&D engineer and Linux enthusiast with more than a decade of experience in an embedded hardware/software and a passion for an open source design.
The nearby photo shows his home workspace, which includes handy tools such as a spectrum analyzer, digital oscilloscope, and a PCB etcher.
Here are some links to Coballes’s interests and work:
- Engineering blog
- Hi-Techno Barrio: A group of Filipino electronics enthusiasts who “aim to uncover the complexity of a modern technology and in turn make it simple, beneficial ,low-cost and free-ware resources.”
View other electrical engineering workspaces.
There’s a great deal of innovative electronics engineering and embedded systems development taking place in Europe. The Circuit Cellar team reviews dozens of inventive projects and insightful articles from European engineers each year. And based on the quality of that content, we’re convinced that Europe’s electrical engineers, programmers, and embedded designers are among the most industrious, inspired, and creative tech specialists in the world.
Burghausen, Germany-based Hubert Wihr is one of the many Europeans actively designing interesting electronic systems in his free time. At about 3′ × 5′ (approximately 90 cm × 150 cm), his workspace doesn’t leave much room for expansion or the addition of too many new design tools. But as long as at Wihr enjoys the space and finds it suitable, he gets the thumbs up from our staff.
We applaud his intelligent use of vertical space. Like an architect trying to add office space to a cramped city block, Wihr simply built upward. He effectively installed a few feet of vertical shelving and storage space to accommodate his PC, soldering station, test equipment, parts, and a perfectly placed cork board for tacking handwritten notes.
As for Wihr’s neatly labeled parts containers, well, you know how we feel about those. Such a storage system is an essential part of every proper workspace. If you look closely at his labels, you can see he’s storing Schraube (screws), Haken (hooks), and more.
Lastly, Wihr has a simple yet effective solution for keeping his tools in order and readily available. He smartly mounted his peripheral cables within arm’s reach to the right of his monitor. And just left of his cork board he hangs pliers, wire cutters, and a few other frequently used tools. Nice idea.
Bernard Hiew sure knows how to get the most of his Penang, Malaysia-based “humble” electrical engineering workspace. He turned the third room of his apartment into a complete innovation space that’s used for everything from engineering to 3-D printing to playing music to woodworking.
I spend my most of my time here, my little humble workspace. This room is not a dedicated workshop at somewhere else but is in my house. Half of the room is my workspace … The other half of the room is the main table where we do most of office work and surfing. Recently my wife is working from home, so she is occupying this table most of the time.
Hiew proves that with a little planning and ingenuity, you can create a fully functional workspace complete with essential engineering equipment and tools. His space includes a soldering station, a PCB UV box, multimeter, power station, computer, book shelves, and even a couch for relaxing and playing music. He also makes great use of storage containers for his electrical components.
When it comes to a workspace, more doesn’t necessarily mean better. We encourage engineers and DIYers to focus their time and money on engineering, not on acquiring new and used equipment they’ll never use.
Belgium-based Jan Cumps has a very basic yet effective workspace. It is a true workspace. That means he actually has room to work there. It isn’t a cluttered room for storing junk.
I’m a clean-desker. Have to share it with studying kids. All gear has to have small footprint, or must be stow-away-able. That’s why you see a 4-in-1 multimeter, power supply, frequency counter and function generator, and a 2-in-1 hot air plus solder station. Components, meters, cables and what have you are stowed a way in boxes.
- Philips MP 3305 oscilloscope
- Metex MS-9150 4-in-1
- Micronta (Tandy) and Metrix multimeters
- Old-school soldering gear
Professor Wolfgang Matthes has taught microcontroller design, computer architecture, and electronics (both digital and analog) at the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund, Germany, since 1992. He has developed peripheral subsystems for mainframe computers and conducted research related to special-purpose and universal computer architectures for the past 25 years.
When asked to share a description and images of his workspace with Circuit Cellar, he stressed that there are two labs to consider: the one at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the other in his home basement.
Here is what he had to say about the two labs and their equipment:
In both labs, rather conventional equipment is used. My regular duties are essentially concerned with basic student education and hands-on training. Obviously, one does not need top-notch equipment for such comparatively humble purposes.
Oscilloscopes, function generators, multimeters, and power supplies are of an intermediate price range. I am fond of analog scopes, because they don’t lie. I wonder why neither well-established suppliers nor entrepreneurs see a business opportunity in offering quality analog scopes, something that could be likened to Rolex watches or Leica analog cameras.
