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Ask Slashdot: What Equipment and Furniture For an Electronics Hardware Lab? 208

Posted by Soulskill
from the 100-gross-self-sealing-stem-bolts dept.
bartoku writes "Slashdot, what would you put in your dream electronics hardware lab? I am putting one together, and I'm looking for suggestions on everything from equipment to furniture. My aim is for a professional-grade setup, not just a hobby lab. The goal is to be able to test and debug modern electronic device prototypes. I would love to see money-is-no-objective suggestions alongside more economically practical solutions. Links or contacts for good distributors to acquire the equipment and furniture are also welcome. I'm also interested in commentary on renting versus buying new or used higher-end equipment to be economical and keep up with equipment that will become obsolete quickly."
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Ask Slashdot: What Equipment and Furniture For an Electronics Hardware Lab?

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  • by RaySnake (607687) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:11AM (#41604715)
    Check out David Jones' EEVblog, particularly episode 168. http://www.eevblog.com/ [eevblog.com]
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Get a chair/floor that molten solder doesn't stick to.

      Also, make sure you get a few bunny suits to wear while you're working. You want to look the part, right?

    • by Dogbertius (1333565) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @08:52AM (#41606829)
      This is how I have mine set up. It's pretty sweet, especially if you like doing board and circuit design from scratch:
      • Heavy bench with vice press
      • Large desk-mounted magnifying glass with built-in lighting (for assembling small parts)
      • Soldering bench area with a multi-arm alligator clip apparatus
      • Fume hood
      • Acid etching tank
      • Drill press (I use a set that converts a Dremel tool into a press, fun fun)
      • Dremel tool (even if you have a "proper" drill press, the cutting and sanding attachments are helpful; don't forget various sizes of collets or just get a chuck)
      • Mini beer fridge
      • Emergency sink
      • Concrete floor (the garage/basement area is ideal so you can install a drain in the floor)
      • Tool set (wire strippers, tweezers, cutters)

      This setup lets me basically mass produce home-made circuit boards in a safe and comfortable setting. I also have a really old TV (think it's from the 80's) which I keep on life support and have a TON of adapters connected to it so that it gets cable. Just kind of like that retro radioactive glare :)

    • UGH. Watching David Jones is like sitting in a dentist's chair because he often squeaks his voice at a high, constant monotone pitch - and he doesn't just ramble, he goes on walkabouts. Seriously, the guy needs to print a fucking agenda and tape it above the camera, and then EDIT HIS FOOTAGE.

      Most people would make a page or two on their blog with a few photos - but Jones manages to turn it into a 30 minute stream-of-consciousness youtube video, 90% of which should have been edited out.

      It's beyond painful,

  • by wisewellies (2749169) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:16AM (#41604727)
    There are a number of pieces of equipment which should be in any lab setup - e.g. oscilloscope, voltmeter/ammeter, decent bench power supply, soldering iron and proper illumination. What you need after that will depend much more on the kind of electronics that you want to work on - digital, analogue, RF etc. Each needs a different set of equipment. Personally, I work in the digital domain, and find a fast logic analyser invaluable for diagnosing difficult problems. I would also include a dedicated bench computer (or two), and large, deep benches with overhead shelves. You can't have too much space. Of course the most important piece of equipment is your brain - no piece of equipment is going to replace your ability to think through a problem.
    • by xQx (5744) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:50AM (#41604887)
      You also will need the following:

      1. A van der graaf generator
      2. A very powerful degaussing Coil
      3. A glass still

      1. Because if you're spending heaps of time in an electronics lab, you're sometimes going to have visitors and it never hurts to show them something theatrical.
      2. Because you never know when you need to destroy information.
      3. Because if you're testing and doing R&D on electronics stuff for any length of time, you will know it doesn't always work the way it should, and for those instances a home-made stiff drink never goes astray.
    • by ebbe11 (121118) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:12AM (#41604949)
      To this have added:
      • AC Outlets with real earth ground
      • A grounded ESD conductive mat
      • A opposed to fake earth grounded mains? Houses usually have a 2 metre earthing rod shoved in to the ground...
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Houses usually have a 2 metre earthing rod shoved in to the ground...

          Does that work in very dry places?

          • by vlm (69642)

            Houses usually have a 2 metre earthing rod shoved in to the ground...

            Does that work in very dry places?

            UFER ground basically bond to the rebar in the concrete floor. Concrete, you see, covers a rather large area, like the size of the house, and fundamentally never really dries out (well, maybe in the deepest desert, but what idiot lives there). This has the charming feature of sometimes physically exploding when lightning hits... and the only way to really know if it'll blow up or not is to personally bond the rebar (arc welding rebar together is not going too far) and pour the slab yourself...

            Also if you

        • A opposed to fake earth grounded mains? Houses usually have a 2 metre earthing rod shoved in to the ground...

          There is also a method where you dig a copper ring [tukes.fi] around the house. But yeah, I suppose there are differences by countries and buildings of how it is done.

        • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @06:27AM (#41605763)

          A opposed to fake earth grounded mains?

          Yes exactly. A "3-hole outlet" will work perfectly well at powering things if you don't hook up the ground. Its ungrounded, but you won't find out until something shorts to a chassis and you get electrocuted.

