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Keeping classic cars on the road with reverse engineering

Author : Dafyd Richards is founder of bespoke car restoration company, Redesign Sport Ltd (RSL)

05 June 2017

Gone are the days when a shortage or complete lack of spare parts would ultimately see classic or historic cars retired from the road and consigned to a museum or collection.

1952 Ferrari 225

By harnessing the latest scanning technology in conjunction with SOLIDWORKS, the ability to reverse engineer obsolete parts provides the means to jump-start the life of such vehicles and prolong their lifespan.

In this interview, Dafyd Richards, founder of bespoke car restoration company, Redesign Sport Ltd (RSL), lifts the bonnet on how he and his team are using technology from SOLIDWORKS reseller NT CADCAM to do exactly that for a classic 1952 Ferrari.

Can you tell us a bit about what RSL does?

In a nutshell, we restore historic vehicles and have been doing so since 2006. We are finding that certain parts are getting increasingly harder to source and the cars rarer. In some cases, the vehicles we have coming through are one of a kind, so we realised that we need to take matters into our own hands. 

In the last 3-5 years, there has been a revolution and evolution in scanning technology. This offered the capability to scan old, broken parts and put the data into the 3D space for CAD modelling. Scanning massively improves the accuracy and time in reverse engineering these beautiful cars and their associated parts. It also reduces the mental fatigue of the engineer, who would have previously relied on traditional methods – or worse, been forced to model a component from memory! 

What scanners do you use?

We undertook a great deal of market research before ultimately opting for a Creaform HandySCAN 700. I had a demo and the salesman was able to scan half the car in 15 minutes, so I knew it was a game changer. It comes with VX Elements lightweight scanning software, which scans to mesh directly, as opposed to other scanners which scan as a point cloud and then convert to a mesh. This enables us to see information in real time and, if need be, change the resolution or laser intensity on the fly. 

For example, if I’m scanning across two different materials – say a highly polished red paint to rubber – I can change the shutter setting and alter the intensity of the laser halfway through. 

We have also used Romer Arms which are much like the FaroArm; it runs Geomagic Design X software. This powerful piece of kit lets me convert the 3D scan data into high quality CAD models that I can then use in SOLIDWORKS.

So what’s the secret to scanning?

For a long time, 3D scanning was almost a black art. Everyone thinks you need the most amount of data and information to reverse engineer, but sometimes it’s irrelevant because you can’t do anything with it. Scanning items and helping them get that scan data into a SOLIDWORKS file is much of what RSL is about. 

RSL chassis scan data

Whether it is scanned data from a laser, geo satellite MMR or a photogrammetry scanner, we can process it, trim out the erroneous data that isn’t needed and then work with the customer to try and meet their aim. From there, we can help them get the relevant data into their SOLIDWORKS environment.

Tell us about the 1952 Ferrari

A customer in the US asked us to look after his 1952 Ferrari 225 for the Goodwood Revival. The car had been given a fresh engine build and a check over in the US, but when we fired it up a day before the race, a conrod came out of the side of the engine. This part moves the pistons up and down so the prognosis was terminal. Unfortunately, upon stripping the fresh engine we found that every nut and bolt inside the engine had been left loose during the original rebuild. Needless to say, we missed the event, but the customer asked if we could get the car race-ready for the Monaco Historic Grand Prix. We had eight weeks to turn things around. 

What happened next?

We scanned the piston on a Thursday morning using the HandySCAN, modelled the scan data in Geomagic Design X then transferred it live into SOLIDWORKS. Our chosen manufacturer uses SOLIDWORKS for modelling where, if needed, they could tweak the design. eDrawings and part files flew back and forth, but by the Monday morning the 12 pistons went into production and we had the new pistons in our hands three weeks later. 

We also used SOLIDWORKS to remodel two distributors on the Ferrari, which were causing problems with the ignition system. We remodeled every single component in the same way and sent all the parts out to different manufacturers. 

The parts had only ever been together on the screen in SOLIDWORKS, but when they all arrived they all fitted together perfectly the first time.

How is SOLIDWORKS helping you?

We use other pieces of software, but always come back to SOLIDWORKS because we simply couldn’t operate without it. When I worked for a Porsche Supercup racing team, I’d seen the guys next door use CATIA on their Le Mans LMP project and thought it would be painfully difficult for a CAD newbie like me to come in and use it. 

I then discovered SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, which was very easy and quick to learn. I have been using Geomagic Design X in real world projects for the past couple of years and between the two products, RSL has achieved a huge amount of success – especially the 2D drawing facility. 

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