After discussing with some other members in this forum and with others a couple weeks ago during the member work day, I’ve put together what I think is a very detailed and realistic and useful proposal for getting an electronics lab which could really be used for member projects.
The proposal document is only 3 pages, but I think I can summarize it in 3 sentences:
Though not anyone’s fault, the existing EE lab has basically devolved into an e-waste storage site.
It can be completely restored and made extremely impressive for the low cost of serious discipline, elbow grease, and $5000.
Just want to say, this is the most beautiful proposal I’ve seen at the space. Going to save this as a model example for future reference. I know there are a lot of people that would be interested in discussing this, so tagging a few I can think of off hand – @Jon@Keiarra@mark999@buzmeg
A big plus one on the proposal. It looks like a great idea with many good points.
I thought the lab was ok already although I have not tried to use it since renewing my membership. I have loved electronics since the days of Heathkit projects and RadioShack circa the 70s. Count me in for any help needed.
FWIW, we definitely need electrical work. The outlet situation was inadequate before, and after the last workday they’re completely dead. I’m currently torn between trying to figure out and fix what broke or just saying “screw it” and running new circuits.
For some reason there are no links in the document so I can look at the breakdown, but I really doubt I have any opposition to anything here.
As a hacker from my days as a child, a lot of it pains me at an emotional level. It’s part of what prevents me from throwing out those bins and containers faster. I painstakingly sorted through “junk” like this as a kid to build my own “e-lab” and I would have killed for one of those CRT scopes.
As a modern hacker thinking about a space, this just isn’t the way projects work nowadays. Parts come from Digikey or Mouser–the cost of storing and keeping it all sorted and accessible exceeds shipping cost. Most projects start with a Linux board and then add some expansion thing on top of that. And, in spite of the cost going through the floor, I suspect fewer individuals make their own PCB boards than even in the bad old days of Ferric Chloride.
Looks like I could have made this more obvious! But ya as Jon pointed out, the image of the shopping list summary in a google sheet in the PDF is also a public link to that document. So it’s all in there!
Here is a link directly to the google sheet, for anyone interested in getting right into the details:
I would also place the small hand tools (like the wire stripper) and banana jack cables in the “Consumable” category. That’s simply acknowledging the reality of living in a shared space.
We did talk about scopes a while back, and the general consensus is that the Instek scopes are better bang for the buck than Rigol at the same price point unless something has changed. They also have a control set per channel which makes using them quite a lot nicer.
I like the idea of a window. That’d still leave three walls for benches, and make the room feel a little less cave-like. I don’t think there’s value in setting up a pattern wall for textiles until we move them out of the lobby, but I may be mistaken.
re: furniture. Did you evaluate the existing benches and decide they’re all crap? I like the upper shelves with electrical, but they’re like $575 apiece on mcmaster.
re: workstations. I like this layout a lot for a working shop, but I wonder how it’d accommodate classes. Are you thinking a phase 2 to add more assembly & test equipment on the general purpose bench? Would we aspire to have a bunch of class gear in the cabinet to spread out when needed? Even when classes are limited to 4 people, waiting around for your turn at the gear is a bummer.
re:layout. any ideas on how we prevent those dead corners from accumulating junk?
I didn’t really evaluate the furniture beyond what’s immediately visible. My proposal just assumes starting from a blank slate, because that’s simple.
But in my opinion, that’s an assumption that should be seriously considered as a prescription. A lot of the furniture that’s in there is in some state of disrepair, and I’m fairly certain at least one workbench is inexplicably surfaced with carpet(?). Assuming we’d be better off starting over seems reasonable. The workbenches I recommended have more than enough space (15sqft) for what’s meant to go on them, and do have duplex outlet punchouts. They can be accessorized or upgraded in the future, but in my experience (and Asmbly’s too, it seems) things like upper shelves just become surfaces to pile junk up. Unless they’re for something, I’d say we don’t need them.
For classes, I can’t imagine more than 2-3 trainees at a time, but I don’t know what the demand would be. Nothing in there is any more dangerous or requires more hands-on practice than the table saw, and training on that seems to go okay even though we only have one of them. But if there’s an appetite to convert the general-purpose bench into a second assembly bench, that seems okay to me!
I think the main anti-junk measure would be the “no junk” rule. Abandoned junk would be thrown away no matter where it’s abandoned. I don’t have any good ideas for utilizing corners, unless we want to buy more workbenches.
While I am glad to see a proposal for improvement, I’m afraid the no up-for-grabs components/inventory is a deal breaker for me. To be blunt, I’m willing to donate a fair amount of money, provided we do not go that route.
Lock the door via OpenPath, and the only people who are allowed (or able) to use or replenish inventory are those who can unlock the door.
