Laser Cut Birdman Costume

One handy tool for prototyping is a laser cutter.  At Salient, we use our laser to cut wood, plastic, cardboard and fabric for testing, prototypes and golden samples.  However, with Halloween upon us, why not make a cardboard Birdman costume using the laser cutter?!  Once you have a pattern, the laser cutter is more precise, repeatable and faster than cutting with a blade.

Here are some basic steps and images of the process.  For full instructions, you can visit

  1. Design the flat pattern in SolidWorks keeping in mind the ideal size and articulation for the wings. (This was very fast, allowing for the quick scaling of parts and patterning of features like feathers.)Laser Cutting Birdman
  2. Cut out the pieces using the laser…. So much faster and accurate then cutting cardboard with a knife!      birdman-laser-cutting-spread
  3. Assemble the pieces using industrial strength hot glue, bolts and nuts for the wings and Gorilla Tape.      laser-cut-birdman-halloween-costume
    And, Voila!  It’s a Birdman Halloween!

Birdman Costume

6 Player Loopin’ Chewie Hack

As a gamer, maker and designer, I am a huge fan of altering toys and games for more exciting play. Sometimes you just need to make a Nerf dart fly faster or make a toy glow in the dark just for fun.  For those that love action games, Hasbro reintroduced the classic Looping Louie this last year with an epic Star Wars version called Loopin’ Chewie.  Gameplay is simple: Chewbacca flies in circles trying to knock over Stormtrooper tokens.  You defend your tokens by hitting a paddle which can launch the erratic Millennium Falcon away from your troopers and hopefully knock out your opponents.  If you are the last to have Stormtroopers, you win.

Well, the original Looping Louie was a Loopin' Chewie, Step 14 player game, and with the reintroduction, the Star Wars edition was dropped to 3 player.  While the game is super fun, I wanted to make play a little more interesting by turning it into a 6 player game.

The necessary 6 Player Loopin’ Chewie Conversion files can be downloaded for 3D print using the link below, but here is a step by step if you want to make one yourself…

1. Supplies:

  1. 2 sets of Star Wars Loopin’ Chewie Game,
  2. 3D printer,
  3. Ability to create the 3D file (or download here

2. Design: Using a photograph of the motorized base as reference geometry, I drew a clip attachment in a 3D CAD software called SolidWorks that would attach to an extra paddle. The base has vertical ridges that come up at an angle, so I was able to use those to help position and hold the part.  I used calipers to measure the features on the original base to make sure my geometry was correct.  With one extra attachment complete, I simply patterned the geometry 3x around the motorized center.

Loopin' Chewie Hack, Step 2

3. 3D Printing: With the 3D file ready, I 3D printed the part on our Formlabs 2 SLA printer out of Tough Resin. This material was ideal since the part has to flex over the base to fit into place… and since it will see proper abuse when things get really competitive. The print took roughly 6 hours and can be seen finished in the machine and with the structural supports removed.

Loopin' Chewie 3D Print - Step 3

4. Assembly: Clip the 6 Player Conversion over the base from
the bottom. Since the print is semi-flexible, it can deform enough to clip over the angled base. The vertical ridges hold it perfectly in place. Attach the 6 paddles. Be careful though – it’s still a 3D print and not as strong as molded plastic. Assemble 6 competitive Star Wars fans, and prepare for battle.

Loopin' Chewie 3D hack - Step 4

5. Play: Get ready, cuz it’s about to get crazy! If you only have 3 players, you can operate a paddle with each hand…. Not easy.

Loopin' Chewie 6 Player hack

Darth Vader & Vacuum Forming

What would be more geek-fun then flash freezing Darth Vader with a metal alloy mixed with tibanna gas?  We thought, not much!  So, that’s what we did… At least Darth Vader Vacuum Formmaking something that looks like the Sith Lord suspended in Carbonite (See Star Wars – Return of the Jedi).  We used an in-house process called vacuum forming to have a little fun.

