Get Lost! How 3D CAD is Used to Build a Massive Maze

Fall has officially arrived in Bozeman, Montana when the local straw bale maze opens to the public.  Every year, they amaze the community with very large and complex designs that, like the Nazca Lines of Peru, can truly be appreciated from the sky.  Over the years, the Bozeman Straw Bale Maze has given us an immense castle to explore, a pitchfork-holding scarecrow, 3D stage coach and now, an isometric view of a tractor.  This years’ monolith was built out of 4,300 purposefully placed straw bales and now confuses even the greatest of navigators.

Bozeman Straw Bale Maze 2014Asides from being a gigantic maze, beautiful piece of art and an ideal community event, another highlight is how this feat is accomplished. With inspiration for the tractor from the newly added straw bale rides pulled by a classic John Deere, maze founder Dale Mandeville drew up what he wanted to create. “It’s always a challenge because we’re working off just a drawing and then we take what is an 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper and turn it into a 150 foot drawing on the ground,” says Mandeville.

After scanning the tractor drawing, the file is brought into SolidWorks, 3D CAD software. From there, a precise grid is placed over the picture and the placement of towers, tents, parking and buildings are added.  A much larger grid scaled to size (roughly 400:1) is then placed on the ground utilizing miles of string and spray paint markers. This grid drawing method allows one to break a complex image into individual manageable squares (finite elements). Utilizing the original drawing as a reference, it is much easier to create one square at a time, one after another until the entire image comes together which can be quite helpful if a projector is unavailable or won’t suffice.

The Maze is one of those events you must experience in person! But if you simply can’t make it, or want a preview, you can experience the 2012 Scarecrow virtually within a 3D environment created with MicrosoftPhotosynth HERE.  Have fun!



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

Gone Fishing…At Work… Product Field Testing

With Salient headquarters based where the 1992 movie, A River Runs Through It was filmed, it’s hard not to blur the lines between work and outdoor play.  Especially when a local company tasked us to reinvent one of the oldest pastimes known to man… fishing.


Blue Ribbon Nets, is a local company that has handcrafted heirloom-quality nets for over a decade. Using a 3D Laser scanner, we reverse engineered a hand-sketched net design that was drawn on a foam dome. Utilizing the collected 3D data, our Team was able to design a moldable net bag just as the inventor had envisioned it.

What makes one net better then the next?  Most competing polymer fishing nets are made of heavy polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which has been controversial due to high chemical production. Blue Ribbon Nets’ AquaFade netting is formulated out of a lightweight recyclable polymer that is extremely strong, resilient and a more eco-friendly choice for outdoorsmen.  Many net bags on the market have abrasive netting, and are not an environmentally conscious choice for catch-and-release fishing.

So, back to blurring the lines between work and play…  Design wouldn’t be complete without a little research and product testing. Some of our Team was able to disappear into the mountains this summer for a few days of camping and product testing. Benefits of the new AquaFade technology that stood out were

  • The net bag was far less likely to be tangled with the fish hook then standard netting,
  • The clear material was virtually invisible in the water, making scooping fish much easier,
  • And most importantly, the soft material maintained low-impact contact on the fish’s skin allowing for more ethical catch-and-release.

After field-testing the AquaFade net, we’re true fans of Blue Ribbon Nets.  Check out a video of our excursion here, and then go try some catch and release of your own!

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

Outcast Inventor, or Cartoon Hero? A Look at Inventors’ Uphill Battles

The most gripping stories frequently revolve around an underdog who triumphs in the face of adversity. When an unlikely hero emerges from the slums or out of the mockery of others, we cheer. We are drawn to the “diamond in the rough” hero; likely because we all have a hidden treasure within that we hope to one day reveal.


As an inventor, I notice that a high percentage of animated films tell the story of underdog inventors. Tinker Bell tinkers and is teased for her engineering prowess. Flik, from A Bugs Life, is exiled because of his onslaught of outside-the-box inventions that, let’s be honest, rarely worked. Flint Lockwood in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs invents rat birds, hair-un-balder, a flying car and a troublesome FLDSMDFR, all of which lead to turmoil. Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon builds a mechanical tail fin for an unconventional friend and is excommunicated by his father.


There must be something about the challenges placed before inventors that make this an exciting story line. I believe it is because inventors are natural underdogs. It’s not easy to shift paradigms by introducing a new way of doing something. Inventors see the world in a different light and are okay with asking “how could we build a better life?” Being fearless in the face of failure is what makes these champions successful. Like Edison, who after inventing over 9,000 light bulbs that didn’t work, said, “Success is almost in my grasp”. Over 1000 attempts later he succeeded and lit up the world.


In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s inventor father is ridiculed by the villagers who say, “Crazy old Maurice. He’s always good for a laugh!” This type of scorn often discourages creative thinkers. Children who have not yet experienced this oppression are still free to imagine and emulate characters like Rodney Copperbottom from the animated film Robots. Rodney, an aspiring inventor who starts out as a dishwasher’s son, battles the crooked corporate world for the sake of inspiring creativity and inventiveness.