          Another prime failure mode for older houses is relying on conduit for ground path and having j6p previous loanowner replace or remove a chunk of the conduit leading. No more ground anymore.

          One funny failure mode of conduit grounds is not being able to source/sink 15 amps to blow the circuit breaker. Been there seen that. So hot wire shorts to chassis, resistance of the ground path is so immense from poor/corroded connections that it only drops 10 amps or so, until the fire starts or someone gets electrocuted anyway.

          Finally IF you're doing analog or analog-ish stuff and you think grounding will cut down on noise, a "bad ground" might act as an antenna and make it even worse.

          You can buy a little plug in doohickey from home depot or whatever that costs like $5 full of neon bulbs that will tell you if an outlet has power, if the outlet has hot-neutral reversed, and if theres a ground. You could build one in about 10 minutes using a little project box and a fat stack of 120 volt lamp/indicators/neons/whatever. The point being that you better not have 120VAC between neutral and ground, etc.

          I would estimate from experience that given "normal lifestyle" with J6P fooling around with his own house wiring that about 5% of outlets will get mis-wired per decade, unless J6P had an electrician buddy or was smart enough to drop $5 on the little outlet tester lamp thingy.

          So now that I've explained how having a 3-prong outlet doesn't mean you have a ground at all, we can move on to explaining exactly how, why, and when you need an isolation transformer on your test bench. The answer is short, if you can't explain, in detail, exactly whats going on WRT ground loops or floating gear to do HV work, you are not supposed to be using that stuff (TLDR is sometimes "grounded" test equipment needs to be "ungrounded", although its somewhat risky sometimes its the only way).

          • One funny failure mode of conduit grounds is not being able to source/sink 15 amps to blow the circuit breaker. Been there seen that. So hot wire shorts to chassis, resistance of the ground path is so immense from poor/corroded connections that it only drops 10 amps or so, until the fire starts or someone gets electrocuted anyway.

            That's why ground fault circuit interrupter [wikipedia.org] should always be required. If the difference in current between the ingoing wire and the outgoing wire is to big (30 mA is the default for a house in the Netherlands) it shuts the power off. They are not cheap, but cheaper than a funeral.

          • by tuxicle (996538)
            Instead of isolation transformers, you could use two scope channels and the subtract function. It works well enough for low-speed work. Probably won't capture transients and anything beyond about 1 MHz, though.
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          New houses, sure. In older houses, fake earth grounded mains are quite common (i.e., the ground prong goes nowhere, because some amateur electrician swapped out the 2-prong outlets for 3-prong outlets since so many things need the third prong).

      • by necro81 (917438)

        AC Outlets with real earth ground

        Though you will want to have one or two adapter plugs (cheaters) [google.com] lying around, to bypass the earth ground in certain equipment. I have run into problems where my scope's earth ground caused problems in circuits I was trying to measure. For certain things, it is fine to have equipment floating. I would not recommend that for your power supply! Better would be to have a power supply that had isolated outputs, with an additional connection available for earth ground.

      • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @06:45AM (#41605863)

        A real ground is nice, but if you are working with an ESD strap, please make sure to have all the bench outlets on GFCI!!

        Don't do anything really really stupid like driving a ground rod just for your lab and tying your ground pin to that; make sure it is bonded to the main ground.

    • by bartoku (922448)
      Any suggestions on a specific logic analyzer brand or model to use or avoid?
  • by solidraven (1633185) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:19AM (#41604745)
    Well, obviously you might want to avoid metal. You can get these great plates for lab table surfaces made from some sort of ceramic. It's heat resistant and pretty tough, which is really necessary if a SMPS decides to hit the self destruct button. For soldering, just get a wooden board to protect the surface from direct impact with a soldering iron.
    Miniature drawer cabinets are important and actually rather expensive, especially those that can be stacked.
    Good soldering irons (more than one!) are a must obviously. Get both an analog and digital scope with at least 2 channels each. More is better. Personally I like putting a computer near my electronics workbench to view schematics, considered investing in a large TV for that but I'm a bit short on cash for that.
    You want several supplies, current limited and not. Isolation transformers, a good variac, signal/function generators.
    Good to have as well are an impedance meter/Q meter, network analyser, spectrum analyser and logic analyser. Especially the latter is worth considering, you can get pretty cheap versions these days that you hook up to a computer. For the other devices I advice stand alone versions cause it's really a lot easier while measuring if you can play with the knobs to home in on what you actually need. If you have more than enough money also get one of those microcontroller programmers with several sockets, that thing has saved my life more often than not.
    Anyway, good luck!
    • by vlm (69642)

      For soldering, just get a wooden board

      Easily replaceable wooden board. The problem is not so much using the iron as a woodburning tool as holding down two wires by laying a hammer on then, soldering the wires, then having a permanent pool of flux in/on the wood.

      If it all possible make life easy on yourself.... you can get a sheet of 1/4 particle board and drop that right on the desk without even cutting. Avoid glare, do not paint, or use floor tiles, or use an old kitchen granite countertop or whatever.