Vacuum forming works when you heat up a sheet of plastic in a jig and lower it over a positive form of the shape you want to create. As it lowers onto the mold, a vacuum table (like the reverse of an air hockey table) sucks the air out from under the plastic, forming it around the mold shape. Darth Vader in CarboniteThis is a really handy process for making cases, large panels, and packaging. Typically, we use it for work and paid projects, but when you have the toys, you might as well play every once and a while!

To create the form, we built a Vader look-a-like on a board using a mask, glove, Lego, Maker Studio parts, chain, some fabric, duct tape, a broken sled and some other odds and ends. Once we had the mold, we were able to vacuum form a sheet of plastic over Lord Vader on our vacuum forming machine.  With a little paint touch up, we had Vader suspended in Carbonite-animation.

Enjoy this short video showing the process.

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

The Mark of Mentorship

How did we come to be where we are today? Looking back we recall myriad decisions; some good, some poor. Milestones; moments of right place, right time. Wonderful people that either encouraged us or pointed us in a more focused direction. Those encouraging people may have shared a moment with us while others have been with us for a lifetime. Whichever category they fall in, we call them Mentors. People who share their deep insight and experience that is beyond our own – and therefore, extremely valuable.

As designers, we think back to who mentored us. Likely it was a parent who saw artistic or problem-solving ability and pointed us toward industrial design or engineering. Perhaps a teacher took extra time to customize a project, making it more interesting and inspiring. Some of us were lucky enough to have a successful leader occasionally take us to coffee for unfiltered Q&A ranging from personal to business.  Here at Salient, we are grateful for those people in our own lives, and so we take mentorship very seriously, and try to give back too.

2015 Mentor GroupSalient brings in a handful of students each year to shadow on real-life projects, as part of the Salient/HATCH Mentorship program. We give students a chance to see how they might fit in a design career prior to graduating from college. Having a chance to work side-by-side with professional designers on a project that will actually be manufactured and sitting on the shelves of Target is a stark contrast to the educational scene that can only engage the theoretical.  The theoretical is a necessary stage, but having the opportunity for hands-on creativity gives students a better idea of what they might enjoy or be good at in a way the classroom cannot.

Forming character is similar to creating good design. It does not take shape on accident.  When designing a new product, we create many sketches, and often have to iterate and test many prototypes. Before landing on an ideal product, we sit down in a group and brainstorm the possibilities from multiple perspectives. By the time we are done, the product has been touched  by the whole team in one way or another, and has the signature of the collective creativity of Salient.

2015 Mentor Group

In the same way, character is formed through a process. It is honed when we re-invent and test ourselves. It is created when we regard others’ insight. Just as the first version of a product hits the market and we call it 1.0, there are more versions to come. We keep developing the 2.0, 3.0, … 6+ versions of our character. We never stop growing, inventing, prototyping, and making. That synergistic magic takes place on both sides of mentorship, it stamps its mark and its benefits on both the mentor and the mentee alike. We’re grateful to be on both the giving and receiving ends of Mentorship.

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.


Picking Up A Paintbrush

As a product designer, my DNA is a strange double helix of engineering principles and artistic expression. I perpetually teeter for a good balance between the logical and the lovely. This past year, I came across a wonderful short book written by Winston Churchill called Painting as a Pastime.  For those seeking a little bit of inspiration, it is a quick must-read. Churchill picked up a paintbrush for the first time at the age of 40, and remarked,

“Painting a picture is like trying to fight a battle”. 

 This world-leader’s comment was a reflection of the world he knew all too well. He went on to describe painting technique almost as if the battle lines were drawn when the paint was squeezed out of the tube onto the palette.  Prime Minister Churchill – a man who basically ruled the free world for a time – went on to say how painting helped expand his thought processes by exercising parts of his brain that didn’t normally get a workout. I figure, if this practice made such a notable difference for a Nobel Prize-winning leader, surely it would make some kind of transformation in a product designer… Churchill’s curious explanations prompted me to pick up a paintbrush, reflect on the world around me, and commit to painting something new every month.

