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Current Editor: Dr. Robert T. Howell  bhowell@fhsu.edu
Volume 33, Number 4
Summer 1996


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Electronics Workbench [Educational Version 4.1a for Windows]. (1995). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Interactive Image Technologies Ltd. $299.00.

Ray Richardson
Eastern Illinois University

Educators involved in curriculum concerning electronics, electrical engineering technology, or physics electronics should examine the latest release of Electronics Workbench by Interactive Image Technologies Limited. This simulation software package emulates test equipment, components, and troubleshooting techniques found in electronics laboratories. Its uncomplicated user interface flattens the learning curve and allows students to begin working within minutes.

The Software

Electronics Workbench Version 4 for Windows requires at least a 80386 or higher processor (486 or higher is recommended), Windows 3.1, 4MB of RAM memory (6MB for 32 bit and 12MB for Windows NT), and a hard drive with over 5MB of available space. The package contains installation disks, user and technical guides, and quick reference aids. Installation is uncomplicated and uses the RUN function of the Program Manager. The software is divided into three primary areas: the parts bin, the equipment rack, and the work space circuit building area.

A wide selection of passive, active, and other related components can be found in the simulated parts bin. AC or DC current and voltage sources, linear components, switches, relays, transformers, bulbs, and fuses are all available in nearly infinite settings and supply. The stock of semiconductors includes diodes, LEDs, transistors (including MOSFET), thyristors, operational amplifiers, and a timer. Digital components include all the basic gates, TTL (74 series) components as well as adders, counters, multiplexers, latches, and flip-flops. A significant feature new to Electronics Workbench is the capability of mixing analog and digital circuitry, and analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters are included.

For test equipment, the software includes a multimeter, oscilloscope, word generator, and logic analyzer. Electronics Workbench also has a powerful logic converter (capable of converting between Boolean logic, truth tables, and circuitry) and a bode plotter. One unfortunate limitation to this portion of the software is that only components from the parts bin can be duplicated; equipment cannot. However, Electronics Workbench has an unlimited supply of volt and ammeters available in the parts bin.

Building circuits in the work space is quick and easy. Within minutes after reviewing the manual, users can begin constructing their first circuits. Selecting parts from the parts bin and placing the wires, using the automatic wire placement enhancement new to Version 4, is as easy as pointing and clicking. After the circuit is complete, users can watch their circuits run after actuating the animated power on rocker switch. Students can build their own circuits, circuits assigned or designed by the teacher, or select from sample circuit files included with Electronics Workbench or one of its add-on modules. Another useful feature is the ease with which circuit alterations and changes can be made. Students can modify circuits by changing component values, component placement, adding components, or adding meters, and then observe the changes made by their modifications. Digital or analog, circuit building in Electronics Workbench is both easy and fun. While Electronics Workbench is not a game, students can have fun learning through designing, troubleshooting, or just dabbling in analog or digital electronics.

Additional power is brought to Electronics Workbench by the vast amount of add-on products available. Although the prices vary for each module, many are available for $50 or less. Educators might choose to purchase the "150 Circuits" module containing RLC, diode, transistor, amplifiers, filters, and other miscellaneous circuits; an important module saving design time. The "Troubleshooting" module gives various samples of analog circuits and in traditional lab manual style, giving students suggestions and hints about possible troubleshooting techniques. If the need is to bring Electronics Workbench into the curriculum quickly, "Practical Teaching Ideas" is full of ready-to-go circuits, goals, and student questions for topics ranging from basic DC through transistors and digital circuits, including a brief section on evaluation and examination. Other available add-ons include "Understanding Electricity" (for secondary educators), "Electronics for Physics Students," and "Electronics Testbench," a test generator. Users of SPICE-based simulation will be pleased to know that the SPICE I/O module can export netlists for use in other simulators. The PCB Export module allows conversion of Electronics Workbench to many popular PCB netlist formats. Electronics Workbench also offers a reasonably priced library of circuits disks available for most popular textbooks.

Implications for Instruction

It is important to remember that Electronics Workbench is a software tool, and like any other tool must be used correctly to facilitate learning. One use for this tool might be to enhance classroom presentations. "Practical Teaching Ideas" suggests that Electronics Workbench be used in conjunction with LCD projection units or large monitors to demonstrate circuits. Printouts representing the work space can be used for overheads, handouts, or quizzes.

Electronics Workbench has great potential for enhancing learning. Educators can allow their students to design, build, and test their own circuits in a safe and realistic manner. Because of the realism, the transfer of skills to a real workbench should be smooth. Students with difficulty understanding a particular circuit concept can use Electronics Workbench to run the activity repeatedly, analyzing or adding to the circuit each time. Advanced students can participate in exploratory learning by performing "What if. . ." scenarios on familiar circuits, and modifying them to incorporate their own designs.

Most importantly, educators can manipulate the software to hide equipment (forcing students to use only what is on hand) or to introduce faults in a circuit to enhance the students' troubleshooting experience. To simulate real troubleshooting, instructors can "fail" components by creating a short, open, or by adding "leakage" (new in Version 4). These modifications can be hidden from the students, allowing tests on a failed circuit, and in turn, building the students' troubleshooting expertise, and preparing them for real world.

Conclusion

Electronics Workbench is a excellent software tool and a powerful one. If used in conjunction with other effective teaching practices, students in electronics can add simulation to their collection of electronics experiences. It is useful for remedial students, tutorials, accelerated students, presentations, and experimentation. Electronics Workbench is recommended when class size outnumbers equipment availability; however, it is not a substitute for real test equipment and practice at a real test bench. Unlike the real world, the oscilloscope always triggers, and relays do not fail by exceeding voltage ratings. Other minor limitations were encountered during evaluation of the simulations. There is no polyphase voltage source (3 single phase sources with varied phases will work), no motors, and no DPDT relays; however, the simulated speaker does beep and the lamps and LEDs do "light" when actuated. As an instructor of electronics, I was impressed, and I think you will be too. Interactive Image Technologies can be reached at 111 Peter Street, Suite 801, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5V 2H1. Their toll-free number is (800) 263-5552 and their fax number is (416) 977-1818. The company can also be reach via e-mail at ewb@interactive.com or on the Internet at http://www.interactive.com.

Reference Citation: Richardson, R. (1996). Review of Electronics workbench. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(4), 74-77.


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