      In my dad's, well, grandpa's vacuum tube

  • by fotoguzzi (230256) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:21AM (#41604755)
    Then lightly sprinkle with integrated circuits.
  • What's it for? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by backwardMechanic (959818) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:23AM (#41604761) Homepage
    It's all nice and dandy that you want a bunch of high-end professional equipment, but what do you actually want to do with your lab? Analogue? Digital? RF? Do you want some mechanical capabilities (drilling boxes, etching/machining PCBs, CNC, 3D printing, etc)? Do you need a microscope for really small stuff?
    Rather than getting all excited about the shiny new toys, start with what you want to do. Then figure out what you need/want to help you do this. That's a question we can help with.
    • Re:What's it for? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:07AM (#41605071)

      Exactly. This question seems just like a poseur question "what tools do I need to build an F1 car in my garage" or "what tools do I need to build lots of great furniture".

      As for "furniture" - get a decent bench and some shelves. What do you want, padded 60's lounge chairs to feel like a mad scientist? And then once you have said shelves and bench, once you actually find the need to DO something and don't have the tool to do it: then buy it. Stocking a home lab full of shit you'll never use is complete rich nerd masturbation exercise.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It doesnt matter what its for... Well it does, but a high bench and stools rather than desks and chairs will be highly beneficial. It is far more comfortable to work for long periods when you don't have to bend down all day. I always preferred a single flat island surface (no joins) in the middle of the lab with plenty of power. Bigger is better.

      Plenty of racking or shelving for storing equipment and drawers or similar for smaller things.

      Oh, and a shitload of light. When you think you have enough light, dou

      • Re:What's it for? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:40AM (#41605153)

        I cannot stress lighting enough.

        Almost everyone gets it wrong, and it's the most annoying to fix after the fact. You want whatever room you're in bright - very bright, and illuminated uniformly. If you're putting in shelves or anything that occludes light, plan to have lights attached to it. You'll find yourself *much* happier later.

        • by vlm (69642)

          very bright, and illuminated uniformly

          Absolute minimum of two "desk lamps on long arms". In the 80s I had a rather expensive one with a florescent ring element wrapped around a 4 or so inch magnifying glass, kind of handy when you're doing SMD work by hand. Boy was that thing heavy and RF noisy but it was perfect for soldering. Of course back then I don't think we had 0402 components. Anyway the point is if you can see a shadow, you're doin it wrong.

          So you're troubleshooting the 3000 volt 2 amp power supply for an old tube amplifier while i

        • I got several of those LED strips and hang them just above my work area from all directions. Pretty much eliminates all shadows, no noise (the power supply is a few metres away), and the only problem I can think of is that it isn't truly white light.
      • I don't do electronics per se, but for my all-purpose-home-workshop I put 36" tubes paralleling the wall 6" out and then 24" tubes on every other joist above the workbench and wherever else I need light. Plus two drafting lamps, and I picked up some stupid cheap clipon LED tasklights at Ikea. I use it for hobby electronics, ammunition reloading, and general tinkering/building stuff and it's honestly just adequate. Tubes on every joist might not be a bad idea.

    • by Mashdar (876825)

      In-house CNC routing is pretty nice for board prototyping, and handy for making new solder masks, too. I strongly recommend CNC capabilities for any lab where:
      A) The cost is not an issue, and
      B) Board-level prototyping is going on.
      The cost shouldn't be an issue, considering how cheap CNC is these days compared to a good oscilloscope. And solder masking is sexy. :)

      You'd probably want a 240C capable (high melting point ROHS) solder oven. Vapor rephase is sick, but expensive. IMO stay away from laser if you are

  • by fragMasterFlash (989911) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:23AM (#41604763)
    Conductive flooring paired with electrostatic discharge heelstraps (or better yet static dissipative shoes [chetssafetysupply.com]) will go a long way toward mitigating ESD risks in your lab. While wrist straps are effective they are inconvenient and therefore more likely not to be used consistently. Most lab furniture is conductive, but you often pay a bit extra for chairs with conductive castors. The need for lab coats depends on the apparel your lab staff typically wear (wool and synthetics should be covered with a dissipative lab coat, cottons are not typically an ESD risk).
    • by necro81 (917438)

      but you often pay a bit extra for chairs with conductive castors

      Or you could dangle a bit of chain from the underside of the chair to the floor.

  • erm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crutchy (1949900) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:28AM (#41604781)

    money-is-no-objective suggestions

    - BlueGene/Q supercomputer
    - video wall
    - space shuttle (just in case you need some low-grav testing done)

    economically practical solutions

    - why the hell are you seeking advice from slashdot as to what to put in an "electronics hardware lab"? if you are serious about building a "professional-grade setup", a fair assumption would be that you are a professional electronics engineer and would have no difficulty rattling off the necessary equipment (such as oscilloscopes, soldering irons, power supplies, plenty of storage, etc).
    if you're merely after decorating ideas, i would suggest things that don't attract a lot of static electricity (so shag pile is out)

    • if you're merely after decorating ideas, i would suggest things that don't attract a lot of static electricity (so shag pile is out)

      If you're making a professional lab then conductive flooring, yes.