Inventors, do not be discouraged! Creativity is a heroic trait. Failure is eminent and is better defined as a path-to-discovery than an ending.


The villains of inventors’ stories are the fear of failure and ridicule. Be like Jimmy Neutron, the boy genius dubbed the class nerd, and continue to break through in scientific achievement. Be like the heroic outcasts called Master Builders from The Lego Movie and veer from the assembly-line directions and build from your own imaginations. Battle with uniqueness like Despicable Me’s villainous hero Gru, who with the help of Dr. Nefario’s Fart Gun and Freeze Ray, triumph against Vector and his Squid Gun. Mash up ideas and try them out like, dare I say Sid, Andy’s troubled neighbor in Toy Story… perhaps another misunderstood inventor? I dare! I dare!

So outcast inventor or cartoon hero? Let’s take cues from these childhood characters who were dubbed outcasts, dreamers, nerds and crazy inventors. They were able to see the world for what it could be and kept on inventing as only Heroes do.


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

Photo Credits are as follows:

Tinker Bell, Walt Disney Animation 

Flik,  A Bug’s Life – 1998 Disney/Pixar

Flint Lockwood, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – 2009 Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures

Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon – 2010 DreamWorks Animation

Maurice, Beauty and the Beast –  1991 Walt Disney Feature Animation

Rodney Copperbottom, Robots – 2005 Blue Sky Studios for Twentieth Century Fox

Master Builders, The Lego Movie –  2014 Warner Bros. Pictures

Jimmy Neutron, The Inventions of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius – 2002 Nickelodeon Animation Studio

Gru and Dr. Nefario, Despicable Me – 2010 Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment

Gru, Despicable Me – 2010 Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment



3D Printing a Doctor Who Dalek for Yahtzee!


When you can combine 3D printing, product design, Yahtzee and the BBC science-fiction program Doctor Who, you end up with one fun and creative project.  We were tasked by USAopoly to create a Yahtzee dice shaker that represented the evil mutant race of the Daleks, extraterrestrial villains who battle the Doctor though time and space.  USAopoly is well known for playful variations of games like Monopoly, Risk, Life and Yahtzee.

Here is an inside look into the development process.  Wanting to stay true to the details of the Bronze Asylum of the Dalek characters, we started by reverse engineering images from the original costuming.  Paying attention to the fine details, we drew the figure in SolidWorks. SolidWorks is a feature based 3D CAD program that allows us to create a virtual prototype to ensure moldability, symmetry, form and fit.  With the geometry fully defined, we 3D printed a rapid prototype to test geometry and to create a showpiece.  Prototypes are very helpful to ensure dimensions, test the way it feels and to pitch the product at tradeshows. The 3D print was hand painted to represent a final production piece so it could be showcased.


Dalek Yahtee - Creating a Prototype

Dalek Yahtzee - creating a prototype

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


Battle of the Brains: Merging Engineering & Artistry

There is an unfortunate engineering stigma where shirts are kept safe with pocket protectors and all notes are kept on graph paper.  The predestined engiNERD views life through a narrow lens of absolutes defended by singularity and a logical thought progression.  The graph lines will amplify the probability of clear commutation when these calculations are passed on to a superior or subordinate and the pocket protector will decrease the likelihood of needing to enter the public landscape, rummage through the racks at a discount box store, and locate the clearance pocket tees from last year’s line. This pigeonholed individual is taught that there is only one ideal solution and that likely includes material optimization and production efficiency.

This brilliant left-brained individual has synapses and neurons dressed like accountants and pharmacists.  They have built a wall on top of the fissure between the cerebral hemispheres, mind you an optimized and sturdy wall.   They clash against the neurons that are dressed in flowing colors, singing and dancing, and have painted their side of the wall with a psychedelic mural depicting the consciousness of man.

In a similar fashion, the right-brained individual has created an isolated world not much different from Alice’s wonderland.  There is no place for absolutes, where 2 plus 2 is relative to mood and dreaming in Technicolor is encouraged.  This unbridled thought supports the possibility that one act of passion could change the lives of millions.

Occasionally, one creative neuron peers over the wall, by chance collides with a mathematical surge of electricity, falls in love and the detection of something as profound as DNA is discovered.right-brain-left-brain-fnl-598x441

This battle rages on as calculators and journals are hurled over the wall and music notes and splatters of paint return fire in retaliation.  How can you justify your creativity? “You can’t measure it.” “There isn’t a fill in the bubble test that assesses the value of your inspiration.”  “How can you argue with the absolutes of mathematics, Darwin and Einstein’s facts?”  Everyone was created with a right and left brain but for some reason communication lines have been cut, the wall has been built and the battle lines have been drawn. I propose we tear down that wall!

What if by chance, this hemispheric segregation was abolished? What if engineers were encouraged to occasionally calculate with a lump of Playdough and the dreamer of dreams was coupled with NASA’s top mathematicians?  The human skull was designed to house both hemispheres.  Let us re-marry creative thought and analytical thinking as we encourage new developments.  Coming to discovery through two parallel viewpoints will yield the worlds the next and greatest discoveries.