Matthes, whose research interests include advanced computer architecture and embedded systems design, pursues a variety of projects in his workspace. He describes some of what goes on in his lab:
The projects comprise microcontroller hardware and software, analog and digital circuitry, and personal computers.
Personal computer projects are concerned with embedded systems, hardware add-ons, interfaces, and equipment for troubleshooting. For writing software, I prefer PowerBASIC. Those compilers generate executables, which run efficiently and show a small footprint. Besides, they allow for directly accessing the Windows API and switching to Assembler coding, if necessary.
Microcontroller software is done in Assembler and, if required, in C or BASIC (BASCOM). As the programming language of the toughest of the tough, Assembler comes second after wire [i.e., the soldering iron].
My research interests are directed at computer architecture, instruction sets, hardware, and interfaces between hardware and software. To pursue appropriate projects, programming at the machine level is mandatory. In student education, introductory courses begin with the basics of computer architecture and machine-level programming. However, Assembler programming is only taught at a level that is deemed necessary to understand the inner workings of the machine and to write small time-critical routines. The more sophisticated application programming is usually done in C.
Additional photos of Matthes’s workspace and his embedded electronics and micrcontroller projects are available at his new website.
Brad Boegler is a do-it-yourselfer’s DIYer. His West Bloomfield, MI-based workspace is something to admire. It features a sturdy 8’ × 5’ workbench, a well-built machining bench, and dozens of handy tools that enable him to work on projects ranging from constructing a temperature-monitoring network to milling custom heatsinks. Simply put, it’s an appealing space for any innovator interested in DIY electronics and machining projects.
As I reviewed Boegler’s space, the same word kept popping into my mind: precision. Why? Let’s see.
Building a bench (or benches) for a workspace like Boegler’s takes a lot of precision measuring, cutting, fitting, and constructing. Check out the workbench in Photo 1. That’s no “Ikea hack.” The 8’ × 5’ bench fits a dual monitor setup, plenty of test/measurement equipment, a solder station, and more.
Boegler—who works as Linux sysadmin—described some of the equipment on this bench via email:
The left side of the bench is mostly RF equipment: there are two HP RF frequency generators, a VNA, and spectrum analyzer. The analog scope is a Tek 2246 and is one of my favorite scopes. Next to that is an HP 16500B logic analysis system and then a HP 54112D digital scope … The bench was custom made. I was not able to find any benches to my liking so I ended up building my own. It is 8′ wide by 5′ deep and constructed out of mostly 4×4s. It weighs a ton, but it has to be sturdy as a lot of this equipment is very heavy. I like very deep benches as I can push the equipment back far enough on it and still provide enough working space.
And don’t forget the power!
Those are various adjustable voltage current limiting power supplies, when working on projects needing various voltages you can never have too many supplies.
I’m sure everyone agrees that access to power supplies is key.
On a separate bench (Photo 2) are Boegler’s milling machine and drill press, which are two tools intended for precision designing and machining. Boegler wrote:
The drill press is used almost daily, one of the best tools ever. I use the milling machine for custom shielded aluminum cases for RF boards, making special sized heatsinks, and it comes in handy for any special brackets I can make to hold boards or components.
I’m sure you’d agree that machining board cases and heatsinks requires a bit of exactitude.
Much like the bench in Photo 1, building the actual machine bench required precise measurements and cuts. Just look at its clean edges and sturdy frame. And don’t you like the shelf underneath? It’s a simple yet effective place for stowing frequently used tools.
On the topic of storage, check out Boegler’s wheeled shelf system. I like it and will consider something similar for my garage. (We all take wheels for granted until we’re in a pinch and need to move a heavy object. For instance, try moving a wheel-less six-shelf system full of parts in order to track down a screw that fell on the floor. Actually, don’t try that. It’s an accident waiting to happen.)
Lastly, check out the neatly labeled parts boxes. I see labels such as “Microcontrollers/DSP,” “Op-Amps,” “Serial Cables,” and more. Nice!
Share your space! Circuit Cellar is interested in finding as many workspaces as possible and sharing them with the world. Click here to submit photos and information about your workspace. Write “workspace” in the subject line of the email, and include info such as where you’re located (city, country), the projects you build in your space, your tech interests, your occupation, and more. If you have an interesting space, we might feature it on CircuitCellar.com!
Micrcontrollers and electrical engineering probably don’t come to mind when you flip through an IKEA product catalog. But when you think about it, IKEA has plenty of easy-to-assemble tables, cabinets, and storage containers that could be handy for outfitting a electronics workspace or “circuit cellar.”
