Making Shockwaves

Maximum protection with minimum material: The Thule laptop case

One of our most exciting challenges- Thule's request for a seemingly invisible case that protects laptops in a 2-meter drop test. Ready, steady, go!

There is a constant conflict between the need to protect a device within a case -the thicker the better, but be as unobtrusive as possible -the thinner the better.  Thule's unrelenting design team set us the challenge to master both. 

Our engineers and designers set to work. Ideation, CAD sketches, test rigs, and many broken eggs lead to three possible paths. One offered the most minimal amount of material we could possibly imagine, essentially just a frame, and included our hypothesis about rerouting the shockwaves away from the most delicate areas. A second option used layers of multiple materials, and the third used compression principles to dampen the force of the blow.  

FEA testing helped guide our SolidWorks CAD data, and prototypes helped refine fit and form. But the true strength could only be found out by prototyping the form accurately in the real materials and doing physical drop tests with real laptops. This was the ultimate test for our hypotheses, which would survive, and would it work as we had hoped?  

The challenge was set: Can we be the first to make the Airbook survive a very high drop test without taking away its lightweight appeal?

Thule's drop tests went even better than we had hoped, with all three options protecting the laptops at even greater heights than expected. The most efficient proved to be the concept with shockwave redirection ... and surprisingly little material usage.

Production Refinements

In taking the design into production posed some unique challenges for the project. Apple products are produced with such fine tolerances that it is difficult to manufacture at the same level. Originally, the concept was to be produced in two parts: the hard outer shell and the soft inner core. But this created a tolerance stack-up that could jeopardize the success of this execution, so the design was reworked to use co-molding.  Instead of adhering two separately molded parts, one material was injection-molded directly on to the other. Our internal team, the designers at Thule, and the experts at the production facility all worked closely to pull off this major change without comprising performance or aesthetics.

Our internal team, the designers at Thule, and the experts at the production facility all worked closely to pull off this major change without comprising performance or aesthetics.  At the launch of the Vectros, Thule was able to reach new customers and a whole new group of users who otherwise wouldn't imagine hiding away their Airbook in case. 

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