Dan and Jessica Friedman’s son loves mazes. He often finishes the mazes on cereal boxes, and even started building them with random toys from around the house – much to his younger sister’s pleasure as she would come and knock them over. So the parents went in search for a better, more dependable, way to build mazes. When they couldn’t find a maze building toy, they decided to create their own. Sitting down with paper and pencil, they started to design their pieces, cutting them from cardboard and paper to prototype their concept.
Looking for Help
With an idea in their head and cardboard pieces in their pockets, the Friedman’s turned to the internet to help move forward. “We asked on Facebook if anyone knew of a good, free software, and we started watching tutorials.” Jessica explains, “We probably watched hours of tutorials.”
After trying Blender, FreeCAD, and a few others, they decided Google Sketchup was the best software for their design. Again, they turned to Facebook, asking their followers for advice about manufacturers. They received recommendations for 3D printers, in particular, the Solidoodle 2, a low-cost, consumer 3D printer. “We had heard of 3D printing…not really thinking that we would be early adopters of technology like that,” Dan says. But without access to a 3D printer, the Friedmans “wouldn’t have been able to do play testing…we wouldn’t have had enough pieces to really get people excited.”
When the printer finally arrived, they first printed a small spider from the online collection of stock objects that Solidoodle offers, to get a feel for the process. To arrive at the perfect maze piece, they worked with different temperatures, threads, pressures, and most importantly, patience.
After much trial and error, they created ramps, straights, turns, T-junctions, and dead-ends, everything a kid would need to create a maze. They thought they found their design, and began approaching manufacturers for quotes. The first place they called was Proto Labs, but they also spoke to Harbor Plastics, Innovation Mold, Midwest Plastics, and ResTech. “It just blew my mind to how much more there was to manufacturing than I’d ever imagined,” Jessica explains.
They soon realized that they could not get accurate quotes with SketchUp files, and the Friedmans found a designer on Craigslist to recreate their files in SolidWorks. This was when they ran into another problem: the pieces were too bulky, too thick, and were going to take too long, and cost too much money to produce. “At that point we realized that although we liked our design…we were going to need a design that could be easily manufactured” Jessica says. So they contacted another designer, Doug Coates, out of Boston. The plastics designer worked with the couple to thin the piece walls and hollow out the bottom. After the re-design, the pieces were resubmitted to the manufacturers for a new quote.
In Need of a Kickstart
With their new design and a more feasible quote, the couple turned to the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, to raise the money. Unfortunately, they didn’t reach their goal of $50,000, and on Dec 16, 2012, the campaign ended with only $7,862 pledged.
“We learned that Kickstarter is hit or miss. We saw lots of really cool projects that failed, and lots of bizarre projects that we never thought would succeed – and they would have tons of money. So it seemed like it was an exposure game,” Dan says, which was the hardest part for them to realize.
As their Kickstarter campaign was ending, they began looking for other ways to raise the money. It was then that they heard about the Cool Idea! Award from Proto Labs, and decided to submit Maze-O as a contender. Proto Labs launched the Cool Idea! Award in 2011 to help product designers make their ideas a reality. Each year they award a total of up to $250,000 in part and services to recipients.
It was right before Christmas when the Friedmans learned that they had won the Cool Idea! Award. “That was huge,” Jessica says. After two CNC runs they thought they were ready to have Maze-O injection molded; however, at the last moment they realized the pin marks were going to be on the top of the pieces, not the bottom. With help from another CAD designer, a quick revision of the parting lines and drafts was completed. Thanks to Proto Labs’ quick turnaround time they had the injection molded pieces in time for the New York City Toy Fair, where Maze-O made its debut.
Through their journey, Jessica explains that the most valuable thing she learned was to “just keep asking questions, even if you feel like you know nothing. There is so much to learn.” As for Maze-O’s release date, the Friedmans don’t have anything concrete to report, but are currently trying to get the product licensed and into a toy store near you.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping