SEMA Building a New Garage in Michigan
At More Than 45,000 sq. ft., the Facility “Doubles Down” on SEMA’s Commitment to Emerging Technologies
By Mike Imlay
Building on the success of its SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California, the association is “doubling down” on its efforts to help the specialty-equipment industry innovate new products and comply with clean-air standards through the addition of a second Garage in Michigan.
In April, SEMA announced the purchase of a 45,000-sq.-ft. building in the Detroit area to provide manufacturers with expanded access to advanced product-development tools and equipment, a state-of-the-art emissions testing lab, an advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) research and development center, and expert technicians who will help bring products to market. The new SEMA Garage Detroit facility is slated to open in early 2022.
Like the high-tech SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, the Detroit facility will give aftermarket parts manufacturers of all sizes access to sophisticated resources that are typically accessible only to large-scale manufacturers. In addition to exclusive OEM measuring sessions, scanning services, advanced tools and equipment, an emissions lab recognized by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and a modern training center, the Detroit facility will include enhanced services and offer new SEMA benefits through the ADAS Research and Development Center.
In fact, the ADAS Center represents a novel venture for SEMA and will allow manufacturers to achieve static calibration of onboard vehicle ADAS systems (radars and cameras). With access to OEM-quality equipment and procedures, manufacturers will be empowered to troubleshoot software/hardware obstacles as well as work on dynamic testing in conjunction with local facilities.
“The SEMA Garage Detroit facility opens new doors and opportunities,” said Mike Spagnola, SEMA vice president of OEM relations and product development. “We will be able to take our current offerings to a whole new level by making the services accessible to new members, incorporating new technology, and collaborating with key partners in the area.”
Located in Plymouth, Michigan, less than 30 mi. from the heart of Detroit, the SEMA Garage Detroit facility is also ideally situated near several major automakers and in close proximity to many Tier-One suppliers, SEMA-member companies, test tracks, automotive technology centers and aftermarket suppliers.
SEMA Garage Detroit will undergo extensive facilities improvements and include new equipment, such as emissions and horsepower testing for all-wheel-drive and diesel vehicles, vehicle lifts, full sets of tools, fabrication equipment, an alignment rack, 3-D scanning tools, and engineering software. The lab will be purpose-built to accommodate a 48-in., all-wheel-drive chassis dynamometer and include a new emissions test bench. With equipment that meets CARB’s new 1066 testing requirement standards, SEMA Garage Detroit will be able to perform all required CARB and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test procedures.
“Both the new Detroit facility and the current SEMA Garage in Southern California are game changers for manufacturers,” Spagnola said. “By utilizing the tools and resources of the SEMA Garage, manufacturers no longer rely on trial and error for their product development. They are also able to navigate the complex process of obtaining required certifications and meet compliance.”
The Detroit facility is three times larger than the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, which opened in 2013 and has provided more than 1,000 SEMA manufacturers with exclusive access to new vehicles and CAD files and facilitated rapid prototyping and assistance in obtaining CARB Executive Orders (EOs). Through the SEMA Garage’s resources, manufacturers have often been able to develop fully functional prototypes of products in as little as two weeks and obtain CARB EOs in as little as 12 weeks.
“If We Build It…”
“Ironically, when we opened the 15,000-sq.-ft. facility in Diamond Bar, we weren’t sure how we were going to fill it—or even ‘if we built it, members would come,’” Spagnola said. “The idea was to create a product-development center to help walk members through the process of innovating and getting products to market. We also wanted a clubhouse atmosphere that would be inviting for members. We wanted them to see it as their Garage, there to use anytime they wanted it.”
According to Spagnola, the Garage—including its emissions compliance lab—was never viewed as a revenue source for SEMA. Rather, SEMA has invested millions of dollars in test equipment, infrastructure, operating costs and staff salaries to assist association members through the Garage’s many programs. It is currently the only known facility of its kind in the United States, and once it was built, SEMA members did indeed come. In fact, whether they’re developing a $10 set of replacement wiper blades or a $10,000 engine modification, the Garage is a homerun hit with aftermarket businesses of all sizes.
“We’ve even seen members move into new markets with products for the ATV segment, side-by-sides and other categories that were not traditionally SEMA markets,” Spagnola said. “Many niche markets have now become mainstream for SEMA manufacturers because we’ve helped connect them with the vehicles, technologies and other tools or information needed to expand their reach.”
