April Stay Connected at Hirsh Precision Products Inc.

Monthly Facility Tour & Happy Hour
April 12, 2018 | 4:30 PM MDT

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Stay Connected: Sparkfun Feb 2015 Event Recap

Did you miss this event? Join us next time! See our upcoming events here.

Our tour guide, Trevor Zylstra, Chief Operating Officer, discussed SparkFun's strategy for growth and flexibility— meaning:

  • Quick time to market for new products
  • Quick revision cycles
  • Flexible reactive manufacturing build schedules
  • “The Burn,” our flexible purchasing module
  • SparkFun’s diverse line of products & constant active pursuit of catalog variety

SparkFun has three executives in our Certified Lean Master Program and they have always been a great supporter of APICS NoCo. Thank you to SparkFun for hosting our event!

SparkFun has a focus on fun, the least conventional methods as possible, a 'build it ourselves' attitude and a workplace where staff want to work.

They also have a commitment to transparency to their customers. SparkFun's adventures in starting new parts of the business, like this new facility, are well documented on their website.

One example of staff appreciation is providing them with a fantastic workout room including this amazing climbing wall.

SparkFun is also the second largest kennel in Boulder because of all the staff that bring dogs to work. A special insurance rider was also obtained to allow skooters to be used in the facility.

Shown above is receiving where we were able to see SparkFun's home grown ERP system named Sparkle.

Kitting is where packaging of SparkFun's highly popular kits are put together. There were 26,000 kits processes in January 2015.

Production puts out a variety of circuit boards. Here is the very well branded SparkFun red they've come to be known for. 

Shipping is in the process of transitioning. Currently, they only do a physical inventory once a year. They would like to build the location of each component into their system.

Currently, Google Nexus tablets are used as a picking list from their ERP, Sparkle. The lovely rainbow cat shown in the box above pops up to let you know the system is locating your item.

The roof is equipped with many solar panels and this CEO designed weather monitor to the left.

One of our tour groups is pictured here out of three. What a great view from the roof!

We ended our tour with a raffle of prizes. Congratulations to our winners!

We then went to the Niwot Tavern for appetizers and drinks. What a great event! Thank you to everyone who joined us! See our upcoming events here.


Learn more about SparkFun's manufacturing process.

We interviewed Trevor with some key questions and here are his answers...

Does SparkFun employ Lean techniques and how hard was that for your company to implement?

We’re not yet using Lean methodology in any rigorous way, no. Of course, we see it’s value, and we’re currently taking classes from APICS to learn Lean and to figure out how we can implement it at SparkFun in the future! And we have always believed in constant and sustainable improvements.

What is the difference between yours and the production systems run by your competitors?

SparkFun has a lot of products (2700-ish, of which we build or kit a little over 500 ourselves). Some sell quickly but some satisfy very small niches. So SparkFun is selling and manufacturing many products that could be described as being part of the Long Tail, meaning that on any given day our build quantities for a single product can range in size from 10 to several thousand. Build schedules are constantly being automatically reevaluated based on our website sales—we stay nimble in order to stock the things that are selling well right now. The larger sellers of electronics can’t cater to the long tail, since their manufacturing model only works when they’re making large runs of the same product.

We also see competition from manufacturers, many from Asia, selling copies of our products on Ebay and Alibaba.  While those companies share similar production systems with us, and do have the ability to cater to the Long Tail, we differ from them in offering responsive product support both technical and otherwise, rich-content tutorials and example projects, and fast domestic and worldwide shipping. Also, our fast product revision cycles and continuing stream of new products keeps us a few steps ahead of copycats.

How has your Lean management system bridged the gap between your organization and your customers?

That’s a questions for future SparkFun. We’re still Lean beginners at the moment.

Does your company have more of a focus on productivity or quality?

We must always be focused on both of those attributes, of course. SparkFun couldn’t stay in business for very long if we ignored productivity and quality. But when there’s conflict between productivity and quality, we will always pick quality. There’s far fewer unhappy customers when you are, for example, briefly out of stock of a best selling product, than there is when they get the product and it doesn’t work.

What value has your company leadership seen as a result of your lean management techniques?

At SparkFun we are always working to improve how we do things. We’re interested in Lean to continue a process of self-improvement that has been part of the company since we began in a CU Boulder undergraduate apartment in 2003.

What message would you want to give someone who might be considering lean management for the first time in their organization?

I’d tell them, “We’re in the same situation as you! Let’s compare notes.”

Article Written by APICS NoCo Volunteer, Megg Sohn.