In taking up this new structured hobby, I have discovered a lot of things for myself. I highly suggest that anyone and everyone give it a try at some point in their life… hopefully sooner, rather than later.  For those in “non-creative fields”, let your creative self out to play. We all have one – some of us simply tried to leave those sides behind as we grew older, thinking it was child’s play.  For those in creative fields, let your artistic expression loose in this non-vocational exercise, giving you the freedom to create without a client waiting on the other end.

Whether you consider yourself artistic or not, you will soon discover there are major benefits that can be developed through painting. Following, are some of the biggest take-aways that emerged for me in this practice.

Paintings by David Yakos

5 personal benefits of painting:

  1. Peace of Mind: I have found that sitting down in front of a blank canvas and covering it with paint has become a retreat for my brain.  There is a freedom in simply creating a picture, and watching it take shape as paint is layered and pushed around a canvas.  Because of this benefit, many groups have employed art for the sake of mental health.
  2. New Eyes: Painting helps me notice fine details that I ignored in the past. It makes me look at faces – not as features with two eyes, a nose and mouth – but as countless facets with resting shades of light.  I now look at water not as a field of blue, but as an oscillating reflection of the world above.  Churchill said of this phenomenon, “A heightened sense of the observation of nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint.”
  3. Appreciation: I find myself watching online videos about the masters like Da Vinci and Rembrandt. I stop and look at art more, and even if I do not love the piece, I consider the amount of effort it must have taken, and ask questions like, “what were they trying to say with this piece?”.  One starts to notice the shifts in time and culture in pondering art.  I’ve tried painting some things I find really difficult, which has given me an even greater appreciation for the Masters.
  4. Growth: The practice of painting is making me a better designer and artist.  As I learn to place color, I dream up products with a deeper understanding of how light will rest on a fresh shape.  My hand-eye dexterity and artistic ability are slowly improving as I come closer and closer to being able to put what I imagine in my minds’ eye down on paper or canvas.
  5. Enjoyment: I find painting to be really, really, really fun! I have been able to make some new friends through the process by painting with others and sharing tips and discoveries with fellow artists.  Painting allows the imagination to run free in a 2D world of color. When all the color is placed where it’s intended, it is a rewarding moment. The monumental task has been accomplished, and you can proudly sign your name on the creation, step back and say, “done”.

It is important to be patient with yourself as you learn.  Have fun! Treat every new work as a learning experience for yourself, allowing for growth, fun, and discovery. If you want to be a more creative engineer, designer or _____________ (fill in the blank), I challenge you to take a moment, and put a little paint on canvas.

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

Starting the Patent Process, with Toni Tease

Patent Pending

Patent Pending

Here at Salient, we’ve designed many products that have jumped into the world of patent protection. The patent process is a structured path that is ideally approached with best practices.

For those best practices, we often turn to Antoinette (Toni) M. Tease, a registered patent attorney who we have worked with and trusted for years. Here is a look into one of her Intellections® newsletters

 Starting the Patent Process, By Antoinette M. Tease

Intellectual Property and Technology Law

The first two issues I address with every new patent client who contacts me are ownership and disclosure. Before you proceed with the patent process, you need to make sure you own the patent rights to the invention, and you also need to make sure that your invention is not in the public domain due to previous public disclosures, offers for sale, public use, etc…

To begin the patent process, we require three things of inventors: 1) a signed engagement letter, 2) a completed disclosure form, and 3) a retainer for the patent search. A prototype is not required for the patent search, but it is highly recommended because it will enable the search firm to focus more specifically on those structural aspects of your invention that are potentially patentable.

There are limitations to any patent search, four of which are mentioned here:

  1. Most patent applications are published 18 months after filing, and applications filed with a nonpublication request are not published until the patent issues. This means that the patent search will not include any applications filed in the 18 months prior to the search.
  2. A typical patent search will include U.S. patent references only; foreign searches may be conducted, but they are quite costly. Foreign patent references may be cited by the examiner, however, in reviewing your application.
  3. A typical patent search includes patent references (issued patents and published patent applications only). Other types of publications (such as articles) are also considered prior art but are not typically included in a patent search.
  4. There are issues with the patent office’s classification system (classifications are not always consistent or accurate) that sometimes result in a reference not being included in a patent search that was conducted according to the most relevant search classes and subclasses.

