It’s often said that innovation, at its root, elevates just about anything — whether that be a business, its products, or a simple idea.
Bozeman, Montana-based Spark R&D understands this and has made it part of the brand’s DNA. But the company isn’t just innovating for the sake of stamping the word on its latest product, says Dan Ventura, Spark R&D marketing manager. The company’s No. 1 goal is to use feedback and problem solving to improve the backcountry experience for everyone.
This year, they introduced an update to their bindings with the Pillow Line strap, meant to create an even better experience in the backcountry. The product has been more than two years in the making, and after countless prototypes, Spark is shipping next season’s product offering out to its key retailers.
“The motivation for the project came from wanting to create a strap that meets the lightweight and comfort requirements of skinning, and the durability and waterproof needs of being out in the backcountry, without sacrificing the support needed for riding hard on big lines,” Ventura says.
In order to make this a reality, Spark reined in its manufacturing processes as much as possible.
“The Pillow Line straps were one of the last remaining pieces of our bindings left to be made in-house except for a few screws and the buckles,” Ventura explains. “This also gives us total control over quality and fast turnarounds for prototyping.”
The result is something the crew at Spark is excited to get in the hands of retailers and consumers. We talked more with Ventura to find out why they saw a need for the Pillow Line strap, and how they hope it will improve your next backcountry adventure.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Talk about some of the technology and innovation that went into this product? You mentioned you do all the injection molding from your HQ – what does this process look like?
It usually starts with an overnight epiphany. In this case, it was the idea of built-in strap padding, where the "pillows" compress and form to your boot while the stiff ribs provide the support and are held off the boot to maintain comfort. It's all done in a single molded piece, and you are not making any sacrifices in riding or touring to have such a lightweight strap. It's quite a unique design. In fact, the patent will issue this month.
As far as the prototype and manufacturing process goes, Will, Spark’s co-owner and chief designer, starts from 3D scans of his boot, and designs the straps around them in his CAD program. We print a 3D model from the CAD to check feasibility, fit, and size, and then once that gets the green light, we start machining the molds on our CNC machines.
The molds are massive and heavy, so once complete we use the gantry to transfer the molds into our injection molding machine. The plastic is heated and injected into the mold, cooled, then out pops a strap.
Blank straps then head over to our pad printer to get some rad graphics, followed by the addition of a few nuts, screws, and buckles. We have continued to prototype straps and tweak the molds over the last two years, until they were completely refined. Changes were made until the straps went into production this summer. Here's a short edit that provides a visual of the process:
In turn, has this increased the price point on these bindings?
No. We are proud to say that both the Arc and Surge have remained the same price as when we first brought them out in 2015.
While the development costs and in-house labor used to produce the straps have been considerable, we saved a lot of money by producing the actual molds ourselves and not paying to ship Chinese made straps across the ocean.
Any of the remaining costs we make up for by being efficient and having total control over quality, which eliminates waste. We have worked hard for both our dealers and our customers to keep our bindings at a steady price.
Can these bindings be used on all boards or just split boards?
The technical nature of our bindings shines on a splitboard, but with the use of the One Binding System, our bindings work great on solid boards as well. Quivering is becoming very popular, so it is nice to have one set of bindings and a large quiver of boards for whatever conditions you are riding.
How will you tell this story at retail? What are some of the key retail partnerships for Spark?
This is a product made by splitboarders for splitboarders. This is not innovation for innovation's sake, but an exercise in problem solving to make the splitboard and backcountry experience better for all snowboarders.
With everyone rushing to make the lightest equipment possible, we really took our time with these straps and made sure we weren't sacrificing performance. We created a product that not only shaves weight, but will last, and can be trusted deep in the backcountry.
All of our retailers are key partners for us! We are very thankful for their support and trust in our brand and our products.
What other innovative product for next season are you most excited about?
We are excited about our new Spark Crossbar Clips. Splitboarders and board manufacturers have been asking us for a while to come up with another option. Our new design features a one-piece crossbar that extends from one set of bolts to the other for the stiffest possible connection between the board halves.
The cam lever clamps the board together taking gaps out of the board seam. The crossbar and lever rotate out of the way leaving nothing hanging over the edges to snag while you're touring or getting rad split skiing.
Clamping tension is easily fine-tuned by turning a set screw, compensating for any wear or board variability. Spark Crossbar Clips are made from lightweight aluminum in an elegant low-profile design, with only two moving parts.
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