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


Photo via

Production Design: The Mechanical Development Process (in a Nutshell), Part 3

Last time, we took a look at Stage 2 of the Mechanical Development Process – the Prototyping Stage.  We’ve also explored Stage 1 – the Conceptual Stage in a previous post.  Here, we’ll be delving into the third and final part of the Mechanical Development Process – the Production Stage!

Production Stage: The final stage of mechanical development is the Production Stage where, once a concept has been validated through market research and prototype testing, the final design changes take place. Production design is often finalized by the product company, manufacturing facility or by a third party consulting firm. Sometimes this calls for a final “production-ready” prototype as many companies and manufactures find prototypes of this nature necessary for to validating the design prior to investing in expensive tooling and inventory. Final tweaks occur at this stage to ensure manufacturability and to reflect cost considerations. This final design, excluding versions 2.0, 3.0 etc, include manufacturing methods, 2D engineering drawings, 3D CAD files, materials selections and fully defines all components.

Most successful products follow this three stage process.  A bit of variation exists as some simple projects seem to fly through straight to the store shelf while others require a bit of iteration and testing.  However, they all typically touch on Concept, Prototype and Production, in that order. It’s important to keep the entire process in mind while developing. For example, ask at the early stage, “Can this be made?”; and when it is ready for tooling ask, “Is this the product we intended from the beginning?” While being cognizant of the whole path, one does not want to skip ahead or miss necessary steps.  Since each stage requires greater investment than the previous one, it behooves inventors and companies to move in the proper order of development so they don’t spend unnecessarily. Following these stages also helps define how far along a project really is and better determines the current value of an idea. The closer an idea is to becoming a product, the more it is worth!

ibike package


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

Prototype Design: The Mechanical Development Process (in a Nutshell), Part 2

In our last post, we explored Stage 1 of the Mechanical Development Process – the Conceptual Stage.  In this post, we’ll explore Part 2 of 3, the Prototype Stage!

Prototype Stage: Once a plausible direction is determined by the conceptual stage, the prototype process can begin. The prototype stage is often repetitious as products evolve and develop.  Prototypes are essential to validating a concept since they allow designers to test, feel, hold, use and experience the product in a way that a simple sketch or rendering cannot.   It is wise to keep in mind the end goal of manufacturing when designing for a prototype to help narrow down materials and manufacturing processes.  Often, prototypes are created as a “proof-of-concept” to validate form and functionality, and are also built as show-pieces to generate interest in a product.  The prototype stage allows designers and inventors to catch flaws and visualize enhancements at a relatively early and inexpensive stage.  Inventors stand a much better chance at generating interest in an idea if a concept is proven through the prototype stage rather than just a conceptual sketch. ibike-3---sized

 The intricacy and cost of prototypes may vary greatly, but even an inexpensive prototype made from clay and cardboard can validate a concept. However, in order to validate a design a more sophisticated approach may be needed. More intricate prototypes can come from designs modeled in 3D CAD as a virtual prototype, then rapid prototyped (3D printed) and finished to represent a final product.  Higher quality prototypes are essential for trade shows, marketing and confirmation of a concept prior to moving into the production stage. Taking a solid idea this far is a strong position for the independent inventor looking to license the product. Prior to production, companies will often make changes to a design, so unless the inventor is the one manufacturing and distributing the product, it makes sense to hold off on investing beyond the prototype stage.

Check out the final part of this series, the Production Stage!

ibike proto


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

Conceptual Design: The Mechanical Development Process (in a Nutshell) Pt. 1

New products appear in company catalogs and on store shelves every season.  We don’t often give thought to how they transformed from an individual idea to a tangible product. Remarkably, this mysterious process can be summed up in a few simple steps. Whether it is a new puzzle game or a complex valve for the space shuttle, there is a well-defined three-step route that nearly every product follows starting with a Conceptual Stage, followed by Prototype Stage, and finally the Production Stage.  In this post, we’ll look at Step 1…

Conceptual Stage: Products start out as ideas which are often sparked by a challenge, competing product, gap in the market, inspiration from alternate industries, or the more unconventional “I woke up in the middle of the night with this great idea.”  The first thing to do with this idea is write it down, move it from in-between your ears onto a piece of paper which, unlike humans, will never forget it.  The conceptual stage has begun. Once on paper, an idea has hatched and can begin to grow. This is where brainstorming leads to the validation and the definition of the idea. Now’s a great time to be honest and ask some early questions: Does this already exist?  Is there a market? Can it be made? What would it cost? What would I make it out of? Who would use it? What would it look like? Would people want it? And better yet, would they pay for it? Are there other ways of doing it? Should I protect it? Is it timely? Is it worth it? 

 The course of the product is often defined at this first and often least expensive stage. An industrial design sketch or conceptual CAD model at this stage may capture the look, materials and form which are carried all the way through prototype and production design. Many inventors only take an idea through the conceptual stage finishing with some quality sketches, renderings or perhaps an animation.  At this point, the product concept is defined enough for market research, presenting to management, or attempting a licensing deal. However, in order to validate an idea or better sell the vision, one must often move into the Prototype Stage which we’ll explore in Part 2!Conceptual Stage

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

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