      For a hobby lab linoleum is best. You can get good quality stuff that doesn't generate static.

      Tiles are OK at a pinch (if you already have them) and carpet of any sort is out. It's painful to wheel a chair around on tiles or carpet and if you drop little components there's lots of places for them to disappear.

  • These will then tell you what kind of equipment they would like and you better get it for them.

    Without people that know what they are doing, no amount or quality of equipment is going to make any difference, so forget about deciding without them.

  • Every mad scientist has banks of "computers" with flashing lights in the back somewhere. Maybe get a tape reel as well.

  • (shudders)... that's not a dream, that's a nightmare.
  • Got to have one of those. To keep the neighbors from spying on your RF emissions... or whatever.

  • My first suggestion would be to get a really good quality commercial grade bench with drawers and equipment shelves. Good ones will set you back 1000-2000 per workstation/seat. Also get a comfortable high chair the right height for the bench and you.

    As for soldering irons, Metcal is the shit... They are owned by OK now, but you can pick up a nice used MX500 setup for about $200-300 or so. They are absolutely wonderful - you can solder a penny to a doorknob with a TINY pencil iron! The design is RF pum

    • As for soldering irons, Metcal is the shit...

      Also, get one of those tip cleaners made from what looks like a brass scourer. So much better than the wretched wet sponge.

      Oh, and a cheap toaster oven will do single sided reflow astonishingly well.

      • by vlm (69642)

        As for soldering irons, Metcal is the shit...

        Also, get one of those tip cleaners made from what looks like a brass scourer. So much better than the wretched wet sponge.

        Hakko sells a great brass turnings soldering iron cleaner. Coincidentally they sell great soldering gear, better than Metcal at about the same price. Metcal is good, don't get me wrong, in fact its very good, its just that Hakko is better. This is the soldering equivalent of the eternal vi vs emacs battle, and just like that your best bet is to try as many brands as you can and THEN select your winner (as opposed to "the" winner). Or use what your buddies use, so you can trade/share stuff. At the highe

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          ... and Hakko is just Aoyue with an expensive sticker!

          The brass pot scourer tip cleaners are awesome.

  • Salt-resistant desks, tables, wall-hangings, chairs, and couches.

    Because your lab is in an abandoned, forgotten salt mine.
  • by citizenr (871508) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @01:52AM (#41604893) Homepage

    then you dont need it.

    • Every activity starts with a shopping trip.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Assuming you know it exists.

      Did ya know, when you're reworking an old board and solder isn't sticking, rather than suffering or lifting the traces off the board, you can buy a little $3 pen flux applicator and suddenly its easy?

      Did ya know, when washing flux off a completed board, the chemists figured out "plastic wash bottle technology" decades ago? You don't have to dump denatured alcohol on a rag, or dump most of it down the drain, or have an open bottle of solvent on your desk anymore.

      Instead of icky o

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Last time I ordered silicone superflex wire the price had gone up considerably, even for non-copper wire.

  • Lots of them. In all sizes!

    No, but it pretty much depends on what your are going to be working on. I would have this pretty basic list of things:
    1. Nice four-channel color Textronics oscilloscope
    2. SMD soldering station (Maker: Gote)
    3. Fluke Multimeter
    4. Desoldering equipment
    5. Various probes
    6. Various pliers
    7. Some holder for your PCBs
    8. Magnifying glass (with light)
    9. Wires in various diameters and colors + super thin copper wire
    10. Various connectors and the equipnent to crimp them

    The rest I would get bu

  • It's almost as if someone asked what equipment he needs for performing bypass surgery. First requirement would be a bookshelf (to be filled with books for one's study), and second is a cabinet for keeping degrees, diplomas and continuing education. I'd love to know what motivated the question to begin with, it sounds almost eerie, esp. the professional part. Maybe a PHB who wants to monitor his engineers' purchase requests or a lottery winner with his dreams.

    • by bartoku (922448)
      Interesting point. I did not think people would be interested in my life story so I kept my question as brief and to the point as possible. I am an Electrical Engineer who has been doing software development for a few years. The company I work for is looking to prototype some hardware for a project. I have put together my shopping list, but I am sure I am forgetting or missing something, especially in the furniture area. I have never really had to buy such equipment since it was always in place at school or
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oscilloscope.
    $800 OWON DS8102 2 channels with VERY deep sample memory
    $3600 Agilent DSO-X-3014A 4 channels 80 mHz can be upgraded to 200 MHZ with logic analyzer

    multimeter
    $113 Fluke 113
    $1350 Agilent 34410A

    Signal generator / arbitrary waveform generator
    $380 Rigol DG1022 2 arbitrary channels per generator I got 2
    Agilent Technologies 33250A- I didn't buy this but its the high end equivalent.

    Power supply
    $200 GPS3030D I have 2

    Soldering iron
    $50 Weller WLC100
    $610 MetCal MX-500S-11 I don't own this.

  • by wrmrxxx (696969) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @02:53AM (#41605037)

    Without knowing much about your application, I can only reasonably make suggestions about the basics.

