Engineers are created in labs. Hence it is essential to keep the lab equipment current and close to the real world to create engineers ready for tomorrow!
I still remember the excitement and contentment when I plotted the graph of diode characteristics as my first experiment at the Electronics Devices and Circuits Lab during my engineering. Before that, I thought engineering would probably be learning and mugging up of concepts and I was done with it. But it was only labs and lab studies that made me feel happy as an engineering student. As rightly said by Friedrich Engels, “An ounce of action is worth a tonne of theory.”
Labs and practical implementation of the theory play an important role in understanding the basic concepts taught in classrooms. “Academic labs provide opportunities to the engineering and science graduates to enhance their critical, analytical and creative thinking capabilities,” shares Dr L.K. Maheshwari, vice chancellor, BITS Pilani. He adds, “Labs facilitate experimentation ability of students, enabling them to convert the concepts and ideas into innovation.”
Realising the fact, test and measurement (T&M) manufacturers are handling the requirements from colleges, technical institutes and research institutions very innovatively. “Innovation for better learning is the policy that we follow. The T&M industry is working closely with the academia to understand and meet their needs,” reveals Mohammed Ghouse, manager, Scientech Technologies. Manufacturers are all geared up to create more rugged, low-cost and user-friendly equipment to meet the needs of academia. Providing detailed manuals and training to the staff, and suggesting experiments and collaboration with the industry are the other steps taken by the T&M manufacturers towards creating engineers for tomorrow!
Setting up the basic electronics lab
Technical education has multiple levels. As one goes up the ladder, more advanced and specific equipment are required. However, the basic set of equipment may be needed at any level. “The basic set of equipment that are required in primary labs include multimeters, oscilloscopes, function generators and power supplies,” says T.N. Singh, CEO, Salicon Nano Technology. “These are less-feature, low-cost and low-bandwidth equipment.”
Elaborating the specifications of the devices, Singh adds, “For basic oscilloscopes, features include x-position, y-position, time base, less calculations and less control. As in the experiments you view signals of not more than 3 MHz to 4 MHz, normally 25MHz to 30MHz equipment is sufficient.
“A 15V/30V DC power supply is sufficient with a current of 500 mA. For higher experimentation, you look for programmable power supplies with features like constant-current source, constant-voltage source and frequency locking.
“3½- or 4½-digit handheld digital multimeters with basic functions of voltage, current and resistance measurement and component testing are required.” Function generators up to 2 MHz and capable of generating basic sine, square, triangular and pulse waves are used in basic lab setups, whereas you need arbitrary waveform generators with higher bandwidths in advanced labs.
“The basic lab equipment need to be in the simplest and primitive form in order to facilitate learning,” says Anand Bhushan, managing director, Bhushan & Bhushan. He adds, “Basic equipment should be manual in order to make the engineers understand the basic concepts. Automatising can be done to higher level of equipment.”
Manufacturers are working towards making basic lab equipment more and more affordable, reliable and easily available. “We try to guide them towards the right balance between requirements and prices as many a times academia is unaware of availability and price of the equipment in the market,” says Manish Kwatra, CEO, Metro Electronic Products. Maintenance and service support is another focus area of many T&M manufacturers. Kwatra adds, “We provide robust equipment with in-built protections as many a times students are not aware of the right way of handling them.”