How to Light a Prototype on Fire

Engineering the New Spark Tap™ With Lead Mechanical Engineer Alan McAllister


One day last year, Alan was at his home office desk. Suddenly, the stench of burning plastic filled the room. He looked down at his 3D printer, which was diligently working away on a new product prototype. Smoke was pouring out of the machine. Then the 3D printer burst into flame!

So begins any engineering project worth pursuing.

The origin story of the exciting new Spark Tap™ is a tale with many twists and turns.

It all began by listening to thousands of our customers. SnowShoe’s most successful product to date is the Spark Stamp™, a handheld digital check-in device that replaces the paper stamp card at small retailers. Multiple studies show that customers don’t like to carry paper cards around in their wallets, and that most paper stamp cards get lost or left at home and don’t get used. The Spark Stamp solution eliminated the need for customers to carry a physical item in order to earn credit for their purchases.

The Spark Stamp created a satisfying check-in experience, a reduction in paper use, and added value for businesses who needed data about their in-person transactions. Spark™ solutions are now used with great success: businesses worldwide have used the Spark Stamp for over 25 million check-ins (and counting!). We made loyalty simple and secure!

Yet requests for a SnowShoe mounted check-in solution had trickled in. Retailers didn’t want their employees to hold a Stamp or to be interrupted every few minutes with taps on the shoulder to stamp a customer’s phone. When Covid hit the world, that trickle of requests became a deluge — the customer need for a mounted check-in solution was very important. Our partners needed a stand-alone station that customers could use to check-in without human interaction. SnowShoe needed to go hands-free, and as soon as possible.

So Alan’s team got to work on a design.

As the Lead Mechanical Engineer at SnowShoe, Alan McAllister knows that the path to innovation is never smooth. In fact, the SnowShoe team knows that innovation comes with many bumps, and perhaps even some fires along the way. But this process of trial, error, and iteration is what makes it a fun and interesting challenge.