    1) Bench space, with good lighting and plenty of power points.
    2) Flooring that won't build up static.
    3) Good ventilation, because soldering fumes are not good for you.
    4) A sink. You will probably need to be able to clean PCBs, and you will need to use wet chemicals if you make your own boards.
    5) Component storage. Unless you want to spend hours digging through piles of parts, a good way of organizing components is very useful. Raaco make some nice steel cabinets for drawers, but they're not cheap.
    6) A stereoscopic assembly microscope. I would be lost without mine - it is amazing how much easier it is to position small parts (e.g. 0201 size passives) when you can see what you are doing.
    7) Multiple decent lab power supplies.
    8) A good bench multimeter: one with a computer interface for logging would be good.
    9) Digital storage oscilloscope, again with a computer interface of some sort (many have USB now) so you can store captured waveforms for later analysis and comparison.

    These are the first things that come to mind, but undoubtably I have forgotten some essentials.

    There's a wide range of things that may also be important, but it depends what you're doing so I can only speculate. For digital work you'll want a logic analyser / protocol analyser. If there are modern CPUs involved you will probably want a JTAG interface. If you are doing RF work there is a whole set of specialised equipment. If you are doing loads of SMD you might want a pick and place machine and a reflow oven. If you are making your own PCBs you might want a UV exposing unit and chemical trays, or alternatively a PCB milling machine (it takes a high end machine to do the very fine pitch work).

    • by vlm (69642)

      4) A sink. You will probably need to be able to clean PCBs, and you will need to use wet chemicals if you make your own boards.

      Also, frankly, RoHS or no, you wanna be washing your hands before you leave the lab. And anyone who claims to be a real electronics guy who hasn't gotten a bad thermal burn is probably lying and the best treatment is as much cold water flowing over the burn as fast as you can possibly reach the sink (like start running for the sink while you're still yelling the F word)

      If you are doing loads of SMD you might want a pick and place machine and a reflow oven.

      Only for SMD production. I've done loads of SMD for 30 years now and especially for microwave RF work doing one off I think it would take a

      • by MattskEE (925706)

        Only for SMD production. I've done loads of SMD for 30 years now and especially for microwave RF work doing one off I think it would take a lot longer to CAD up a solder paste mask than to just hand solder it.

        I think you'll find the cost of a PnP is having to buy everything in reels, and then having reels of unused stuff sit there. Yeah no headache with 0.1 uF decoupling caps, or if you focus all your work on one exact specific model of microcontroller chip, but everything else on the board is either buy a reel and throw most of it out, or do it by hand, and if you're doing 3/4 the board by hand, may as well do the whole thing and skip the PnP...

        True, a pick and place requires a large scale of operation before it becomes worth the capital and the reels. But it shouldn't take much effort to create a solderpaste mask - whenever you're defining a new pad just add the solderpaste to the pad definition and you're done, all you need to do is export the layer at the end. This is helpful even for relatively small board runs - you stencil on paste, place parts manually, and reflow in a lab toaster oven / hot plate, etc. There's very little capital and on

  • by Ganty (1223066) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:20AM (#41605101)

    1) Lots of natural light, ideally a corner room with lots of windows. You'll also need at least one of those magnifying lamps.

    2) Deep benches, at least forty inches, this is because your test equipment will take up at least a foot of space at the rear.

    3) Lots and lots of mains sockets, you'll never have enough. Wire the power through a residual current circuit breaker and a big red emergency stop switch. Make sure your family and other people around know where that emergency switch is.

    4) Four channel scope, signal generator, lab power supply (0-40V 5A) with a couple of channels, a second fixed power supply with 12V, 5V and 3.3V outputs and a bench multimeter. DON'T buy cheap, it's better to get a good second hand unit than a piece of cheap Far-East test gear. I like Hameg but I know that opinions will differ here.

    5) Anti-static mat and wrist strap.

    6) Lots and lots of storage for parts, as with mains sockets you'll never have enough storage.

    7) Decent tools, as with the test equipment don't buy cheap. I'm still using some tools that I bought twenty years ago.

    8) A set of drawers underneath your workbench for storing your tools. The plastic inserts that go inside kitchen drawers will help keep things in order.

    9) A burglar alarm and a lock on your workshop door. All this lot is expensive and you don't want it to vanish and reappear on Ebay.

    10) Air conditioning and/or heating depending on your location. Equipment calibration will drift in temperature extremes and the standard of your work will suffer.

    Ganty

    • 3) Lots and lots of mains sockets, you'll never have enough. Wire the power through a residual current circuit breaker and a big red emergency stop switch. Make sure your family and other people around know where that emergency switch is.

      A really good powersupply too.

      Since you're wiring it in, it is nice to have a DC bus wired in as well, with lots of connection posts. Really handy, and moves some fo the bulky equipment (e.g. the PSU) elsewhere on the bench.

    • 1) Lots of natural light, ideally a corner room with lots of windows. You'll also need at least one of those magnifying lamps.

      2) Deep benches, at least forty inches, this is because your test equipment will take up at least a foot of space at the rear.

      3) Lots and lots of mains sockets, you'll never have enough. Wire the power through a residual current circuit breaker and a big red emergency stop switch. Make sure your family and other people around know where that emergency switch is.

