Have you ever wondered how, literally days after a brand-new car hits the market, there are already ways to spend more money on it? And not just one-size-fits all accessories, but serious speed parts like cold air systems, suspension components, and even supercharger kits? One of the reasons that’s possible is the work done at the Specialty Equipment Market Association‘s SEMA Garage. Enthusiasts know SEMA best because of the yearly SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, but the Association’s influence on the world of cars and trucks is far broader than the gargantuan trade show.

One key area that SEMA assists its members who manufacture parts is the Technology Transfer program, which in addition to making OEM-supplied data and CAD/CAM drawings available, also sponsors and runs measuring sessions. These sessions, held at the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California, give participating members the chance to put hands on new vehicles supplied by the manufacturers to measure, test, and even tear them down to get the information they need to develop and produce new products for just-released cars and trucks.  The Garage even has a Dimension 3D printer capable of turning out prototype parts on-site to check fitment right there on the spot.

Dozens of Cars, Hundreds of Manufacturers

The scale of this behind-the-scenes operation will probably surprise you. SEMA vice president Mike Spagnola explains, “Today, we have 17 OEMs participating in the SEMA Measuring Session Program on a regular basis. For 2014, there are 22 measuring sessions scheduled, with 10 of those already completed through April.” Historically, SEMA has coordinated these meetings all across the country. Per Spagnola, “Typically we get an average of 70-90 member companies coming to a measuring session. However on vehicles like the 5th Generation Camaro we experienced about double that amount.”

The SEMA Garage is fully stocked with lifts, tools and equipment, including a 3D non-contact coordinate measuring system. Here, technicians from Injen set up the Faro Arm to scan the engine bay of a new C7 Corvette Stingray.

“We often hold Measuring Sessions in locations where the host OEM is at,” Spagnola adds. “For example, we have been in Detroit, Michigan and Torrance, New Jersey. However, now that we have the SEMA Garage, we are holding them in Diamond Bar more and more. It’s a convenient location for most of our members and allows us to better assist during the event.” Another advantage to the addition of the Garage to SEMA HQ is that it allows for more in-depth work and additional hands-on time with new cars.

Spagnola emphasizes, “What’s important to note about the measuring sessions today compared to those we had five to ten years ago is that we are able to house the vehicles for longer periods of time with the SEMA Garage. This means members have more flexibility to measure and can schedule private sessions. Measuring Sessions held in the Garage also allow members to utilize all the tools and equipment that we have in the SEMA Garage, including the Faro Arm.”

From Scan to Reality

A few weeks ago, we got the chance to see what goes on during a measuring session for the new C7 Corvette Stingray, and we stopped in on the day when the crew from Injen was measuring for a cold air system. By using the Garage’s FARO Edge ScanArm, they were creating a computer model of the space available for the intake system. The non-contact system uses a laser scanner to convert real-world objects into CAD files that can be used to develop parts. 

As it turns out, Injen is already well-versed in this process, having done it in-house before. Per VP of sales Ed Rossi, “We have had our scanner for under a year and we have scanned about 30 different vehicles with it. SEMA’s scanner is identical to ours, so our team has the expertise and has the option of using theirs, rather than transporting ours. This type of development is relatively new to us, but our team has embraced this system. When we met you, it was our first time to use their equipment [at the SEMA Garage].”

While companies use measuring sessions to create all sorts of parts, one particularly advantageous benefit for companies like Injen is that it’s possible to make certain working prototype parts using their own 3D printer or SEMA’s unit, and actually function test them. Rossi lays out the process:

  • We remove the stock air box.
  • Then we scan the void and all connecting points or adjacent components. 
  • We use Solid Works/CAD programs to design an intake box and induction tube. 
  • Once we are relatively satisfied with the prototype, we physically print the intake with one of our three 3D printers. This is the most time-consuming stage, and some 3D prototypes can take four to five days of nonstop building. 
  • Once the prototype is built (in several sections) we laminate the components to make a complete air intake system that houses an Injen filter.  By all practical purposes, it looks and functions like a real roto-molded intake box with a machined MAF sensor mount. 
  • We install and test each prototype version that we produce in order to determine the most optimal design – for horsepower, torque, fueling, and consistent power band performance.

Optimizing the Results

The SEMA Garage even includes a fully certified Executive Order (EO) aftermarket-part certification lab. – Mike Spagnola, SEMA

Per Rossi, fine tuning the resulting prototype parts is possibly the most time-intensive element of bringing new products to market. “It’s very common to break a prototype box or induction tube and rebuild certain sections (for either clearance or optimal air flow requirements),” he explains. “Once a box is disassembled, we only need to print the section or sections that are being redesigned.  We have never had to re-print a completely new box, but induction tubes are very fickle and we constantly remake sections for optimal diameters that affect air velocity.”

Once a part is ready for production, the SEMA Garage has another role to play: Testing. Spagnola says, “The SEMA Garage even includes a fully certified Executive Order (EO) aftermarket-part certification lab.” For engine-related parts like intakes, exhaust headers, and even superchargers, getting that “50-state legal” approval is a pretty big deal, and can more than make up the cost of the certification in additional sales to consumers in states that follow the California smog rules.

More to Come

By any measure, the SEMA Garage has been successful in helping the aftermarket get better products to market sooner. “Hundreds of SEMA Member companies have taken advantage of the measuring sessions over the past several years,” Spagnola asserts. “Since the SEMA Garage, we see more and more members taking advantage of the program since we are able to keep the vehicles longer and offer more flexibility to them. The measuring sessions have been a key member benefit and many manufacturers consider it to be a great tool for developing new products.”

Rossi agrees, adding, “As a small manufacturer, we do not always have access to the wide range of vehicles that SEMA can bring in.  SEMA is literally a four minute drive from our facility and it would be a shame not to use their resources for vehicles and their state of the art equipment.  Our goal is to be first to market and this technology has made our design process very reactive in nature.  We can make major changes in a relatively quick fashion.  Additionally, the final version is not a BETA version, it is very very close the our production version.”

The Faro Arm's laser scanner can build a full 3D map of just about any part of the car - in this case, the Stingray's fender.

“The SEMA Garage gives SEMA Member businesses access to the special high-tech tools and equipment they need to get their off the drawing board and into customer hands,” Spagnola concludes. “It is the only known facility of its kind in the U.S. and it is available for members to use. It includes two vehicle lifts, the Faro Arm for 3D scanning, a 3D printer for fast prototyping, digital race car scales for the most precise vehicle weight measurements, a dynamometer for power output measurements and more.  All this is available to SEMA members for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere, and perhaps most importantly, we have staff here to help guide them with anything they may need.”