One Professor and Two Orderly Labs

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.

Student workplaces in the Dortmund lab are equipped for basic training in analog electronics.

Student workplaces in the Dortmund lab are equipped for basic training in analog electronics.

In adjacent rooms at the Dortmund lab, students pursue their own projects, working with soldering irons, screwdrivers, drills,  and other tools. Hence, these rooms are  occasionally called the blacksmith’s shop. Here two such workplaces are shown.

In adjacent rooms at the Dortmund lab, students pursue their own projects, working with soldering irons, screwdrivers, drills, and other tools. Hence, these rooms are occasionally called “the blacksmith’s shop.” Two such workstations are shown.

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.

The orderly lab at home is shown here.

The orderly lab in Matthes’s home is shown here.

Matthes prefers to build his  projects so that they are mechanically sturdy. So his lab is equipped appropriately.

Matthes prefers to build mechanically sturdy projects. So his lab is appropriately equipped.

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.

Real work is shown here at the digital analog computer—bring-up and debugging of the master controller board. Each of the six microcontrollers is connected to a general-purpose human-interface module.

A digital analog computer in Matthes’s home lab works on master controller board bring-up and debugging. Each of the six microcontrollers is connected to a general-purpose human-interface module.

Additional photos of Matthes’s workspace and his embedded electronics and micrcontroller projects are available at his new website.

 

 

 

Workspace for Precision Design

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.

Photo 1: One of Boegler’s Altera CPLD breakout boards is on the bench. He said he was “experimenting with some video generators in VHDL” when he took this picture. (Source: B. Boegler)

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.

Photo 2: Boegler’s workspace for machining (Source: B. Boegler)

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.)

A wheeled shelf system for microcontrollers, op-amps, and parts of all sorts (Source: B. Boegler)

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!

Cabinet-Based DIY Electronics Workspace

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.”

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

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.

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

The information and images were submitted by Patrik Thalin. For more information about his space and work, visit his blog.

System Engineer’s Space for Designing & Testing

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.

(Source: John Roselle)

John Roselle’s space for designing circuits and electronic systems (Source: John Roselle)

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.

Computer design center (Source: John Roselle)

A second room serves as “computer design center” (Source: John Roselle)

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.

(Source: John Roselle)

The third space is used to test and assemble systems (Source: John Roselle)

Do you want to share images of your workspace, hackspace, or “circuit cellar”? Send us your images and info about your space.

Professor’s Convertible Electronics Workspace

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.”

Coulston's workspace configured as an office desk

Photo 1: Coulston’s workspace configured as an office desk

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 can reconfigure his desk into the embedded workstation pictured here.

Photo 2: Coulston can reconfigure his desk into the embedded workstation pictured here.

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.

Chris Coulston

Chris Coulston