      4) Four channel scope, signal generator, lab power supply (0-40V 5A) with a couple of channels, a second fixed power supply with 12V, 5V and 3.3V outputs and a bench multimeter. DON'T buy cheap, it's better to get a good second hand unit than a piece of cheap Far-East test gear. I like Hameg but I know that opinions will differ here.

      5) Anti-static mat and wrist strap.

      6) Lots and lots of storage for parts, as with mains sockets you'll never have enough storage.

      7) Decent tools, as with the test equipment don't buy cheap. I'm still using some tools that I bought twenty years ago.

      8) A set of drawers underneath your workbench for storing your tools. The plastic inserts that go inside kitchen drawers will help keep things in order.

      9) A burglar alarm and a lock on your workshop door. All this lot is expensive and you don't want it to vanish and reappear on Ebay.

      10) Air conditioning and/or heating depending on your location. Equipment calibration will drift in temperature extremes and the standard of your work will suffer.

      Ganty

      The anti-static mat (floor and desk) and wriststraps are often overlooked but are of extereme importance. Nothing puts a damper on your day like frying an expensive IC because you didn't take basic precautions.

      Also, look into getting some good ventilation in your workshop; between the chemicals you're using to clean circuit boards and the soldering/desoldering you'll be doing, there's going to be a lot of fumes around your workbench.

  • by Spectrumanalyzer (2733849) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @03:25AM (#41605113)

    By no means is my workshop the coolest in the world, but its a combination of years of experience, building and designing, and this is how it is:

    1) Raaco shelves, these are absolutely essential, youd hate to run out of components in the middle of a project, so you need these, fill the walls! http://images.toolstop.co.uk/product/6651eea4432e327d9f2017ea860bef09.jpg [toolstop.co.uk]

    2) You need HEAPS of components. Now, youre probably not a millionaire, if you where...you wouldnt ask us geeks, youd just purchase whatever, so here is how I get my stash. I go to ham-fests, the radio amateurs usually have thousands if not millions of surplus components theyve grabbed from a run-down electronics shop or factory closedowns. Make a HUGE list of your essentials, and go collecting. Itll take a few years, but youll get there. I have MILLIONS and MILLIONS of NOS (new old stock) components from all over the world by now. Ebay is your friend, but beware of FAKE components, expensive components sold for peanuts...could be fakes, but its still relatively rare imho. Go hunting for closedowns of electronics labs, stores and much more, 70% of my components comes from there, and usually for pocket-change. Hang out...befriend the managers...listen and pay attention. Before you know it, youre the "buddy" who gets everything for nothing.

    3) Get SMD reels too. Have a copy of your DIL/DIP discretes as SMD equivalents, this is when youre finished prototyping with the discretes. You need the full size discretes in order to experiment properly. Far too many wannabe designers design everything in CAD and scratch their heads endlessly over their designs, lacking on-hands experience with the easy to handle components. This is understated today. A lab like this is essential for quick and good development.

    4) You need ROCK SOLID tables rather than fancy glass tables, so purchase some old super-solid office equipment rather than shop IKEA. Sometimes youll throw a 50-100 kgs of instrumentation on your table, and bye bye IKEA. And itll get dirty, and itll drown in solder waste (which you will eventually get everywhere). So it must be a surface solid and easy to clean.

    5) You wall should also have a tool-rack, here you need the rough tools such as screwdrivers, mini drills, bits, cutters, pliers and whatnot. Youll also need some hangers for your endless numerous test-cables. Hang the test cables within easy reach so you can keep your shop tidy and neat. This will become more important than you may think.

    6) Speaking of which, numerous of testcables you need (Yoda talk)... banana plugs, soft-silicone cables for power connections, extendable banana plug cables are essential, dont skimp on quality here. In fact, you may nearly skimp on everything except this. Test cables are notorious for going bust, and killing that spirit when you finally discover that you bought cheap crap...and spent hours just to find out your test cable is leaky, crappy and such. You need 100mhz range probes, probably higher...and more expensive, but start out with common 100-250mhz scope probes.

    7) As for test instruments, you need these basic things: 2 Benchtop multimeters, 1 portable multimeter, 1 frequency counter (min 2.6 ghz), 2 Benchtop oscilloscopes, preferably one analog and one digital...Ive got 4 of them for various reasons...you can never get enough scopes and multimeters. Function generator is essential for repair and design, a 10mhz will do, preferably with TTL level output as well as variable analog. Get a Signal generator too, 1 ghz minimum...the 1+ghz something...needs to be very stable if you operate above these frequencies. Benchtop lab PSUs... get some with both analog and digital readouts, the older generation analog psus tend to be less noisy and better at delivering at high peaks. Switchmode PSUs are needed for those higher power needs, but have at least one of each.

