The WFH EngineerFollow article
Getting set up for working from home as an electronics engineer.
There are often times when it would be convenient to work from home, such as when we need to be physically present for some reason or given the current situation, when remote working might help limit the spread of coronavirus. Not to mention that it’s also handy having a setup to work on spare time projects and the inevitable, “I wondered if you could fix this?” jobs.
This post takes a look at getting a home workspace set up with the typically essential tools and equipment for working on electronics. Of course, what may be required in practice is going to vary depending upon the precise nature of the work and replicating a production line or advanced laboratory capabilities, for example, may prove a little more challenging.
If we’re going to be working on electronic equipment we’ll almost certainly want to put in place measures to prevent electrostatic discharge (ESD), with a basic setup comprised of a mat, wristband and a plug for earth bonding, plus cords to connect these. In addition to protecting ESD sensitive devices, a mat can also offer protection to the table or desk we’re using when working from home.
There are lots of suppliers and options available and it largely comes down to things like cost, size and convenience. RS Pro offer a range of ESD field kits, including those which can be easily packed away when travelling from site to site, along with budget friendly kits such as the one shown above which includes a compact 298x450mm mat.
In addition to the new ESD kit I also have an old mat from work, which is handy when working on larger projects and setting out test equipment (once again it serves to protect the table).
In the workshop we have the benefit of workbenches with overhead lighting and there’s a lot to be said for being able to properly see what you’re working on. Magnifying lamps are available in various sizes, with bases or clamps for affixing these, and may be conveniently stored away. The RS Pro model shown above features a 125mm lens and LED illumination.
The lamp has a table clamp mount and the ESD mat was positioned between this and the table on the top side, with cardboard placed between the clamp and table on the underside, so as to prevent the clamp from marking the table as it was tightened up.
So now we have our illuminated work area, it’s time to start thinking about basic hand tools.
An RS Pro 6-piece ESD tool kitprovides 130mm long nose pliers and diagonal cutters.
Along with this it includes PH0 and PH1 sized Phillips, plus 2.0 and 3.0mm slotted screwdrivers.
We all tend to have our favourite tools and I’ve owned the screwdriver pictured above for close to 30 years, over which time it has proved invaluable.
I thought I’d look to see it was still available and, sure enough, there is an RS Pro PZ1 size Pozidriv/Supadriv with bright red cellulose acetate handle (544-702)!
When it comes to wire strippers there are various options and while automatic ones may be preferable for production tasks, I’m a fan of the simple manual type as shown above.
Soldering irons can be a contentious topic and if you’ve spent any amount of time soldering, you will no doubt have your own favourite manufacturer or even model of soldering iron. At work we have Weller soldering stations with digital temperature control and this was the first brand that I’d used in a professional capacity. However, as a teenager — or possibly from even earlier come to think of it — I had Antex soldering irons and as such, I also have quite a soft spot for them.
A solder sucker is an essential tool and having used those equipped with silicone and PTFE nozzles, I personally much prefer the latter, such as the RS Pro model pictured above.
Workpiece holding is something that is easy to neglect, but where a small investment can make your life a great deal easier, by removing the need to try and hold, balance and weigh down circuit boards with whatever objects are close by.
The PCB work frame shown aboveallows boards to be rotated and features slots to accommodate PCBs of varying thickness.
Test & Measurement
Even if you’re working with things that tend to require a single common voltage, such as 5 or 12VDC, a bench power supply can prove invaluable. For example, you can dial the voltage or current down to see how tolerant a circuit might be to a reduced supply, or perhaps set current limiting in an effort to prevent a suspect circuit from frying itself upon being powered-up.
The 150W single output PSU pictured RS Pro models are available, which feature a varying number of outputs, with voltage and current ranges, plus features, to suit many different applications.provides a pretty useful range of 0-30V at 0-5A. Many other budget friendly
There are no shortage of options when it comes to digital multi-meters (DMM) also. The RS Pro IDM 98IVhas a decent sized backlit display, is robust and has a good feature set, including true RMS measurement and smart hold. It can also measure capacitance in ranges from 1uF up to 10mF.
Should you need a bit more capacitance measurement range, RS Pro also have a series of capacitance and LCR meters, such as the capacitance meter shown above , which has a total of 9x ranges spanning from 200pF through to 20,000 uF.
We’re now getting into somewhat more specialist equipment, or at least that which will be more or less useful depending upon which area of electronics you work in. That said, a function generator can be pretty handy for testing all manner of circuits. The 5MHz RS Pro model pictured abovecan provide not only sine, square and ramp waveforms, but also noise and arbitrary.
Arbitrary waveform generation is at 20MSa/s, with 10-bit vertical resolution and 4k point memory. Waveforms can be entered point-by-point via the front panel or via PC software and USB connection. Other models are also available in the same range, which can generate signals up to 25MHz, with AM/FM/FSK modulation, plus also integrated frequency counter.
Edit 25/10/20: One key item not covered here is an oscilloscope and thanks to davlyn1 for pointing this out in the comments. When the need arises I'm able to bring a Tektronix 4-channel mixed domain oscilloscope home from work and we also have a Red Pitaya (827-2764), which is of much lower specification, but is very compact indeed and has the benefit that it can be programmed with custom applications.
My colleague, Dave Ives, also has an RS Pro 2205A Dave's post from October 2019. USB oscilloscope, which is similarly compact and provides 2-channels with 20MHz bandwidth, plus built-in function/arbitray waveform generation. This is used with the feature rich Picoscope software and for further details, see
Electronic engineering is a diverse field and the tools and test equipment used can vary considerably depending upon the particular area. We’ve obviously not covered surface mount device assembly/rework, JTAG programmers/debuggers which might be essential in embedded development, or the test equipment required when working with RF, for example. However, the basic essentials have been covered, from the workspace, through to hand tools and test equipment.
In closing I’d just like to say that I’d love to hear any opinions on obvious omissions, along with details of favourite tools and test equipment — just leave comments below this post.