Diverse Services for Diverse Clients

Written by Ryan Cartner

SIGMADESIGN provides engineering and manufacturing services with a focus on covering the entire product development life-cycle from concept through production including prototyping, fabrication, assembly, testing and manufacturing. Headquartered in Camas, Washington, the company has additional facilities in Seattle and Singapore.
In 1994, SIGMADESIGN began its life as a small-scale startup run out of the home of its founders, John and Sue Barker. By 1997 the company caught the attention of a Hewlett Packard engineer named Bill Huseby. He came on board and within two years SIGMADESIGN experienced such significant growth that it expanded into a 4,500 square foot facility in Vancouver, Washington.

For more than ten years, the company operated with a staff of twelve key people. Today it employs roughly 340, having added nearly 100 of those within the last year. These include mechanical and electrical engineers, firmware and software developers, industrial designers and a wide range of support staff including technicians, operators, business development people, accounting, marketing and more. Bill Huseby, who took a risk by leaving his position with Hewlett Packard early on in SIGMADESIGN’s history, is now President and owner of the company. It has experienced tremendous growth consistently throughout its existence, but particularly during the last decade.

Recently, SIGMADESIGN expanded its footprint further by adding a new facility in Seattle, Washington. “One of our strategies is to expand not only worldwide but in our own backyard as well, which is the I5 corridor,” says Huseby. “The Seattle area is very high-tech and becoming more high-tech all the time. That’s anchored by companies like Microsoft and Boeing, but many more technology companies are moving into the area and it’s now an area where we can provide our services.”

SIGMADESIGN specializes in automation and custom machine design. The company has engineered a broad range of full-scale automation systems designed to perform many key tasks such as processing and inspecting parts in a manufacturing environment. Another key sector for the company is the consumer electronics market, which includes cosmetic electronics, sportswear products and more.

SIGMADESIGN is able to stand out in the market by bringing every aspect of product development in-house. Every step of a product’s life-cycle can be handled within SIGMADESIGN facilities, which reduces delays and significantly improves the company’s ability to collaborate across divisions and phases of development.

SIGMADESIGN’s capabilities begin in the design phase, where company experts help clients work through ideas, create concept sketches and model 3D visualizations. It then moves into the preliminary design phase which includes computer-aided designs, diagrams and proof of concept builds. Next, a functional prototype is built and put through comprehensive testing and validation processes. Finally, the product can be manufactured in a pilot or prototype run. “Having so much ability under one roof, a lot of the knowledge, talent, skills, et cetera in one area get implicitly rolled into everything else,” says Joby Easton, Vice President of Business Development. “Because we have industrial design sitting right next to mechanical engineering, we oftentimes foresee issues that even the customer doesn’t.” Even if a customer only selects a few options from the SIGMADESIGN menu, having a one-stop shop offering works in their favor.

For example, the company has an office located in the reduced-cost manufacturing region of Singapore. While only a small portion of SIGMADESIGN’s customers might ever have a need for mass-manufacturing capabilities, it’s a comfort to know that if cost-reduction and mass-production eventually become a requirement, SIGMADESIGN is prepared to meet those needs with in-house capabilities. Customers won’t always need the full breadth of services offered by the company, but the value of that diversity will bear itself out in time.

“While being exceptionally narrow and deep can be a great thing for some companies, we’ve found across the board for twenty-five years that having a very diverse offering works for us,” says Easton.

Building out a diverse service offering has been a central focus for the company, but in the areas where SIGMADESIGN lacks expertise, it depends on a network of key partnerships that it has developed over the years. Misumi USA is the American branch of a leading Japanese company that provides fixed and configurable components for the manufacturing industry. They provide kits for enclosures and when they receive requests from customers for enclosures they often refer to trusted vendors like SIGMADESIGN to assist in the design and build of them. Fabricating enclosures for Misumi customers enables the company to connect with them and creates a touchpoint for a potential future relationship.

Jentay Group is another key partner for SIGMADESIGN. A leading manufacturer of carbon-based products, Jentay has substantial experience and knowledge in a particular area that SIGMADESIGN does not. Through Jentay, SIGMADESIGN assists in providing high-quality, high-precision composite parts that meet strict tolerance specifications. Jentay’s team of composite materials experts are keenly familiar with related manufacturing techniques outside of SIGMADESIGN’s capability. They are a trusted partner that has enabled SIGMADESIGN to significantly expand its capabilities and client base.

“We count on partners like Jentay to do the things we don’t do,” says Easton. “We’re not composite materials experts; they have a tremendous amount of knowledge in an arena we don’t play in so it’s a way to expand our offering into a different market.”

For the first decade of its existence, SIGMADESIGN operated with a skeleton crew of twelve key people that Bill Huseby calls “The Group of 12.” In 2006, that group defined a list of core values that represent the foundation of the company and its culture. “If you come to our facility you’ll see our values posted somewhere at least once no matter where you are in the building,” says Huseby. “But they’re not just words we put up on the wall; we consider our culture extremely important.” Integrity, adaptability, help clients and each other, respect each other, exceed customer expectations and finally, take time to laugh – all are posted in every room of the building.

SIGMADESIGN aims to grow by recognizing, hiring and developing the best. The leadership is constantly striving to ensure that whatever position they’re trying to fill, they hire the best person for the job. One major challenge for the company has been hiring to match the rate of its growth. As the demand for SIGMADESIGN’s services continues to grow, it has begun to outpace the company’s ability to bring on qualified people who meet its high standards and fit into the culture. SIGMADESIGN is committed to hiring the best even if that is a limiting factor for growth.

Despite this, the company continues on a consistent rising trajectory. Within the last year, it has added a significant amount of capability not only in engineering talent but also in terms of new equipment for its machine shop, such as a five-axis CNC machine, laser cutters, welding equipment and sheet metal forming machines. This additional capacity enables the company to increase its capabilities and productivity and will help toward managing growth.

This coming June, SIGMADESIGN will celebrate twenty-five years in business. When asked about market predictions, Huseby said that he doesn’t try to predict the market. “I get asked about this a lot,” he says, “about clients going away, about the market downturn. I can’t do anything about those things, so I focus on what has made us successful in the past. Always exceeding expectations, going above and beyond, if something does go sideways we correct it even if it costs us money. And being adaptable. I can’t predict the market, but I’m going to adapt to what’s out there.”

After nearly 25 years in business, SIGMADESIGN has built a highly successful one-stop shop for concept through production product development. By offering such a broad spectrum of abilities under one roof, SIGMADESIGN is capable of taking a product through its entire life-cycle from the initial idea to the final stages, but the company isn’t explicitly looking for customers who require its full suite of services.

“We don’t care what door a customer comes in through,” says Huseby. “If they just want to do some preliminary engineering or a white paper proof of concept, that’s fine. If they want us to run some tests using their criteria and their protocols, that’s fine too. The majority of our work doesn’t go all the way down the line, but it comes into our system at some point along that path and we’re prepared to help them. We want people to call us if they have any problem at any step of the way. We’ll help them.”



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