  • Background? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Captain_Chaos (103843)
    I don't have any suggestions, but I am very curious about the background of this question. Could you elaborate a little? Why and for whom are you building this lab? Are you putting your own money into it, and if so, why is it worth so much money to you and why do you need such a high-tech lab? Just curious.
    • by bartoku (922448)
      I am an Electrical Engineer who has been doing software development for a few years. The company I work for is looking to prototype some hardware for a project. I have put together my shopping list, but I am sure I am forgetting or missing something, especially in the furniture area. I have never really had to buy such equipment since it was always in place at school or the labs I worked in.
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:00AM (#41605201)

    The flippant answer to your question is that you should get whatever equipment you think will be useful for whatever projects you're doing. If you don't know what you want, then you won't be putting it to use anyway. "Electronics" is not one discipline. It's a collection of related but different fields, like different specialties in medicine. What equipment does an operating room need? Aside from a few basics, the answer depends entirely on what kind of surgery is being performed. Having a network analyzer or a service monitor in your electronics lab is great for some types of work, but if you don't already think you'll be needing those then they're just going to collect dust anyway.

    I do a variety of different kinds of electronics work, but most of it is RF (ham radio), high voltage (Tesla coils, fun plasma experiments), or high power (switching power supplies), or all three (induction heating, BIG lasers, serious radio transmitters, kick-ass solid state Tesla coils, etc.). This requires an array of tools and equipment that ranges from common and universal to highly specialized. Here are my key assets:

    - Fluke Scopemeter 199C, 200MHz portable digital oscilloscope. If I could keep only one test instrument, this is it. Totally worth the $4k. I literally could not do much of what I do without this tool or something similar. I love my Scopemeter. It's just the right combination of portability, durability, and signal analysis capability. The electrical isolation of the fully-insulated battery-operated unit is a huge benefit sometimes too.

    - Fluke 287 digital multimeter. A very high-functioning DMM for general purpose use. RMS readings on funky waveforms over a wide frequency range. Accurate measurement of component values.

    - Klein CL2000 clamp-on AC/DC ammeter and multimeter. A really great tool for general DMM use, as well as non-contact RMS measurement of high currents, both AC and DC. This bad boy can accurately measure how much current your car draws while cranking the starter, or the true RMS current of an arc welder.

    - RigExpert AA-520 antenna analyzer. A rudimentary but powerful digital antenna analyzer for HF through UHF frequencies. Great for its basic purpose, but also capable of doing lots of neat tricks like tuning duplexers if you get creative with it.

    - Cheap pocket DMM's. They're like $20 and it's great to have several sitting around to use as monitors for various parameters on a system during testing. You can blow them up or fry them with an RF field and not feel too bad, saving your precious Fluke gear.

    - Solomon temp-controlled soldering station. Needs no explanation. I feel that there's no need to go crazy on soldering equipment. A sub-$100 station will do the job just fine, even for fine SMD work as long as it's of decent quality. PID temperature control, low mass, and a hefty heater are all requirements.

    - Granite work surface. Of all the surfaces I've worked on, I have found granite to be the best. Preferably pure black so things show up on it. It is heatproof, electrically insulating enough for any purpose, anti-static, strong, hard, and pretty affordable compared to a digital oscilloscope. A couple hundred bucks will get you a very good slab section to work on.

    - Automated external defibrillator. I often work on circuits that can kill me with one false move. Having an AED nearby and showing friends and family how to use it could save my life some day. Very rapid defibrillation (within 5 minutes, preferably 2) is the ONLY effective life-saving treatment for electrocution. With very fast intervention, the chance of survival is excellent. By the time an ambulance arrives it is far too late. It's $800 well spent if it even gives me a 1% chance of not dying. Skip this if your work doesn't involve much line-voltage or higher.

    • "- Automated external defibrillator. I often work on circuits that can kill me with one false move. Having an AED nearby and showing friends and family how to use it could save my life some day. Very rapid defibrillation (within 5 minutes, preferably 2) is the ONLY effective life-saving treatment for electrocution. With very fast intervention, the chance of survival is excellent. By the time an ambulance arrives it is far too late. It's $800 well spent if it even gives me a 1% chance of not dying. Skip this

  • Cables that explode into lava if anyone tries to take them out of the room.
    Stop stealing my test leads!

  • by NixieBunny (859050) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:54AM (#41605381) Homepage
    I've been doing electronics work in my home workshop for about 35 years. My workshop is equipped with the following;

    I have 20 units of 36-drawer Akro-Mills parts cabinets, the kind with the clear plastic drawers. These have SMD components, through-hole components, nuts, bolts, connectors, switches, etc. I occasionally devote a parts cabinet to the parts for a particular project that I build a few hundred of.

    Hand tools: I have a red plastic screwdriver caddy that's full of screwdrivers. About 80 different tools to open anything I may encounter. There is a very expensive pair of diagonal cutters and a nice pair of long-nose pliers on the bench, and some tweezers and an X-acto knife.

    I have a Hakko soldering station and a Bauch & Lomb stereo microscope to see what I'm doing.

    On the bench, I have a 3 digit digital voltmeter and a couple HP bench power supplies to activate my current project.

    Next to the bench, I have a 6 foot tall rack with a Tektronix R7704 oscilloscope with appropirate plugins, a vintage Fluke 6-digit Nixie tube voltmeter, an HP 5245L Nixie tube frequency counter, a signal generator, an old HP spectrum analyzer and tracking generator, and a Nixie tube atomic clock.
  • Hot air rework station. IR rework station. at least TWO sets of decent hot tweezers. That is an absolute minimum. I got all of mine at Dayton Hamfest 2 years ago for next to nothing. Lastly install a bathroom vent fan above your electronics bench and pipe it outside. turn it ON when you are soldering / desoldering.