For all these reasons, I tell inventors to consider the patent search a “snapshot” of the prior art but not to treat it as a guarantee of patentability.

Once the search is completed, we provide our best assessment as to the chances of patentability. If the client decides to move forward, then we usually file a nonprovisional patent application….

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Stay tuned for an upcoming video interview series on the Patent Process with Toni Tease…


Thank You, Teach!


The Lincoln Middle School Students having a go at using the Wacom tablet during their tour of Salient

This last Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege of leading 20 junior high students and 10 high school students through the product design process here at Salient Technologies headquarters. The students traveled to Bozeman to take part in a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competition.  Picture an intense basketball tournament with dozens of teams, but instead of winning because you can put an orange ball through a metal circle, a team wins by completing complex challenges performed by a robot they built and created.  The teachers coaching the team reached out to Salient for a tour and inside-look in aims to inspire kids to pursue careers in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), more specifically, design and engineering.  It’s funny how things come full circle sometimes. Little did they, or we,  know that the teacher leading the charge for the high school team was my first design/engineering/CAD teacher from nearly 20 years prior… a teacher who inspired me in the very same way.

The tour of Salient consisted of an inside look at the Design Process: what it looks like to take a product from imagination all the way to production.  After working on thousands of products over the years, we were able to reference a handful of fun examples from NASA valves, to familiar household games like Yahtzee.  We looked at industrial design, drawing in 3D CAD (and using Wacom tablets!), video animations, renderings, structural design and designing for manufacturing.  It was just the kind of stuff I was first introduced to in the very same class this teacher was teaching in the mid 90s.


David’s first CAD file – a Hummer…go figure.

During the tour, I pulled out an old, yellowed drawing to share with the group.  It was my very first CAD drawing – a side view of a Humvee drawn under the open-ended instruction of the very same teacher.  It was drawn in 2D AutoCAD back when just printing in color was ground-breaking technology.  I hung onto that simple drawing because it was an exciting discovery for me. It was where I first encountered a new tool that could help amplify my artistic and creative ability. It was the first time I got my hands on the same type of technology I now use almost every day in my exciting career.

On behalf of designers and engineers everywhere, I wanted to say thank you to the teachers who inspired creativity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  In this specific case, Thank You, Mr. Ruble, for fostering a place of inspiration!


The whole crew of Lincoln Middle Schools’ FIRST program on their tour at Salient Technologies, with NERF guns in tow.


The infamous Mr. Ruble and the FIRST crew from Lincoln High School wrapping up their Salient tour.

Top 10 Benefits of 3D Printing

3D printing is one of those technologies that seem somewhat mysterious and futuristic. The closest experience most have with the science is from watching Star Trek where Data or Spock could request anything they wanted from a wall-mounted computer consul called the Replicator. It would replicator2theoretically arrange subatomic particles into whatever was requested; like a meal, uniform or a spare part for a machine. Today, the process is a little different than what you might experience on the Starship Enterprise however, that concept isn’t too far off the mark. Modern processes don’t synthesize at the atomic level but rather build one layer at a time by extruding molten plastic or curing a resin using UV or laser light. After 30 years of perfecting additive manufacturing (3D printing) it has become a vital step in product development. Today people are 3D printing replacement tools, ornate foods, textiles for clothing and even organic matter like bone. With this technology emerging in mainstream, I wanted to visit ten major benefits of the technology…

