New products shape the automotive specialty-equipment industry, and companies that get their innovations to market earliest have the best chance for success. Millions of dollars are spent each year to research, design, develop and produce prototypes that are eventually honed into the finished parts that reach consumers’ vehicles. Until recently, that process has been time consuming and expensive—especially for smaller manufacturers that don’t have huge budgets. But technology is changing the R&D process.
Tools such as computer-aided design (CAD) software, coordinate measuring machines (CMM) and three-dimensional (3D) printers have led to rapid prototyping that not only accelerates the process but also allows quick, iterative changes to a prototype so that an original version can be refined and perfected before production tooling ever comes into play. In addition, SEMA’s Technology Transfer program allows member companies to develop products based on original CAD files direct from some of the automakers, so aftermarket parts can be designed to exacting specifications without the need for access to an actual automobile. In the latest advancement, the SEMA Garage is now creating its own library of CAD files using its modern arsenal of the very tools described above.