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How hands-on is Electrical Engineering?

  1. Jul 7, 2018 #1
    Hi,
    I'm sorry if this question's been asked before but I was wondering how hands-on electrical engineering can be.
    Are there jobs where an EE can find themselves doing designing and getting to work with their hands?
    I find the theoretical stuff interesting as well as the more hands-on work.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2018 #2

    phinds

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    That's exactly what I did for the first many years of my career, so I'd say yes.
     
  4. Jul 8, 2018 #3
    By my experience it's pretty common to make (and test) the first proto of your own design by your own hand.
    Can be either a kind of reward - or punishment...
     
  5. Jul 8, 2018 #4

    anorlunda

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    It depends on what you are doing. A CPU chip or a power plant are not easy to build hands on.
     
  6. Jul 8, 2018 #5

    berkeman

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    I'm involved in the design and production of everything from custom mixed-signal ASICS to circuit modules to larger electronic systems. I spend about equal amounts of time in my cubicle doing design work, and in the HW Lab doing bring-up testing, design validation testing (DVT), and other kinds of related tasks.

    Here are a couple pictures of where I work in our HW Lab (yes, I'm at work on a Sunday -- don't ask). First pic is of one of my benches, with my oscilloscope, laptop, curve tracer, and development boards for a mixed-signal ASIC and another product. Second pic is of our binocular microscope soldering stations, equipped with nice Metcal soldering iron systems (plus hot air rework equipment). For the tiniest SMT stuff I ask our amazing technician "AK" to do the soldering for me -- she is truly a wizard. :smile:
     

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  7. Jul 8, 2018 #6
    All depends on what you are doing, and if you like to get dirty. Thought I'm not officially an electrical engineer (yet), I spend a good portion of time at a desk designing a system, and then go do the install and commission the system. I do industrial controls work, among many other things. I get a good dose of IT, networking, electrical work, mechanical work, process and manufacturing theory and get to deal with a multitude of different processes dealing with wastewater, heat transfer systems, well, I will really work on any type of system.

    It all depends on what you want to do with your degree. Pick a path, get a plan and follow through.
     
  8. Jul 19, 2018 #7

    analogdesign

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    I'm a mixed-signal ASIC design engineer and wow, those photos of Berkeman's lab could be photos of my lab!

    Obviously you can't *build* an ASIC yourself but usually it is the designer's responsibility to go into the lab and breathe life into the first silicon when it comes back. That is most definitely hands on.

    The field of EE is really broad. There are jobs that are super hands-on (such as a field applications engineer for a solar panel company) and jobs that are really theoretical (coding of simulation software) and jobs that don't feel much like engineering at all (such as technical sales). You can figure out your niche.
     
  9. Jul 19, 2018 #8

    analogdesign

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    By the way, @berkeman , I love the classic Tek scopes you got in the background. We have the heavy duty Keysight scopes for the very high speed stuff but we also still have a lot of vintage Tek gear around the lab too. It is just a pleasure to use.
     
  10. Jul 19, 2018 #9

    berkeman

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    On our mixed-signal ASICs, we typically need to do a lot of iterations of the digital sections, and a few iterations of the analog sections. We build "Emulators" to accomplish this, with very large Xilinx FPGAs for the digital emulation, and prototype analog hardware on the same large PCBA. We often have multiple Emulators working together in networked applications, and we can even have employees take pairs home to try them out in different environments. The flexibility of the FPGA-based emulator lets us go through dozens of iterations of the design to fix bugs and incorporate improvements. :smile:

    upload_2018-7-19_12-55-30.png
     
  11. Jul 19, 2018 #10

    phinds

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    I remember Tektronix scopes with great fondness. Back in the 60's when I worked for NASA we had the best available at the time and they were absolutely terrific. THEN the damn government bureaucracy kicked in in the early 70s and we were forced to buy nothing but crap scopes off of the lowest bidder. They were useless but it took a several years to get them pulled and replaced.
     
  12. Jul 19, 2018 #11

    analogdesign

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    <Berkeman said they use Emulators to try out mixed-signal integrated systems before they build them>

    We do a similar thing, but we use this new technology called a "simulator". ;)

    I'm just teasing. The ability to have a prototype that can actually interact with the target environment is really useful. Our applications are really low volume (typically) so we often use the FPGA as the digital medium and our ASICs typically have digital logic limited to configuration, calibration, and communication (although in some cases they are more complex).

    So, to make this relevant to the OP, yeah, as you can see we can get hands on.
     
  13. Jul 19, 2018 #12

    analogdesign

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    We struggle with sole-source justification for the test equipment we want as well. We were able to hold onto our vintage Tek scopes and still use them. Many of them still have "Property of the Atomic Energy Commission" badges on them, which tells you something about their age.
     
  14. Jul 19, 2018 #13

    phinds

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    This thread really got me to reminiscing about my early EE days. This is a Sounding Rocket telemetry system that I helped design at GSFC in the late 60's. I designed several of the modules, prototyped them, tested them, reworked them, tested, reworked,tested, reworked, (... rinse and repeat) and then we had them fabricated by an outside contractor. In those days ASICs weren't even on anyones drawing board. We were just using TTL logic chips and numerous curse words.

    There were ultimately several different kinds of modules that could go in this modular configuration depending on what kind of output the scientific instruments produced. I got to work with scientists from all around the country and a few from foreign countries as well.

    002a.jpg

    I also designed much of the ground telemetry system used to receive and record the signals this encoder produced. What was really fun was going on the launch trips to Wallops Island and White Sands, NY. Here's me on one of my earliest trips and the rocket we shot off (that had one of the telemetry systems on board). I'm the skinny guy on the right (GADS I wish I were still that skinny)

    rocket1m.jpg upload_2018-7-19_16-22-34.png

    So anyway @Steven_Scott, yeah, you can be hands on :smile:
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2018
  15. Jul 19, 2018 #14

    analogdesign

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    @phinds, those are really, really cool pictures. Thanks for sharing them with us!

    I imagine if you did your telemetry system today you wouldn't use custom ASICs since an FPGA would get the job done cheaper and much easier. NASA does very little (if any) custom ASIC design. I know the camera sensor for Curiosity was done by an ex-coworker of mine who used to lead the ASIC Department at Hughes Aircraft. He spends his retirement doing custom ASICs for various entities. I plan on spending my retirement on the beach.
     
  16. Jul 19, 2018 #15

    phinds

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    :smile:

    Could well be. I'm not up to date at all on electronics. In the late 70's after I had left NASA (or maybe it was the early 80's) I worked for a "beltway bandit" in the Washington DC area that was designing very high end secure communications avionics for the Air Force and the heart of the system was ASICs and that's why I thought of them as likely for the telemetry systems.
     
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