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November 05, 2010

Learning Electronics with Circuit Simulation Versus the Bench Top Lab

By: Dwayne Nehls
George Brown College, Tutorial Support Specialist

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lab One of the primary advantages to using simulation tools when working with circuit design is that the virtual environment allows the user a means of experimentation and analysis without risking damage to equipment or personal injury. Students are free to change part values, alter circuit connections, and even cycle through a variety of IC's without risk. The student is able to see the impact of the changes made immediately by re-simulating the circuit under the new conditions. This makes tools of this nature ideal for training and education.

Simulation tools allow you to dissect and analyse parts of a circuit or application methodically with a minimum of effort. This type of analysis on a real world circuit or application would require physical manipulation of connections or elements in the application which is cumbersome and time consuming. In addition to the flexibility provided for circuit design, several sophisticated analysis types are often provided with simulation tools of this nature. They allow for complex circuit analysis such as Fourier, AC and DC Sensitivity, as well as providing the ability to create batch runs that will sweep a component parameter value. These assets are available to the student during all phases of the design process.

The ability to fault components or circuit elements allows a student to acquire troubleshooting skills for a wide variety of circuits or applications. This is another unique advantage of the virtual environment. Safely recreating faulted circuit conditions with no risk to the student, and providing the student with virtual instruments and analysis which allow them to gain fundamental insight into circuit operation, provide powerful aids for troubleshooting, as well as circuit design.

The reliability of simulators in today's marketplace allows these tools to be used in place of bread-boarding when working on the prototype phase of a design. Accurate simulation is provided as long as the user operates the design within the specified range of the simulation models being used.

Simulation tools contain large numbers of components, and provide analysis that would require a number of costly instruments to perform. The availability of virtual instruments is another reason why the use of simulation tools makes good sense in the education field. The cost of acquiring the real world counterparts to these virtual instruments is definitely prohibitive for the majority of students in the field.

In short, simulation tools provide an excellent mechanism for learning and understanding the workings of circuits or programs. They are extremely cost effective, safe, and versatile tools that can be used as an alternative to having a real world lab in which to perform circuit design and testing. Tools of this nature can greatly reduce the time and cost of prototyping and testing new designs or concepts.