  1. Time-to-Market: 3D printing allows ideas to develop faster than ever. Being able to 3D print a concept the same day it was designed shrinks a development process from what might have been months to a matter of days, helping companies stay one step ahead of the competition.
  2. Save Money: Prototyping injection mold tools and production runs are expensive investments. The 3D printing process allows the creation of parts and/or tools through additive manufacturing at rates much lower than traditional machining.
  3. Mitigate Risk: Being able to verify a design before investing in an expensive molding tool is worth its weight in 3D printed plastic, and then some. Printing a production-ready prototype builds confidence before making these large investments. It is far cheaper to 3D print a test prototype then to redesign or alter an existing mold.
  4. Clear Communication: Describing the product you are going to deliver is often misinterpreted since it leaves construction up to the imagination. A conceptual picture of the product is better than the description since it is worth 1,000 words, but getting to hold the tangible product-to-be, in hand, clears all lines of communication. There is no ambiguity when holding the exact, or at least a very close, representation of the product.
  5. Feedback: With a prototype you can test the market by unveiling it at a trade-show, showing it to potential buyers or investors, or raising capital by pre-selling on IndiGogo or Kickstarter. Getting buyers response to the product before it actually goes into production is a valuable way to verify the product has market potential.
  6. Get the Feel: One thing you can’t get from a picture or virtual prototype on the computer screen is the way something feels in your hand. If you want to ensure the ergonomics and fit of a product are just right, you must actually hold it, use it and test it.
  7. Personalize It: With standard mass-production, all parts come off the assembly line or out of the mold the same. With 3D printing, one can personalize, customize and tweak a part to uniquely fit their needs, which allows for custom fits in the medical and dental industries and helps set people apart in the fashion and jewelry world.
  8. Build your Imagination: In the modern boom of digital art and design, the possibilities are not only accelerating but limitless. One can now 3D print almost anything they imagine after drawing it up virtually. In a relatively short time, an idea, concept, dream or invention can go from a simple thought to a produced part that you can hold.
  9. Square Holes?… No Problem: The limitations of standard machining have constrained product design for years. With the improvements in additive manufacturing, now the possibilities are endless. Geometry that has been historically difficult or impossible to build; like holes that change direction, unrealistic overhangs, or square interior cavities, is now possible and actually simple to construct.
  10. Fail Fast, Fail Quick, Fail Cheap: Being able to test ideas quickly and discover what doesn’t work accelerates discovery leading to an ideal solution. 3D printing allows a product developer to make breakthroughs at early stages that are relatively inexpensive leading to better products and less expensive dead-ends.

David Yakos is VP & Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

“In The Making” – An Inside Look at the Design Process

Sharing an inside look at our design process and the journey of one of our current projects is pretty exciting – especially when it’s with Doc Mike North, host of In the Making.

In the Making takes viewers behind the scenes of spectacular projects, people and ideas while they are being created. Doc North travels the world to give viewers an inspirational look into what it takes to make scientific breakthroughs, create companies and invent the future. Follow North to catch the next big thing while it’s still IN THE MAKING.

In this episode of In the Making, we’re exploring a new, non-lethal weapon alternative and sharing a bit of the developmental process by showcasing concept design, prototyping and production design.  The non-lethal pepper spray attachment mounts to any standard picatinny rail and has a range of approximately 30 feet to assist in defusing hostile situations.

In the Making with @Doctor North

Developing a product that’s used in the field means several prototypes versions are necessary to test the feel and function of the device. It’s important that a product feels right when in hand, which isn’t something that can be determined from a digital CAD file. The product has to feel robust, secure, made for the hand, and easy to operate. In testing this product, we found physical testing helpful in figuring out nozzle size and ensuring the pepper spray reached the correct distance. We also tested and perfected one hand operation including firing, loading and reloading.

The aim in designing this product is to save the lives of people who are unnecessarily shot due to chaotic series’ of events ending in lethal force. Officers are often called to enter situations without knowing the true nature of the environment and whether they will need to be armed with lethal or non-lethal force. This product gives law enforcement an option other than lethal force without endangering themselves or civilians by needing to lowering their firearm to switch tools in the midst of conflict. Now, hostile environments that are escalating to a high-risk situation can be quickly defused before they end in a fatal shooting.  Our goal is providing an alternative to lethal force by making a product that matters.

Thank you, Doc North, for your time and energy!

