Douglas Burnette Test Lab Manager


Position at SIGMADESIGN: Test Lab Manager

Time at SIGMADESIGN: Eight Years

{When I started, I just loved making and breaking things. But as time goes on, it has really become more and more about the people.} ~Douglas Burnette


Douglas Burnette - Lab Manager

Douglas Burnette – Lab Manager

Since joining SIGMADESIGN in 2010, I’ve worked to grow the company’s in-house testing capabilities into an all-inclusive test lab. We found that integrating this capability into SIGMADESIGN’s already comprehensive design-through-production offerings was extremely valuable to our clients.

A critical part of my work has been to take R&D testing for a given product and evolve it into production quality metrics or sustaining testing during the mass production phase. I have found that testing early and often yields a better product, especially if early tests are designed with an eye towards compliance with production quality requirements and appropriate standards.

As SIGMADESIGN has grown, I have come to manage a growing test lab with amazing technicians and capable equipment, all as part of one of the premiere product development firms of the Pacific Northwest.


What was your youth like?

Douglas Burnette with Grandpa

Douglas with his Grandpa, a Retired Math Professor and Textbook Author

I grew up in Hood River, OR, where my parents owned a consulting company. Similar to many SIGMADESIGN employees, I spent a lot of time outdoors and a lot of time tinkering with my dad on different projects. I was lucky to live within road trip distance of my uncle and grandfather, who both had machine shops and allowed me to spend some time in them. In fact, at nine-years-old, I made my first project on a lathe – a pen holder for my mom.


A career change for my mom brought my family to Washington D.C. when I was twelve, and I lived out there for the remainder of my childhood. As a producer in the documentary film industry, my mom produced many Explorer shows and Explorer Journals for National Geographic, including shows about wildlife rescue. While we were in D.C., I spent a good amount of time around the filmmaking industry – in the equipment room and what not, picking scorpion legs out of cameras that came back from Africa.


Douglas Burnette Chicken

Douglas Burnette with his Chicken

One of my favorite shows that my mom produced, which brought the family back out to Oregon, was called “Flying Off Rooftops.” It was about an airplane restorer in Hood River named Tom Murphy. “Murphy proposed recreating the historic 1912 flight of a bi-plane off the roof of the Multnomah hotel in Portland, Oregon. The original flight inspired the idea of flying planes on and off aircraft carriers… In the end, the flight and the film were successful.” ( I enjoyed growing up around this industry and the excitement of the different shows my mom worked on.


What was your education experience?

Douglas Alexia Prom

Douglas and Alexia at Prom

Although I grew up playing piano and flute, I was always interested in the more technical side of music.  Even in high school, I used mixing consoles and did some digital recording. Thanks to my amateur experience in the entertainment industry, I landed my first job at a music recording studio in Maryland where I was the studio rat and assistant engineer. While there, I even got a chance to write some music for National Geographic or Discovery shows.


I went to college at D.C. American University where I received a Bachelor’s of Science in Audio Technology. I studied there for an extra year to receive a Master’s in Film and Video Production.


What are your interests outside of work?

Douglas Burnette Garden

Douglas in his Garden

My wife Alexia and I have a vegetable garden. I am not into planting flowers unless they are useful like edible nasturtiums and slug-repelling marigolds. As a youngster, I always wanted bamboo, but my parents would not let me get it because it takes over your yard. But Alexia and I now have it and are able to manage it with barriers.


I have been practicing Tai Chi for nine years. Every Wednesday, Alexia teaches Tai Chi at SIGMADESIGN and I join when I can. We go to a Tai Chi camp in Occidental, California twice a year for our continuing education. Tai Chi and gardening keep me busy when I’m not at work.


What brought you to SIGMADESIGN?

I moved out to Oregon from the East Coast because my wife and I both had family here, and it was an easy place to be in a recession (2010). My father’s co-worker’s husband worked at SIGMADESIGN, and told me they were looking for part-time help in the lab. When I started working in the lab, our Lab Manager Tyler warned me there might be late nights. Every once in a while, we would stay at work until 10pm, and Tyler would get everybody pizza and beer. I was used to late nights in the recording studio where sessions could run until 3am, so several weeks later, I was still trying to figure out when the late nights would start. I think my positive attitude about “late nights” contributed to SIGMADESIGN offering me a full time job.