    As for workspace. you need 2 of them. 1 for electronics work, 1 for disassembly/reassembly. NEVER do both on the same bench.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:48AM (#41605585)
    I'd suggest you start with a fume extractor and fire extinguisher

    After that just buy stuff as you need it. You don't appear to know what your needs will be, so there's little point in trying to second-guess what you'll be doing. Therefore find a few good, punctual, well-stocked suppliers and keep their catalogs handy.

  • Fill one wall with component cabinets, and organise them well. You need enough so that every resistor value, capacitor value, transistor, diode, IC and every possible component variation has its own partition. This costs a small fortune but is well worth it for the hours it saves looking for the parts you need.
  • _ONE_, very good ground. Make sure *ALL* the outlets are connected to the same ground, with nice thick juicy cables. I have seen a lab where you could pull sparks between the grounds of 2 outlets.
  • Most of these can be obtained for very little cash and I couldn't do without them:

    A good old fashioned Tek 100-250MHz analogue scope. No DSO. No fancy stuff - just an analogue scope. This is the one bit of kit that has saved my butt a million times over. DSOs and new digital scopes are crap at picking up transients due to their crappy slew rate. The analogue scope will get you out of many a mess.

    A couple of (you need at least 2) decent Fluke multimeters. These will save your life. It will fail safe in sho

  • Some suggestions: I recently demoed some Rigol Osc. and signal generators. USB (all models) [and Ethernet on most] [and serial on some] ideal for computer hookup. Their specs/features/performance:price ratio is much better than anything else I have come across. They also make RFSA, digital multimeters, DC sources etc. Prices on their (USA) web site. Also, get LabView.
  • 1 i would say have at least 3 power circuits in the room A lighting circuit B Main Power C Secondary or High Power (give you 220 if you are in the US)

    2 Lighting Lots and Lots Of Lighting (and please use stuff that isn't RF "noisy" so you can scope stuff properly)

    3 ground the floor (if you have a basement type lab and the decor can work with it have several points with grounded metal in the floor)

    4 2 exits (even if one of them is a big window)

    5 Fire Extinguishers using the 10 second rule (make sure you are w

  • This question is extremely broad.

    I just finished putting together a broad professional lab. It's also be far too expensive for me to contemplate putting together at home.

    For electronics I put in a couple computers, a National Instruments CompactDAQ, a Solartron Modulab, an Agilent 4 port PNA-L (splurged on that) and a probe station with a USB camera. There's a bunch of small stuff around in storage, a soldering iron, power supplies, wires, components, old projects which are well characterized and stuff li

  • I recently put together such a lab in a room in my office space.

    Electronic equipment depends completely on what kind of work you're doing: digital, analog, high-speed, low-signal, RF, etc. So it's hard to answer that question.

    Pretty much everything, however, needs some basics: ESD protection, furniture, lighting, storage.

    ESD protection: Install a conductive tile floor. Most vendors for this stuff prefer to work on whole buildings; finding someone to do a single room took a bit of looking. I ended u
  • I find myself thinking the same thought I have when I flip through Syd Mead's books. Wow, that cityscape is super cool but it will never happen because you never get to start from scratch and without plenty of morons who think their idea is better. But I digress. I have dozens of big plastic containers full of electronic stuff I've accumulated since college. My biggest desire and quandary is how to get all that crap organized. I look at blog pages with photos of well-organized workshops and I think "Th

  • Masking tape for holding a socket onto the board for the first few soldered holes and electrical tape when you need some impromptu low grade insulator.

  • You'll need anti-static flooring and special grounding for all your lab stations. You'll want a Digital Storage Scope, maybe a mask tester, a logic analyzer, maybe a protocol analyzer, a spectrum analyzer, power supplies, multimeters, a soldier station with adequate ventilation...Prepare to fork over a lot of cash.
  • Stanley Vidmar cabinets can be ordered in all shapes, sizes, configurations. First a workbench with nice wooden desk, large drawers on left for bulky tools, small drawers on right for small tools and parts. Then add cabinets for cables, connectors, shrink tube, whatever. These cabinets are not cheap but they will outlast you and your grandchildren. It may take some time to come up with configuration that best meets your needs and wants. Yes I know I'm promoting their stuff but dang, when compared to stuff y

  • The difference between "hobbyist grade" and "professional grade" is a huge chasm of cash.
    The place that I got my (ancient) Tektronix analog oscilloscope (for $200) also does all kinds of high-end equipment repair and calibration. The digital oscilloscopes they use cost $25K each.
  • I've scanned through the comments and I'm trying to offer stuff I haven't seen. I also emphasize things that were said but I feel strongly about.

    A metal wastebasket, used with a bin liner. When you have a possible pickup problem, remove the contents with the bin liner and invert the wastebasket over your circuit. Plastic won't do it. If you're at a larger company, get a "Calibration not required" sticker from QA. Then when facilities runs off with your wastebasket because it helps keep down the static at th

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