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SolidWorks Helps Thule Tackle Sports Gear Transport Challenges

Thule®, the premier brand in multipurpose roof racks, has standardized on SolidWorks® software to quickly introduce smart innovations for transporting bicycles, boats, skis, snowboards, luggage, and more.

Thule challenges itself to offer a “perfect fit” across a staggering range of gear and vehicle brands whose rooflines vary across models, styles, and years. In every case, Thule tests its racks to be strong enough to carry the appropriate cargo, plus whatever the customer has loaded on top of it, at 90 mph, in buffeting crosswinds, and on bumpy, twisty roads. Carriers must last for years under such conditions, and preferably outlive the car. They must lock the gear down, yet be simple for anyone except a thief to unload. And, in the tradition of the brand, they must look great.

“We face a lot of design challenges, and SolidWorks helps us meet them with intuitive software for designing products, configuring them for all kinds of vehicles, shortening the prototyping cycle, and collaborating within and beyond the organization,” said Joe Flaherty, technical design manager, new product development, for Thule’s North American vehicle solutions business.

A recent breakthrough product developed in SolidWorks is a new “foot” – the piece of the carrier that attaches to the car. The foot includes an integrated AcuTight Tensioning Tool, a built-in torque gauge, to ensure the rack is tight enough without over tightening. “When a customer asks how tight is tight, we as engineers should provide the answer,” said Flaherty. “Now we do.”

Thule has a rigorous protocol for testing new products. Engineers attach the physical prototype to a vehicle, take it out on a dirt track, fill the rack with the gear it’s intended to carry, then add more weight to simulate customer overloading. Then they speed around the track, aiming for holes and bumps until the rack proves it will do its job. It’s time-consuming and expensive when a prototype fails, so Thule engineers use SolidWorks Simulation software to help ensure the prototype passes the test with minimal renditions. “In its ability to predict behavior and save work, it’s like a time machine on your desk,” said Flaherty.

Thule also saves time by sharing designs with business areas around the world in the SolidWorks native file format those units use. At its headquarters in Sweden, Thule’s product development department has used SolidWorks since 1996. In fact, they were one of Sweden’s first SolidWorks users. Thule’s manufacturing partners globally also use SolidWorks, so there’s never a need to spend time translating files and repairing the ensuing damage.

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