Douglas in the Test Lab

Seven and a half years and a lot of pizza and beer later, here I am running the SIGMADESIGN Test Lab. When I started at SIGMADESIGN, Testing was a part of the main lab in downtown Vancouver. There were only a couple of testing machines and we started to have too much work for that space, so I moved the Test Lab to another SIGMADESIGN location. When the Camas Headquarters was acquired, the Test Lab landed its own dedicated space with room to grow.


The Test Lab has expanded its footprint, as well as its capabilities. We perform developmental testing, pre-compliance testing, sustaining/reliability testing, and much more. Our capabilities allow us to test anything from altitude to corrosion. If I had to describe my team in one sentence, I would say we are the group that breaks things to make them better. We break it, the engineers improve it, we make more prototypes, and we do it all over again.


Testing requires a great deal of paperwork. I don’t actually mind dealing with paperwork even though it’s not really an engineering activity; it’s a compliance and legal activity. Some standards are 300 pages and reports are often 50 pages long, but it’s a puzzle I enjoy figuring out.


What do you enjoy most about your profession?

Wearable Device Tester

Wearable Device Tester

When I started, I just loved making and breaking things. But now it has really become more about the people. I love growing, and helping others grow in their own jobs. As that happens, we help SIGMADESIGN’s capabilities and the organization as a whole develop. And that’s really cool.


What do you enjoy about working at SIGMADESIGN?

The people are definitely the best part of working at SIGMADESIGN. It is rare that I have a bad day because everybody is always willing to step up and help make things work. Our adaptability and eagerness to help each other has remained true over time, even as SIGMADESIGN has evolved. We have grown from a scrappy, get-it-done, make-it-work culture to a more sophisticated company working on some incredibly complex projects at a very, very demanding level. I guess we’re not so scrappy anymore, but something that has never changed is the Core Values. The Core Values have always been true, and always will be.


What are your favorite projects or project types?

Test Lab Environmental Chambers

Test Lab Environmental Chambers

The projects involving artificial sweat or salt exposure are very interesting to me. It’s a weird thing because we soak something in artificial sweat, let it dry so that the salt crystalizes, then we soak it again. The repeated action of the salt crystalizing can really destroy stuff. In an ideal lab environment, a square millimeter of crystalized salt can exert about 50 pounds of force. A square inch of crystalizing salt can theoretically lift a school bus. So what does this mean? Well, if you have a watch band that is getting salty from sweat, you can accidentally spring stuff apart and destroy it because there is so much force from the salt crystalizing. That is one of the variety of interesting tests that we run to improve products.


How do the core values influence your work?

Integrity influences my work the most. I remember one of the first test jobs we had, there was a solenoid that got stuck on an environmental chamber and we ended up boiling customer samples. While everything looked fine, we immediately got the client on the phone and let them know exactly what happened and how it happened. Then we made sure we were able to re-do the test and still get accurate data for our client. We could have not told the client what happened and just kept going with it. But like I always say, “Integrity is what you do when nobody is watching.”


What are you really excited to work on?

Douglas Burnette Test Lab Manager

Douglas Burnette Test Lab Manager

I am very excited for a new capability coming next month- vibration testing. A vibration system lets us simulate the real world in the lab in a highly accelerated fashion. For example, we recently produced some light-emitting ladder caps for a client. These caps go on the end of ladders that fire fighters use. In order to ensure that these caps will suffer no fatigue wear, we had them tested in a system that simulated one year of on-the-road vibration in only 9 hours. Now that we are bringing this capability in-house, we will be able to iterate much more quickly. My team plans to use the system to test consumer electronics. For example, imagine being able to test the reliability of wearable devices by simulating the lifetime movement environment, whether that’s in a box during shipping or on the consumer’s wrist.


I would love to see my team take on a lot of projects requiring vibration testing. And that’s the beauty of working at SIGMADESIGN. There is always something new and exciting coming down the pipe!



If you want to read some of my articles on testing, check out the following blog posts:

Customized Product Testing for Product Success

Testing: A Crucial Stage in the Design Process