Thule Embraces Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

Spirit of Adventure Drives Product Design

Active individuals are familiar with Thule, a renowned brand recognized globally for providing solutions that enable people to transport their most valued possessions. The Thule brand encompasses a wide range of products, including car racks and carriers, luggage and bags, as well as accessories for children. With its American headquarters and manufacturing facility situated in Seymour, Connecticut, Thule emphasizes product design and innovation as fundamental aspects of its business, catering to an active lifestyle.

Thule’s commitment to innovation led them to explore early applications of 3D printing, initially for creating visual models to aid in concept validation. However, while these models offered conceptual advantages, they lacked the functional attributes required for design verification. Consequently, Thule made the decision to upgrade their 3D printing capabilities, aiming for a broader range of materials and increased output capacity to produce functional prototypes.

Greater material range to print functional prototypes.

Upon witnessing the printer’s capabilities, engineers and designers at Thule, who embody the company’s motto of “Bring Your Life,” fully embraced the technology. Rob Humphries, a prototype engineer in product development at Thule, shared, “Our 3D printer was constantly running, operating for 16 to 20 hours a day. Additionally, our product development team expanded in Connecticut, and we started providing support to other Thule manufacturing and design locations.” Nonetheless, Thule faced a challenge—achieving the stiffness and strength of fiber- or glass-reinforced injection molded parts in their printed prototypes to enable functional performance testing.

From Concept Validation to Functional Testing

Soon after acquiring their 3D printer, Thule discovered the potential of carbon fiber-reinforced nylon material. Humphries explained, “With Nylon 12 Carbon Fiber, we immediately recognized a dual advantage with this new machine. It not only expanded our 3D printing capabilities, but also allowed us to perform functional tests using prototyped parts. This new machine and material have provided us with significant benefits.”

One notable aspect of the carbon fiber material is its ability to withstand Thule’s demanding functional testing. Humphries remarked, “Our testing is extremely rigorous. Many were unaware that we could achieve this level of strength through 3D printing until they witnessed the capabilities of Nylon 12CF.” As engineers observed the strength and stiffness capabilities of the carbon fiber material, demand for Thule’s carbon-fiber printer, the Stratasys Fortus 450mc™, skyrocketed. Humphries added, “Once people saw that the CF parts passed our most stringent tests, engineers began expressing their desire to have their parts made with this material.”

Strength and stiffness capabilities of the Nylon 12CF carbon fiber material.

The exceptional performance of Nylon 12CF has prompted Thule to utilize it for printing assembly fixtures and manufacturing aids at their Connecticut facility. Humphries acknowledged, “Nylon 12CF has revolutionized our operations. We couldn’t find any other material that offers the same properties in terms of affordability and speed. It allows us to create more accurate models of our production parts, conduct faster testing, and accelerate our time to market.”

Contact Us today to know more about the range of advanced materials available for design-to-part productions.

Like what you read? Share the love!