I don’t recall if Texas State Surplus has workbenches, but they have loads of office chairs and desks. Chairs were ~$6 last I checked, often in good shape; I think desks are similarly priced. If someone lives in that area, it might be worth swinging by and looking for workbenches.
You are fighting an uphill battle on this. It’s not unwinnable, but you’re going to have to provide some very strong justification along with a process to make it work and validate that it’s worth the effort.
Inventory in our space does not work–that’s simply reality. It doesn’t work for nuts, bolts and screws. It doesn’t work for small hardware. It doesn’t work for wood scraps. It doesn’t work for electronics.
And to be fair, it doesn’t even necessarily work for individuals. I have an entire footlocker full of cables and adapters for computers. I have a briefcase full of various mounts and screws and hardware for building PCs. They used to be vital for building a PC; I haven’t opened them in 5+ years.
Part of the problem is also that people don’t donate cool, old, but still useful stuff anymore. 20+ years ago HP/Agilent lab equipment wasn’t a common donation, but it wasn’t rare. I haven’t seen a donation like that to any group I am a part of in probably longer than 10 years–I suspect the prevalence of online secondhand sales sites killed most of it.
You’re on the right track with most of these items, but I have a lot of edits to add here. Part of my job for years had been doing a wide variety of bench work and soldering on custom PCBs in aerospace industry.
Weller and Hakko are kind of obsolete now, for a lot of reasons. What does the job so much better- and does things we just can’t do with other irons- are Metcal-style. Metcals are expensive, but when their patents expired some of the people who used to work for Metcal made a component-compatible, cheaper, likely superior one under the Thermaltronics name. I pushed for one at work (kind of a risk, I hadn’t used Thermaltronics) and it has performed exceptionally well. Uses same handles and tips interchangeably with Metcal, but the Thermaltronics equivalents are all cheaper and of great quality.
Cost-wise, yeah, it’s more, but as a guy who stuck with Weller for years, Weller’s not worth a new purchase. Hakko is much better, but Thermaltronics is the keeper.
Similarly, BK Precision’s supplies are low-end disposable intro stuff now. Strongly recommend Rigol, like a DP832 there. They work really well and pretty easy to use.
For hand multimeters, I was skeptical but the Thisde 19B has impressed me. Fluke equivalent at bargain price.
If budget is that key of an issue, go quality over quantity and do 1 or 2 stations in phase 1, or live with the existing benches (except the carpeted one, plz dumpster that one while we still can). Great benches with a shelf do show up often used, and for cheap, they’re bulky and when people want to sell them they sell pretty cheap.
I have the Rigol 1054. Nice scope. The probes are crummy and sometimes just start reading crap, but probably OK for the price. Instek might be better, I’m not married to Rigol’s scopes.
The Rigol DS1054Z can be “hacked” to their 100MHz version with protocol decoders just by entering a code you can find online. Done it, works great!
The more expensive Rigol DS1104Z comes with 16 digital channels to use as a logic analyzer. But TBH it’s a great scope but a poor logic analyzer. Logic analyzers work MUCH better on a PC with a larger screen and a mouse and keyboard to do all the set up and scroll through and save/load configs. Also, the logic analyzer needs to be close with short wires immediately at the dut, with the screen elsewhere.
Saleae makes a great USB logic analyzer. To realize its true power, you do need USB 3.0 Superspeed, which is physically a different port on the PC, but common now. And totally worth it.
There are really cheap Saleae knockoffs, which IMHO are still worth it and usually better than trying to use the DSO logic analyzer ports. We spent thousands on a Teledyne LeCroy scope at work with a logic analyzer, and while we use the scope often, we never use the logic analyzer portion. We use the Saleae every time. The DSO was just bulky for a testbench, took too long to set up with panel buttons, and Saleae’s Windows software is easy to use, save traces from, and getting updated all the time.
I’ve not used it yet, but I think the new DreamSourceLabs are looking really strong and good deals:
I can host one of those vanishing Agilent scopes if it’d be preferable to a new Rigol. A DSO6104A with an assortment of questionable probes.
Also E3610 and E3642A power supplies, a 34401A multimeter, and a 33250A function generator. Calibrations not guaranteed.
They’re all taking up storage space in my garage at the moment, because I don’t use them often enough to warrant taking up bench space, which means I never actually use them, because they’re not on my bench. The circular dependency of gear…
Danny’s right about them being obsolete, but I also have a WESD51 I’ll donate (if there’s interest) if somebody can 3D print (or otherwise manufacture) a replacement for the unobtanium temperature knob that my movers broke off when packing.
I suspect I’m not the only one with some spare equipment. Part of the rehab plan (steward’s responsibility in general) would be to coordinate stuffs of interest and get hosting agreements signed or donation receipts issued. A good steward needs to rule their tools with an iron fist, especially where electronics are concerned.