Sweden-based Patrik Thalin built a workspace within an IKEA Husar cabinet. The setup is compact, orderly, and well-planned. He noted:
It has a pull-out keyboard shelf that I use it as an extension of the workspace when the doors are open. My inspiration came from a friend that had built his lab in a two door closet. The main idea is to have a workspace that can be closed when not used and to be able to resume my work later. I have used this lab for nearly ten years and I am still happy with it!
In the upper part of the cabinet I keep commonly used tools and instruments. On the top shelf are two PSUs, a signal generator, assortment boxes with components, the SMD component kit and shelf trays with cables and small tools. On the lower shelves are things like multimeter, callipers and a power drill. At the bottom is the work space with a soldering station. On the left wall are screwdrivers,wrenches and pliers. To the left are cables hanging on hooks.The thing hanging under the shelf is an old radio scanner. You can also see a small vise hanging on the front of the workspace.
The lower part of the cabinet is for additional storage, he noted.
The information and images were submitted by Patrik Thalin. For more information about his space and work, visit his blog.
Many complicated motion control and power electronics systems comprise thousands of parts and dozens of embedded systems. Thus, it makes sense that a systems engineer like New Jersey-based John Roselle would have more than one workspace for simultaneously planning, designing, and testing multiple systems.
Roselle recently submitted images of his space and provided some interesting feedback when we asked him about it.
My main work space for testing and debugging of circuits consists of nothing more than a kitchen table with two shelves attached to the wall. Shown in the picture (see above) a 265-V digital motor drive for a fin control system for an under water application. In a second room I have a computer design center.
I design and test mostly motor drives for motion control products for various applications, such as underwater vehicles, missile hatch door motor drives, and test equipment for testing the products I design.
John’s third workspace is used mainly for testing and assembling. At times there might be two or three different projects going on at once, he added.
In addition to serving as a contributor and technical reviewer for Circuit Cellar, Chris Coulston heads the Computer Science and Software Engineering department at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. He has a broad range of technical interests, including embedded systems, computer graphics algorithms, and sensor design.
Since 2005, he has submitted five articles for publication in Circuit Cellar, on projects and topics ranging from DIY motion-controlled gaming to a design for a “smart” jewelry pendant utilizing RGB LEDs.
We asked him to share photos and a description of the workspace in his Erie, PA, home. His office desk (see Photo 1) has something of an alter ego. When need and invention arise, he reconfigures it into an “embedded workstation.”
When working on my projects, my embedded workstation contains only the essential equipment that I need to complete my project (see Photo 2). What it lacks in quantity I’ve tried to make up for in quality instrumentation; a Tektronix TDS 3012B oscilloscope, a Fluke 87-V digital multimeter, and a Weller WS40 soldering iron. While my workstation lacks a function generator and power supply, most of my projects are digital and have modest power requirements.
Coulston says his workspace must function as a “typical office desk” 80 percent of the time and electronics station 20 percent of the time.
It must do this while maintaining some semblance of being presentable—my wife shares a desk in the same space. The foundation of my workstation is a recycled desk with a heavy plywood backing on which I attached shelving. Being a bit clumsy, I’ve tried to screw down anything that could be knocked over—speakers, lights, bulletin board, power strip, cable modem, and routers.
The head of a university department has different needs in a workspace than does an electronics designer. So how does Coulston make his single office desk suffice for both his professional and personal interests? It’s definitely not a messy solution.
My role as department chair and professor means that I spend a lot time grading, writing, and planning. For this work, there is no substitute for uncluttered square footage—getting all the equipment off the working surface. However, when it’s time to play with the circuits, I need to easily reconfigure this space.
I have found organization to be key to successfully realize this goal. Common parts are organized in a parts case, parts for each project are put in their own bag, the active project is stored in the top draw, frequently used tools, jumper wires, and DMM are stored in the next draw. All other equipment is stored in a nearby closet.
I’ve looked at some of the professional-looking workspaces in Circuit Cellar and must admit that I am a bit jealous. However, when it comes to operating under the constraints of a busy professional life, I have found that my reconfigurable space is a practical compromise.
To learn more about Coulston and his technical interests, check out his Member Profile.
No two workspaces or circuit cellars are alike. And that’s what makes studying these submissions so fascinating. Each space reflects the worker’s interests, needs, and personality.
Succasunna, NJ-based Mike Sydor’s penchant for “hacking” isn’t relegated solely to electronics. His entire workspace is actually a hack designed for both hardware and software projects. It’s an excellent example of what you can do with a little creativity and planning!
