Author: Trent Short
Your set of Cabela’s TrailGear™2 automotive floor liners has finally arrived. You sign for the package, and excitedly, you rush it off to the garage. You pull one of the floor liners out of the box and prepare yourself. You want it to fit, but you’ve experienced less-than-great results from other sets of floor liners. You pause to take a deep breath, and with excitement and apprehension, you lower it into place. You stare in disbelief – a flawless fit.
Feeling along the edges, you look for any bulges or mismatched edges. None are found. You place the rest of the set and find each to be form-fitting perfection. You smile, pleased to experience a product that lives up to its advertised promises.
Many have experienced this series of moments. And be assured, it’s not an accident or even a rarity. There’s a great deal of technology, experience and American ingenuity that goes into making sure that your set of Cabela’s TrailGear2 floor liners fit every contour of your vehicle’s floor.
Those responsible for this legendary fit work in Chicago, Ill,, for MacNeil Automotive Products Limited, which is better known as WeatherTech®. Owner, CEO and President David MacNeil has presided over this American owned and operated, premium auto-accessories manufacturing operation for its 21 years in business.
MacNeil explained that custom-fitting floor liners don’t just happen; an extensive, behind-the-scenes process makes everything match up.
The first step is a choice. WeatherTech chooses the make, model and year of the next vehicle to be fitted for a line of production-made floor liners. To begin the design process, they attain an actual representative vehicle, one to be examined and used.
You might think the automotive companies would send floor schematics for each vehicle, but this wouldn’t be exacting enough for WeatherTech. Instead, front and back doors are opened, cargo bays are crawled into and a laser measuring device is brought to bear. It scans each real-life surface, bouncing back laser-precise measurements that are captured, recorded and translated with Class A surfacing engineering software.
The computerized results – digitalized, on-screen, 3-D renditions of the vehicle’s floor areas. With the bottom portion of the product recorded, the engineers are able to electronically build the rest of the floor liner schematics to match up with these dimensions.
According to MacNeil, the next few steps are especially critical for the pinpoint accurate fit. Using these 3-D plans combined with a stereolithography machine, they create a hard plastic prototype. This shape is then returned to the actual vehicle to see that it fits in real life, not just on the computer screen. If it doesn’t fit, corrections are made.
This, MacNeil says, is “a real critical point.” He points out that this step is one that isn’t always used by other manufacturers. Once all of the hands-on corrections are made, once it has a good-looking, real-life no-hassle fit – no matter how many have to be made – the plans are computer recorded and the prototype is archived.
These developed, 3-D plans are then transferred into one of WeatherTech’s computer numerical control (CNC) machining centers. One of WeatherTech’s state-of-the-art three-, four- or five-axis CNC machines are then able to go to work building an exact tooling — a rock-solid, ready-for-production mold made out of billet aluminum. This mold becomes a lasting cornerstone for building high-quality parts.
Out of the planning phases and ready for actual production, this mold is installed inside a thermoforming machine.
Nearby, a single sheet of tri-extruded plastics is heated inside a sophisticated oven. This specialized sheet consists of three layers: a rigid, shape-holding core of polyethylene and a top and bottom layer made of TPE, a thermoplastic rubber that offers long-lasting durability and a pleasant feel. Once heated to an exact temperature, the sheet is removed, taken to the thermoforming machine and placed over the mold.
When the new shape is adopted, the thermoforming machine begins to water cool the mold. MacNeil explained that this carefully controlled, water-cooled thermoforming process is an extremely important step. This controlled temperature reduction ensures that each floor liner will be dimensionally perfect and consistent throughout the entire production run.
Once removed from the thermoforming machine, all floor liners are methodically hand trimmed and inspected, bagged and boxed.
Each step in this process ensures that every set of Cabela’s TrailGear2 floor liners are infused with modern ingenuity and American craftsmanship. However, in the end, the moment that really counts is when you lay your custom floor liners in place and instantly realize that they fit perfectly.