By Mike Imlay
The New SEMA Garage
The Innovations Center Opens for Business
The photo you see on the cover of this month’s SEMA News was taken in the newly completed SEMA Garage photo studio. It’s a shot of rock guitarist Billy Gibbons, who was kind enough to pose with his project car, which SO-CAL Speed Shop is preparing for the 2014 SEMA Show. Gibbons was on hand to view progress on the car, confer with SO-CAL designer/builders Pete Chapouris and Jimmy Shine, and to tour the SEMA Garage, which is now officially open for business.
The car, based on a ’34 Ford three-window coupe, is chopped and loaded with custom features, including a headlight that retracts into the hood and a jagged line that runs from front to back. The jagged accent line had been executed in paint, but the plan is to make a 3D piece. To do that, the car was scanned using the SEMA Garage FaroArm laser tool, producing a CAD file. By scanning the curvature of the car surface and the exact shape of the trim design, a new 3D trim piece can be quickly fabricated.
“The SEMA Garage has come a long way in the last few months, and one of the things they now have is a FaroArm, so we can scan the car and do the trim for it,” Chapouris said. “Trim has always been an issue because we usually make it out of brass, it’s hand made, it takes months. It’s very, very expensive. This completely solves the problem,” Chapouris said. He estimated that the Faro scanning process would cut the time involved by about two thirds. Since time is money, this is a tool that can speed production and help reduce cost.
“We usually think of laser scanning as a tool for creating a prototype part in preparation for manufacturing,” said Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of product development. “And usually, we scan new cars. But our scanning tool also offers the perfect solution to rapidly create a one-off piece for a custom vehicle.”
The SEMA Garage is located next to the association’s headquarters in Diamond Bar, California. The photo studio was designed with the lighting, space and equipment needed to provide members with a purpose-built location to produce visually spectacular images of their products and vehicles for promotion and marketing.
The Garage also houses comprehensive facilities for measuring sessions, product development and marketing, installations, emissions testing and membership training.
Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of OEM and product development programs, points out how the Garage was designed for maximum benefit to the entire association.
“Obviously, for members to grow, they have to have two things: more products to sell and more people to sell them to,” Spagnola explained. “SEMA wants to help with both of those endeavors. The SEMA Show and other trade programs help members find more people to sell to, and the Garage is meant to help them develop new products for their buyers and get products to market much quicker.
“We’ve done this whole project in four phases. The first was the installation center, or the actual Garage. As we started to build that out, we called on SEMA members to see if they would be interested in partnering with us, and we had overwhelming success in that area.”
Miller Welders was among the first member companies to step up, providing several pieces of valuable equipment, including a plasma cutter and arc-welding tools.
“Titan Lift was another big partner to come on immediately. They donated a four-post lift that’s used just about daily. Meanwhile, Craftsman Tools has done an incredible job with donating tens of thousands of dollars of tools for us—wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, electric tools, air tools, toolboxes.”
The garage facility with all its tools is open for members to use for a wide variety of installation projects as well as for the training of qualified students.
“We’re excited that we’re also doing student training here,” Spagnola observed. “We were able to have students from the Alex Xydias School work on the Ford F-150/WD-40 truck here. What was neat was that we virtually built up and customized that whole truck with the students performing all the work under the direct guidance of 20 SEMA manufacturers, learning firsthand how to install performance products. We’ll be doing a lot more of that.”
The SEMA Garage offers far more than an installation facility, however. It also serves as a comprehensive product-development center for manufacturers, providing them access to a number of valuable programs and tools.
First, there’s SEMA’s Technology Transfer program, which houses CAD files covering all major vehicle components from Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, Fiat and Scion. OEs voluntarily share those files with SEMA-member manufacturers.
Next, there’s a laser FaroArm and related equipment to digitally scan virtually any vehicle item.
“Maybe a member has cut and welded a complete exhaust system, air intake or some other product and wants to reverse engineer it for CAD information,” Spagnola explained. “We can actually scan that product and create a CAD file for them.” He added that the Garage also offers 3D printing to help with the resultant prototyping.
For example, Ford loaned the SEMA Garage a Focus ST for four months. When the Garage has such long-term vehicles, members can go beyond measuring to actually trying products on them.
“Again, we’ve got a full garage, so we can take things apart, pull things, test them in the dyno room and more,” said Spagnola. “In addition, we get overseas vehicles. We currently have the Toyota HiLux and the Ford Ranger T6. These vehicles are not available in the United States. We imported these vehicles and brought them to the SEMA Garage so that manufacturers can develop products for them for export purposes. We’ve had more than 170 manufacturers touch those two vehicles.”
Coming from the manufacturing world himself, Spagnola understands how critical it is for SEMA-member companies to get their hands on the newest vehicles for product development. Being first to market and ready to launch new products as vehicles come out is vital to success.
Charly Henley, national sales manager for BAK Industries in San Fernando, California, couldn’t agree more. His truck-bed accessories company was among the first manufacturers to gain access to the Garage as it was being completed.
“The shop was still receiving new equipment like the Faro measuring system, the lift and all the tools a mechanic could dream up,” he explained. “I took several trips to Diamond Bar over a two- to three-week period to take advantage of the access to the newest-model truck releases and even global model trucks sold outside the United States. I personally spent several days at the SEMA Garage, where BAK was able to measure the beds firsthand and test fit our newest designs.
Another key feature of the SEMA Garage is the dyno and emissions-testing lab located adjacent to the installation area. Not only can it assist with the dyno testing of manufacturers’ parts but also with EO certification at significant cost savings. And, according to Spagnola, members don’t necessarily have to be located in the Southern California region to access such services.
