At the end of July, I was traveling in the Boulder area and had the privilege of getting a tour of the SparkFun headquarters. I got my first Arduino from them; and although I’m not a terribly frequent shopper, I follow their blog assiduously and I love what they do, so it was a pretty thrilling experience.
SparkFun posts a lot of pictures on their site and they’re not shy about showing off their facility, but the online photos don’t give quite the same perspective on their operation that an outsider gets when coming through for the first time. They told me there was nothing I couldn’t photograph and post, so I wanted to share a bit from my tour.
Immediately upon walking in the door, it’s obvious that this is not your ordinary workplace. The reception area features two “just for fun” projects — the Tron table (above) and the GPS clock (below). Also between my parents’ feet you can see one of the dogs roaming the hallways.
Before I had even assimilated the reception area, a head poked out of the corner door and asked, “Are you Keith?” It was Nathan Seidle, the founder himself. Trevor, the VP who had arranged to give me a tour, was unavailable in a meeting, and the CEO thought nothing of taking time out of his day to show a few people around their workplace.
We started with the office area upstairs. SparkFun teaches a number of classes ranging from intro to soldering to using EAGLE to selling your widget, and this is the classroom where they’re held. The ceiling is festooned with the mini-shuriken punchouts that come sandwiched between Lilypad Arduino PC boards.
The technical support area looks much like any other modern office except for the attire and the dogs. SparkFun is very “Boulder” in being a dog-friendly workplace. A number of employees have gated areas near their desks where their dogs spend the day napping, roaming, and generally doing whatever it is that dogs normally do outside, at home, while their people are away during the day. They were all very friendly and well-behaved — maybe the altitude makes them less prone to bark.
After looping through the design area where Nate explained their choice of EAGLE for schematic and board design, it was down to the manufacturing floor.
One of the first things inside the door was this pick-and-place machine for placing surface-mount components on PC boards, which got me all distracted and Nate ended up explaining it to my dad while I mostly stared and drooled.
Auto-changer and different heads for vacuum-picking SMT parts out of tape-and-reel spools. Yummy!
After tearing myself away from the pick-and-place, we turned to the hand-assembly area on the right. SparkFun has a demand-driven manufacturing process, with daily build sheets printed each morning to meet actual and anticipated sales demands. Products with both a lot of components and a large batch to be built that day will be stuffed on the pick-and-place machine; everything else happens right here. These guys crank out a lot of boards!
Further back to the left are supply shelves for manufacturing, including the stock of as-yet unconverted phones for the Port-O-Rotary Bluetooth and cellular phones.
Following the supply shelves, we passed through the testing area, where they have a whole cabinet of test fixtures (of which I didn’t get a good picture). SparkFun has a great tutorial about designing test jigs to test every single item they build before shipping it out the door.
In the very back are the stockroom with products ready to ship,
the SparkFun limo (Nathan and a friend bought it from Craigslist because, well, why not???),
the receiving, unpacking, and inspection area,
and plenty of room to grow. SparkFun is expanding steadily, and this should tide them over for a while.
Thus concluded my tour. I’d like to reiterate a huge thank-you to Trevor Zylstra for arranging it, to Nathan Seidle for taking the time to lead us around, and to all of SparkFun for being the kind of place to welcome people in their doors!