– Jason Voiovich, Vice President, Marketing, Logic PD

Bottom line: Your Harley gets recalled. You need to get on the road to Sturgis. So you need parts in a hurry. The specs for those parts are available for free online. And you can buy a MakerBot 3D printer from Home Depot for under $1500. What could possibly go wrong?

To tell this story, we need to assemble facts from three places.

First, on July 10, Harley Davidson recalled 66,421 Touring and CVO motorcycles because of an issue with its antilock brakes. Apparently, the flaw can cause the front wheels to lock up spontaneously. I’m not a physicist, but I’ve hit the occasional log on my mountain bike, and the results aren’t pretty. I can’t imagine what that’s like doing 90 on the road in South Dakota. The fix is pretty simple: A strap to keep the brake line from getting pinched.

Second, not four days later, Home Depot announced that it would start carrying the ultra-cheap and uber-cute MakerBot2 in its stores the following Monday. We have one in the office, and while it’s not the easiest equipment to use, it is certainly within the realm of the average “maker” to figure out.

Third, for the first time on Thingiverse, I noticed a functional aftermarket part for a real (not a toy or a scale model) Harley. This is a throttle lock lever attachment to allow the rider better thumb action control over the standard star-shaped part. Not a critical part, of course, but pretty cool. And free.

Let’s put one and two and three together, shall we?

What happens when they (inevitably) figure out that they don’t want to wait the 3-4 weeks to get into the dealer to have their strap fixed? That same enterprising soul figures out how to build a 3D model of said replacement/add-on part. And that person posts the part to Thingiverse. For free. What then?

I thought it would take until 2016 before we saw 3D printers in the mass market. In many ways, that’s still true for most things. But this is exactly the situation that I mentioned almost two years ago: Replacement and add-on parts are some of the most logical first steps, and we are beginning to see them now.

In other words, when you read articles like mine (and many others, I would add, mine certainly was not unique) and thought you had plenty of time to handle the legal issues, that time is up.

You need to start addressing this trend <em>today</em>.

Some questions your legal team had better start answering:

1. Who owns the IP for this new part? Is it shared IP? Is it fair use?

2. Who is liable if it fails? (The rider, the company that makes the MakerBot, Harley Davidson/the OEM, someone else)

3. Who gets paid? How? What if I sell the part? Does that change the equation?

I believe there is an opportunity for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers, like Harley Davidson) to get in front of this trend. Think of the opportunity not only for replacement parts, but also for warranty fixes and other accessories. Harley already is a master of the accessories market; this would be a natural fit. The “quality” of the maker parts may not be quite up to production quality yet, but that seems like a weak reason to wait. IP owners need to figure out the legal implications fast, or the market for accessories will float into the “free-verse”, never to be paid for again.

Tick tock. There’s some dude driving to Home Depot right now…


  • James Mahoney

    And what’s more:

    What happens when Harley or any other primary creator-company figures out that they can sell branded raw material for the 3D printer as a nifty way to generate revenue without the logistics of manufacturing, inventory, distribution, etc.

    And establish subscription services for access to official 3D schematics/part-specific machine instructions.

    And maybe even sell officially branded printers, too.

    The branded raw material is formulated to meet or exceed the specs of the original part, and may even include proprietary ingredients. There may be different grades for different parts that sell at different price points: More critical or high wear factor? Higher price.

    The subscription schematics are guaranteed to properly print the part on a company-branded or company-certified printer.

    This is the equivalent of the 2D printer business model where you may
    lose or make minimal money on the printer, but gain a lot of profit from
    the ink–you lose the traditionally manufactured revenue but gain high-margin materials sales.

    Use branded Harley-Davidson raw material and you get a warranty on it, plus, since it’s backed by HD, they are likely on the hook for any liability associated with the part(s).

    Now what happens if someone gets hold of counterfeit HD product, or if s/he uses the less-expensive formulation for a higher-spec part? Or some niche player white-labels “just as good” raw material that subsequently fails? Or similar to a book store that prints on-demand copies of titles, a parts store prints out on-demand HD parts and sells them at a discount off of the traditionally manufactured version?

    Or, saints preserve us, a rice-burner owner prints out replacement parts using branded Harley materials and possibly on a Harley-branded printer? Who’s liable when one of those parts fail? A material certified good-enough for a Harley ought to be, but isn’t necessarily, also good enough for a Yamaha–especially if the Wikiparts schematic isn’t…quite…right.

    Whew. Too many questions running around on this. Think I’ll go for a ride…

  • Martha Engel

    Jason, as a fan of Harley and a fan of home 3D printers, look for a response on this soon :)

  • Harley has certainly shown its skill with merchandising. It’s on the Top 100 brand list for a reason – and I think that reason has less to do with the motorcycles than with the culture it has created around its brand. That said, this would be a striking departure for Harley. It would be a mix of merchandising (as James suggests) and additive manufacturing (for quality control). My guess is that Harley would be wise to start in the “non-critical accessories” market and branch into replacement parts as 3D printing tech matures.