Advancing Emissions Compliance
Perhaps the Garage’s greatest resource to date has been its emissions lab, which has walked numerous SEMA members through the complex requirements set forth by the EPA and CARB to test products and attain CARB EOs that clear them for automotive use. Products that affect fuel or air largely must undergo such testing to be sold in the United States, and SEMA estimates that there are hundreds of member companies in need of such services. The stakes are high: Fines for not demonstrating EPA or CARB compliance before sale can reach tens of thousands of dollars per non-compliant unit sold.
“When we first set out to create the lab, we realized that many SEMA members were not getting their EOs, so we went on a listening tour to understand why,” Spagnola said. “We found that many felt that the application process was overly cumbersome and hard to understand.”
Roadblocks to obtaining EOs were many. There was frustration with the length of time it took to get a test letter or an EO through the agency. The required forms were complicated and easily rejected if not filled out properly, and finding a lab that could perform testing was often difficult and costly.
Spagnola said that SEMA met those challenges head on when building the emissions lab and creating the Garage’s compliance program. It added a trained staff to assist members in filling out applications. The staff also launched awareness initiatives (often in collaboration with CARB and the EPA) to educate SEMA members on the Clean Air Act and the laws affecting the products members make. The Garage further developed a database to track applications submitted to CARB and review them with the agency on a weekly basis. Those efforts helped reduce the processing time for an EO from sometimes as much as a year down to just a few months.
Additionally, the Garage worked hard to cut the costs associated with testing, adopting benefit pricing for SEMA members and offering free assistance with EO applications and guidance through the process. Today, the lab is a SEMA-member-only testing facility running two shifts a day to meet member demand—an achievement Spagnola and his team are proud of.
“Because of our intimate knowledge of the application process, we have achieved a high rate of success in obtaining EOs,” he said, adding that SEMA has proactively worked with CARB and California legislators to help shape a more favorable regulatory environment.
Meanwhile, the Garage’s other services have evolved to stay atop emerging technologies. Alongside a Stratasys 450MC 3-D printer capable of working with eight different print materials, the Garage has added a Stratasys F370 unit that can print FDM TPU 92A thermoplastics. (The latter material is frequently used for flexible hoses, tubes, air ducts and vibration dampeners.) Nylon 12 carbon fiber is also available.
Through the Garage’s Tech Transfer program, numerous members have gained access to CAD OEM data to develop high-quality parts faster and more effectively. The program encompasses a large number of participating OEMs that make many of the industry’s most popular vehicles. The Garage staff is also creating an even wider-ranging “scan library” of vehicles and products using the facility’s FaroArm/CMM.
“The Tech Transfer program and the CAD files are crucial for members to develop new products, so that the ability to scan products also was one of the first things we launched,” Spagnola explained. “When we started the Garage, the FaroArm was fairly new to the industry. We saw it as an educational tool to demonstrate how you could scan and reverse-engineer products.”
The program also recently deployed a new I-CAR RTS Portal designed to assist members seeking information on OEM vehicle onboard safety systems. The “look-up” reference is especially important to aftermarket manufacturers, since those systems, functions, nomenclature and positioning can differ across OEMs and platforms.
Of course, the Garage continues to offer its highly regarded measuring sessions featuring both domestic and international vehicle models; its fully equipped installation center, complete with vehicle lifts, scales and tools; and a training center for educational sessions and industry meetings.
In Spagnola’s mind, the incredible growth of the SEMA Garage and its positive reception have been immensely gratifying.
“I love the challenge,” he said. “We have an excellent team here. We’re all industry enthusiasts who understand vehicle platforms, manufacturing, product development and engineering, so it’s all about the technology we’re bringing to every SEMA member, right down to the mechanic or retailer who installs and sells our industry’s parts.”
For further information about the SEMA Garage Industry Innovations Center and its many programs, visit www.semagarage.com.
The SEMA Garage has also compiled a collection of YouTube videos addressing emissions compliance issues. Here are three noteworthy ones to check out:
- “Emissions Compliance: What You Need to Know”: https://youtube.com/watch?v=IWDrgh8B6bY
- “The EPA’s New Policy on Tampering and Defeat Devices Explained”: https://youtube.com/watch?v=qoen1YEstYQ
- “A New Path to EPA Compliance—Assessing the SEMA Garage Certification Program”: https://youtu.be/3LuzTEE0PRc