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Spirit of adventure drives product design.


Active people know Thule. As a global leader in solutions that allow people to “bring with them what they care for most,” the Thule brand name adorns products from car racks and carriers, to luggage and bags, and kids’ accessories. With the Thule Group’s American corporate headquarters and U.S. manufacturing facility located in Seymour, Connecticut, product design and innovation are key drivers for this active lifestyle company.

 
Thule’s spirit of innovation drew them to early 3D printing for visual models to help with concept validation. But despite the conceptual benefits, these models lacked the functionality necessary for design verification and Thule made the decision to upgrade for greater materials range and higher-output, giving them the ability to print functional prototypes.

Man looking at part in 3D printer
Rob Humphries removing an FDM 12CF part from Thule's Fortus 450mc 3D printer.
“Nylon 12C has been game-changing for us. Nothing that we could get affordably or quickly has the properties that Nylon 12CF does. It lets us more accurately model our production parts, test faster, and get to market faster.”
hands holding a 3d printed part

Nylon 12CF has performed so well for Thule that the company has begun printing assembly fixtures and manufacturing aids for their Connecticut manufacturing plant, as well. “Nylon 12CF has been game-changing for us,” said Humphries. “Nothing that we could get affordably or quickly has the properties that Nylon 12CF does. It lets us more accurately model our production parts, test faster, and get to market faster.” In addition to being able to print parts capable of withstanding both static testing and drive testing, “every time we print a part in carbon fiber it takes two weeks off the time it would have taken us to send it out,” said Humphries.

 

“It definitely helps with the creativity at Thule.” Engineers print three to four iterations in a week, with the ability to print a new version every night and improve it the next. “If we had to wait two weeks between iterations, a designer’s project schedule would be shot,” said Humphries.

 

“The speed with which we’re able to iterate puts better ideas into design.” With less than a full year of the Fortus 450mc under its belt, and three years of 3D printing on the Fortus 360mc, Thule has already printed between 400- 500 designs. “We’ve saved over $45,000 so far this year, and countless days of time,” said Humphries. In a further nod to cost savings, engineers at Thule recently sought quotes to print large production fixtures out-of-house. “Costs were going to be about $18 a cubic inch to print out-of-house, versus material costs of just over $4 a cubic inch.

 

“Based on this quoted cost, our volume of printing on our two Fortus machines has already saved us enough to pay for the two printers.” Humphries is already looking to the next step in Thule’s business process and foresees 3D printing playing a large part. Thanks to our success with Nylon 12CF and the time and cost it saves, “I get to start looking at options for my next 3D printer,” Humphries said.

Two humans discussing a 3d printed part.
Designers at Thule discuss concept validation for their Hull A Port XT kayak carrier.
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