Saturday, December 24, 2011

Operation: Organize My Parts (OOP)

This is a series of posts I’m doing as I go from working out of a collection of unorganized boxes and bags to something more productive and efficient using Plano 3449 boxes.
Resistor Storage
The Excel spreadsheet that contains all of my envelopes and labels can be downloaded here.

OOP – Electrolytic Capacitor Storage

CapPileTonight I decided to take on the next chapter in “Operation: Organize my Parts!” (OOP).  Since I didn’t want to start a very large project, I decided to move my electrolytic capacitors into some Plano 3449 boxes.  I’ve been using the little Ziploc bags that they came in when I bought them and that’s not such a bad solution.  However, I had all of the little bags of caps crammed into one larger Ziploc bag and that was inconvenient to have to pull them all out and sort through them every time I needed one.

1000uf_capacitorSince electrolytic capacitors are considerably larger than resistors, the envelope method I used to organize my resistors wasn’t practical.  So, I decided that I’d give each capacitor value it’s own compartment in the Plano box.  Currently, I only keep 10 different values so this isn’t bad since it will only require two boxes to store them all.

2011-12-23 22.35.26To label the compartments to make the values easy to identify, I added a new worksheet to the Plano 3449 – Electronic Organization file.  I created a page of labels that can be used to print something similar to the envelopes used before except that for these the paper is folded and taped so that one of the labels is visible from the bottom of the box and one is visible when the box is open.  This makes it very easy to find the right box and to identify the parts when the box is open.

This solution has worked very well and will save me a lot of time in the future that would have been spent rummaging through Ziploc bags.  If you want to use this solution, download the Excel file and use the “Electrolytic Capacitor Labels” worksheet.  I hope this solution helps someone else as much as it has me.

2011-12-23 22.38.19 2011-12-23 22.37.53
View from the bottom of the Plano box.
View from inside the Plano box.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

OOP – Resistor Storage

I finally did it.  I threw in the towel.  I finally reached the point where my loss of productivity forced me to stop and do something I’ve been threatening to do for a while.  I decided to get organized.  I’ve spent a lot of time out in the wood shop this year getting it organized (more posts coming!). However, the electronics lab is a different monster that I’ve been thinking about for years about how to best handle but could just never come up with that perfect unique idea.  Operation: Organize my Parts (OOP) has begun.

So, I decided to think smaller.  I’ve been spending a lot of time working on several different electronics projects in recent months and by far the most time consuming activity has been searching through my pile of resistors.

In truth, I started this little project over two years ago when I bought a lot of fourty Plano 3449 mini tackle boxes off eBay (for about $1 each) for this purpose.  However, I took a couple years off from doing anything serious with electronics and so the boxes have just sat in a bigger box in my office.  When I bought the boxes, my idea was basically to put every different value in a separate compartment.  However, the more I thought about it that was a terribly ineffective use of space since a vast majority of the resistor values I have come from assortment bags and I only have 5 to 10 units of each value.

2011-12-12 22.36.26So, I started to think about how to better utilize the space within the compartments of the Plano boxes to help reduce the number of boxes required to store the complete resistor collection and to allow me to be able to quickly and easily find & store resistors when needed.  To make it easy to find resistors, I knew I needed them labeled with their numeric value and sorted.  To make it easy to store resistors, I knew I would need their color codes easily viewable.

2011-12-12 22.37.09
The solution I finally arrived up was an envelope system that had a closing flap that contained the resistor value and the color codes such as the one on the left.  The colored flap secures the envelope and also prevents accidental spilling should the box get dumped.  To make the envelopes, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet to help with the color coding.  This turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I initially expected.  Consider this my Christmas present to you should you decide to use it (I’ll expect a Christmas card in return! ;)

ExcelLayoutAfter printing out pages of all the envelope templates that I needed, it was then just a matter of sitting in front of the TV with some scissors cutting out all the squares, folding them and taping the ends.  I then sorted through and identified all the resistors and placed them in their appropriate envelopes.

The rule of thumb that I've been using and which has worked very well regarding resistor inventory is to start out with a couple 1000 resistor assortments from eBay.  Then as I run out of a particular value, I order 200 to replace it.  20 resistors is about all that will comfortable fit in the tiny envelopes.  So, for more than that for a single value they get their own dedicated compartment within the box.  I place the envelope over the divider so that it's value & color code are easily visible.

2011-12-12 22.35.26I'm now able to fit all of my resistors into three of the Plano boxes and can locate the needed one within seconds instead of minutes.  It's especially nice that the boxes are clear and I'm able to view the labels through the box lid without opening it to locate the correct box.  It took several nights to get it all setup and sorted but now it's very easy to maintain and I consider it well worth the effort.

A couple of issues to mention concerning the Excel spreadsheet.  First, I was focused on the majority of my resistors that are 1/4W and failed to provide a way to note this on the envelope.  Since I'm not willing to recreate the envelopes just to add a "1/4W" label on them, the approach I'm taking is that as I add resistors of a different Watt rating then I hand write "1/4W" below the resistor value in the empty white space and print the new envelope for the new value with the Watt value on it.  If you decide to use my spreadsheet, you should add the W label on there before printing.  Secondly, the data formatting abilities in Excel seems to have a limitation where it is not possible to have it hide the decimal if the format contains the ability to have decimal places.  For example, if the format is "0.##" and the number is 10 then it will display the number as "10." (including the period).  So, for this reason you will see a lot of extra periods on the envelopes.  If you know a way to eliminate the period, please leave a comment with the solution and I'll update the spreadsheet.

2011-12-12 22.33.19I hope this post has helped someone else escape "resistor hell".  Now onto capacitors...