We love the “transformer” theme that runs through the entire space. Simply put, the compact space is easily rearranged to serve Mike’s various needs:
- When the front is closed, Mike can work on the “soft arts” of coding, diagramming, and design planning.
- When the front is open, Mike has easy access to essential tools such as an oscilloscope, isolation transformer, and solder station.
- A KVM switch enables Mike move back and forth between Linux and Windows
Another interesting point to note is that Mike can detach the shelf/drawer so the workspace can fit through a door if necessary. Great idea! Now he can take the workspace with him if he ever moves.
Submitted by Mike Sydor:
Here is my workspace for your consideration. It is basically a custom, drop-front workspace on wheels so that I can move it easily to reconfigure the equipment or otherwise get to all the gear. It has two configurations. The ‘software’ setting (front closed) where I can focus on the code, design docs, etc. The shelf can also hold a midi keyboard for music ‘hacking.’ There is a drawer in that shelf for miscellaneous items. With the front open, you have a nice workspace for assembly and debugging, you can still access the drawer, and you can access all of the gear. Everything is self-contained – only a single power and network cable are ‘on the floor.’ The shelf/drawer assembly detaches for moving day – otherwise it is too wide to fit through a standard door opening. I also only use three wheels. This makes a tripod, which is stable on any surface. I live in an older home – no level floors! – so mobility does not compromise stability and I don’t have to shim one side or the other to keep it from wobbling. The mass of all the gear keeps the bench stable. The monitors are mounted on a custom stand so that they can be positioned, via swing arms and are otherwise stable when you need to move the bench around. I use a KVM switch with multiple computers (windows, Linux) and have a set of cables so that I can plug in a project computer and use the same monitors and keyboard. All the computers are on the same switch for optimal Ethernet performance. I build kits, prototype circuits for sensor conditioning and muck around with micro-controllers, as well as fix/hack your various consumer electronics. Cheers, Mike Sydor.
Do you want to share images of your workspace, hackspace, or “circuit cellar”? Send us your images and info about your space.
Steve Karg of Birmingham, AL, recently submitted info about his well-planned, cost-conscious design nook where he builds lighting control products, develops software, tests and debugs his projects, and more. The workspace is compact yet intelligently stocked with essentials such as a laptop, a scope, a toaster, a magnifier, a labelled parts bin, an AC source, and more.
Here is a photo of my electronics workspace in my cellar. I use the toaster oven for soldering surface mount parts to printed circuit boards, the scope and meters for the usual diagnostics and validation, the AC source for developing line voltage dimming and switching lighting control products, the laptop for developing software including the open source BACnet Stack and Wireshark, and the light tent for deriving dimming curves for various lamps. I bought the chairs and lab bench at a Martin-Marietta yard sale in Colorado, and they moved 3 times with me to Pennsylvania, Georgia, and now Alabama. I found the Metcal soldering iron in a dumpster in Maryland near an office building.—Steve Karg, Birmingham, AL
In addition to placing his essential tools within reach, Karg did a few things we think every designer should consider when planning his or her workspace.
One, Karg neatly labelled the parts box located on the right side of the shelf above his workbench. Label now and you’ll thank yourself later.
Two, Karg has deep, sturdy, wall-mounted shelves above his workbench. As you can see, they’re capable of holding fairly large bins and boxes. They aren’t flimsy 8″ deep shelves intended for displaying lightweight curios or paperback books. If you’re planning a workspace, consider following Karg’s lead by installing sturdy shelving capable of holding everything from electronic equipment to every copy of Circuit Cellar since 1988.
Three, we applaud Karg’s magnification and lighting equipment. A cellar can be dark place, especially if it is completely underground and isn’t a “walkout” (or “daylight basement”) with a windowed door. Many basements have only a few small hopper windows that enable daylight and fresh air to get inside. In such spaces, darkness and shadows can be problematic for electrical engineers and electronics DIYers working on small projects. Without a properly placed light or lighting system, your body can overshadow your work. Good luck trying taking a close look at a board or attempting to repair a PCB trace without proper lighting. It’s clear Karg has proper lighting in mind. As you can see, he has plenty of lamps and light sources at his disposal.
And finally, kudos to Karg for purchasing the bench at a yard sale and staying with the discarded soldering iron he found in a dumpster. We all know the saying: “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We agree, except when what’s broke is mounted on your circuit board, of course!
Do you want to share images of your workspace, hackspace, or “circuit cellar” with the world? Click here to email us your images and workspace info.