“We’ve had members ship their vehicles to us so that we could do emissions testing and get their EO certification done for them,” he said. “Because of the prices we charge, it’s less expensive even doing that than trying to do it locally.” He added that SEMA has also hired outside consultants at cost to help members get through the EO process.
“It can be a little daunting for some members just getting started in this EO work to try to get through paperwork and forms and filing with the Air Resources Board,” Spagnola said. “We can help walk them through that process. Not only that, but when a vehicle comes in for its actual EO, a lot of labs will only tell you if it has passed or failed. We can help tell you why it failed.”
“We had been using AAA for emissions testing for all our supercharger systems,” he explained. “When SEMA created the Garage and began offering the option for lower-cost engineering tests utilizing the AAA’s emissions equipment, it opened the door for us to do more iterative development on the dyno for a quicker path to certification.”
The Garage is well stocked with tools and equipment, and the staff is helpful and friendly, said Simons.
“Without the services of an emissions lab in general, we would not be able to certify our parts for use on the street,” he said. “Without the unique arrangement at the SEMA Garage, it would take us more time and cost us more money to certify our products for street use.”
After all the measuring, scanning, prototyping, installation and testing is complete, the SEMA Garage has yet another vital service to offer manufacturers: a fully equipped photo cove capable of handling photo and video shoots of products and even full vehicles.
The creation of the cove involved a lot of work, Lorentzen said. The room was originally a small space full of offices, with a large beam in the center of the area. SEMA went all out in removing the offices and beam and restructuring the room to best utilize the new space, equipping it with a 30-ft. light box and various photographic tools.
“We optimized it to 110%,” Lorentzen said. “We’ve got as great a space as we could possibly have. The cove is set up so that not only a professional photographer like myself can come in a make the best possible use of it, but also so that an average guy with minor knowledge of his camera can come in and look like a hero.”
Spagnola agreed, explaining that the smaller of the two cove spaces will allow members to shoot new products and get a truly clean picture that needs no Photoshop work afterward.
“They’ll be able to load it up to their website or use it in any of their marketing materials quickly and easily,” he noted. “Obviously, it’s also a perfect fit for the SEMA Data Co-op. They can ship their products to us, we can hire a photographer and shoot the products for them and send them the files and still do it a lot cheaper than they could do in their own facility.”
Product Development Expo
As a product-innovation center, the SEMA Garage also plays host to leading-edge education ventures, such as the recent Product Development Expo, held April 10.
The conference featured a well-respected cadre of speakers who enlightened a full house in the areas of automotive trends, connectivity and product development.
“We brought together successful entrepreneurs and a wide spectrum of movers and shakers from both inside and outside the SEMA industry to offer valuable insights, tools, ideas and resources for members to create their own preferred futures,” said John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle technology. “The two most important ideas attendees took away were that the future of the performance aftermarket is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed—and that the race to define future vehicles is on, but it’s not a win-lose competition. Partnerships and collaborations between Motor City and Silicon Valley engineers as well as OEM and aftermarket performance companies are critical to success.”
Topics at the conference included “Engaging Automotive Technology: What Trends Do Drivers (and Passengers) Really Want,” presented by Gavin Lew, GFK Consumer Experiences North America; “Fuel Your Sales With Better Product Data,” presented by Jon Wyly, SEMA Data Co-op; “Preparing for Tomorrow’s Obstacles,” presented by the Auto Club of Southern California; “SEMA Market Research—Resources to Drive Your Business,” presented by Gavin Knapp, SEMA Market Research; and “The Future of Transportation and Mobility,” presented by Garry Golden, Forward Elements Inc.
The Expo also included an interesting panel discussion entitled “Silicon Valley Versus Motor City: Automotive Apps and Driving Connected.” Led by Waraniak, the panel’s featured speakers included Danny Shapiro, NVIDIA; Stephen Witt, Automotive Electronics Management; Todd Petersen, MSD Performance; and John Ellis, Ford OpenXC.
“As a manufacturer, I used to rent a similar space for $2,000 to $3,000 per day,” said Spagnola. “The one we offer here is $400 a day, complete with everything but the photographer and camera.”
All in all, according to Spagnola, there are millions of dollars in services, tools and equipment all waiting for member use.
“We even offer a training room upstairs that accommodates up to 80 people,” he said. “Many manufacturers lack a place where they can do sales presentations, training for their own staff or outside sales reps and even consumers. We can provide it for them.
“If you think about the cycle of this thing, we can bring a vehicle into the Garage, scan a part for a member, provide that member with the CAD file, allow them to modify it, send us back that CAD file, print the part out on our 3D printer, test fit it on the vehicle, take it over to our emissions lab, get an EO for it, take the vehicle and part over to our photo cove and shoot the part on the vehicle. In other words, you can take a part from design to finished product to marketing all in about four weeks.”
In the end, the SEMA Garage can be compared to a sort of industry innovation co-op, except that many of its services are free or offered at much-discounted rates. The FaroArm and its software alone are valued in the neighborhood of $50,000.
“For most members, that would be a pretty big-ticket item to buy, but they can come here and we can scan parts for them for a lot less than they would spend in their own facility,” Spagnola said. “We even have two engineers on staff who can help them,” he said.
Pete Chapouris, who came by with Jimmy Shine to help host Gibbons, seems to think the facility and the tools—especially the laser scanner—will be huge assets. “This is one of the best member benefits I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”
The SEMA Garage will host an Open House July 17. For more information, contact Mike Spagnola at firstname.lastname@example.org.