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Loretta Marie Perera


Bringing a 1919 Harley Davidson Back to Life

3D scanning and printing an impossible-to-find, 100-year-old distributor cap

Published: Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 12:03

Recently, the team at 4C Creative Cad CAM Consultants in Emmen, Netherlands, was given a unique task: How to get a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle back on the road again.

What was fun about this project wasn’t how challenging it was, or how much expertise it required. The joy was in the end itself, to provide a straightforward solution to a question that had been on the mind of one man for decades: How to get his vintage motorcycle capable of starting and riding on the streets. The solution was to scan a broken part that could no longer be found and 3D print a replacement.

The problem was brought to Carl van de Rijzen of Visual First in the Netherlands, who has been working with Edwin Rappard of 4C Creative CAD CAM Consultants for more than two years. Living on opposite ends of the country, the two have never met in person. “I send something to Edwin, he scans it and sends it back,” says van de Rijzen. The same thing occurred in this case.

“A part from this 1919 Harley Davidson was broken, and the man who owned it had been working on the bike for about 50 years!” van de Rijzen explains. Given the vintage nature of the bike, two problems presented themselves: The replacement piece needed wasn’t in circulation any longer, and even if sourcing from resellers was an option, it would come at a steep price and without any guarantee it would work adequately or fit perfectly. The part although unavailable, was essential for starting the engine.

“He searched all over the world to find the replacement part, and then he came to me,” says van de Rijzen.

Although his company typically deals with reverse engineering, its solid connection with 4C gave this challenge an easy solution. The broken distributor cap was sent over one rainy Sunday, from Bergen op Zoom in the southwestern Netherlands to Emmen in the northeastern Netherlands, where 4C is based.

And even though the part was small, it was full of detail. “So, we had to use my all-time favorite:
The Artec Space Spider!” says Rappard.

Scan of broken distributor. Click image to enlarge.

Model of distributor re-created using Artec Studio. Click image to enlarge.

The Space Spider is an ideal choice for capturing more complex sections of larger parts, or small objects with lots of intricate details. Capturing data that’s both high resolution and submillimeter accurate, the Space Spider is perfect for industrial and automotive use, providing scan data for everything from molding parts and machines, to vessel and automotive parts.

“He scanned it... fixed the problem, and that was really everything,” recalls van de Rijzen. “He sent it back. And, ta-da! It’s a 100-year-old bike, and now we have the part needed to make it work.”

While the black surface of the part might initially look tricky to scan, this too ended up being straightforward. “The material was dark, but it wasn’t shiny, so it was pretty easy to scan,” says Rappard.

The broken part was incomplete, but Artec Studio software made it easy to fix using the mirror feature, which re-creates parts exactly as they are, but mirrored. “The part was symmetrical, so I used a copy of the scan that I mirrored to ‘glue’ into the missing space,” he explained. “This led to the end result: A brand new part.”

A comparison of the broken cap and the newly printed part

Next, the processed data were 3D printed. The original part was made of Bakelite, but the new part was printed using nylon PA-12 filament. Afterward, the part was presented to a thoroughly delighted and proud owner of a Harley that is now ready to ride. “It’s amazing that this can happen, what technology we have these days!” the owner said. “It’s magic!”

While he now enjoys a weekly ride on Sunday mornings, this retiree has plans to keep the bike in the excellent condition it is now in, for good. After he’s had his fix of riding the vintage bike, he plans to put it on display for all to enjoy, providing it with a permanent home in one of the Netherland’s museums.

The newly printed and now-functional distributor cap of the Harley

“This is a good example of how and where scanning is crucial,” says Rappard. “When there is no new material available anywhere, you have to use the broken parts to scan and manufacture new items.”

And thus a challenge that spanned decades has finally met a solution, and provided a really fun challenge for all involved.

“Using new technology to fix old technology in all its glory! This was a real fun thing to do,” says Rappard. “Working on such an aged Harley is a privilege, and using Artec for that is even more fun. How good can it get?”


About The Author

Loretta Marie Perera’s picture

Loretta Marie Perera

Loretta Marie Perer is a 3D Scanning Analyst with Artec 3D. With a background in journalism and social media, she specializes in technology and additive manufacturing, and analyzing the use of new technologies in various industries around the world. She especially enjoys exploring content focused on healthcare, human interest, and the automotive industry.


1920 fj Harley Davidson aluminium distribution oil pump side cov

hello we too are trying to get back on the road to an old HD FJ 1030. For that we need the right postman cover that supports the timing gears and the oil pump. I can't get an original. I thought about printing it in 3d and casting it in aluminum. is this possible?Thank you. Gonzalo