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

Thinking of You… Designing for the End User

Standing in the greeting card section of my local box store, I noticed a lot of “Thinking of You” cards. Tasked with finding an appropriate birthday card, I thought, “you really have to be an intentional and thoughtful person to get a ‘just-because’, Thinking of You card for someone.” You know the cards… they’re sappy,Thinking-of-You like, “The other day I was smiling for no reason, but then I realized I was thinking of you”; or snappy, like, “Just thinking of you… which reminds me… you owe me twenty bucks.”  As product designers, we have to take this intentional and thoughtful approach in crafting our ideas if we really want to connect with the End User. Buying a card, we know the recipient needs to be cheered up because they had a bad week, or loved on because they are excessively sentimental and feed off the sap. The intent of focusing on the reader’s or users’ needs can be called “user-centered design”.

In User-Centered Design, we need to look at who this End User is from the very early stage of designing a product.  We try to foresee the little girl, old man or even the puppy who will be using the product.  Doing this requires diving into imagination, dreaming up personas and asking questions of them: Will they intuitively know how to use the product without reading the instructions? Will they use it in extreme environments? How will they hold it? Where will they store it? With what will they clean it? Will they try to eat it? In product design, we’re sometimes guilty of jumping right into feature-based design with ideas biased by personal experience and desire… “I want it to look like an iPhone. I want it water-proof and it should be yellowish-orange because I think Apple is the greatest, I’m a swimmer and I really love yellowish-orange…”  What happened to the thoughtful and intentional designer; the kind that buys thinking of you cards? Ask questions!

One fun example of asking questions for thoughtful End User design occurs when creating a new dog toy. When developing dog toys we have to ask, “Who is the End User and what will they do with it?”  Obvious, right?… it’s the dog. But, when you think about it further… the End User of a dog toy is two-fold: a partnership between the pup and its owner.  Both the dog and his master want endless play out of the toy. westpaw-5-twizThe form has to be such that the teeth of the k9 can grab but cannot easily catch and cut into the toy, encouraging a long-lasting chew.  At the same time, it has to fit the hands of the owner who has to pick it up and throw it. Will it be covered in slobber when it’s grabbed? Is there a place that would be easier to hold on? Will it hold a treat and if so, how hard will it be for the dog to get it out? Will we discourage the dog or keep him entertained? How will it fly if thrown? Is the dog owner environmentally conscious and would they prefer an eco-friendly material? Does it matter to the owner where the product was made? Would they clean it if it was an easy process? Will this product ever end up in a pond and if so, should it float? How will this product make them feel? Yep, we have to talk about feelings.

In developing West Paw Design’s Tizzi, we envisioned a dog toy that could offer virtually endless play. We accomplished this by focusing on interactions between the users and toy while playing at the park or at home – not on the toy itself. Through our questions it was revealed that the form could not have sharp edges that would tear if a tooth got caught. In a game of tug-of-war there had to be room for teeth and fingers. If part of the toy became covered in slobber there had to be other grabbing options, or at least a texture to help mitigate the mess. A treat could be hidden in a chamber and the handles twisted and locked to allow for indoor play – possibly on the kitchen floor. The treat chamber would encourage prolonged play for the dogs with obsessive personalities…but what about a high energy dog at the park?  On the Tizzi, when the handles are twisted and locked the age-old game of fetch is enhanced by a toy that flies like a spiral thrown football resulting in even more fun for both End Users.

Lola with her Tizzi

Lola with her Tizzi.

With more questions answered, we select an appropriate material. The award-winning ZogoFlex material offers indestructibility, is recyclable, non-toxic, dishwasher safe, can be made in the USA and it is less dense than water allowing it to float if thrown into a pond or lake. Material selection alone allowed us to hit some major design criteria which were defined by focusing on the End User’s experience. Ultimately, we were successful in creating a product that makes the dog and owner feel good – good about getting exercise, good about environmentally conscious purchases and good about the enhanced relationship after solid playtime.

By asking and answering questions like these, we narrow down the intent of the product which governs the form and final function – not the other way around. We become intentional designers by just Thinking of You

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

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