By Mike Imlay
Product Development Made Easier
Mining OEM CAD Files Through SEMA’s Tech Transfer Program
SEMA’s Tech Transfer program has proven invaluable to hundreds of member companies seeking OEM CAD data for product development. Whether for engine and drivetrain components, suspension parts, interior items or styling and appearance products, the program helps reduce the time and costs in going to market with offerings that accurately fit and perform on a wide range of major automaker vehicles.
Among SEMA’s many member services is its Tech Transfer program, designed to help product developers and manufacturers design and create quality components and items for vehicles from original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) data files. The program traces its roots back to 1999, when Ford first provided vehicle blueprints to SEMA to share with association members. Now housed in the new SEMA Garage—Industry Innovations Center, the Tech Transfer program has grown to encompass a wide-ranging digital catalog of CAD files from Ford, GM, Scion and Chrysler (including Fiat, Jeep and RAM). While simple in concept, accessing the program may at first appear a little daunting for first-timers. To help explain its ins and outs, SEMA News sat down for a Q&A with Gary Pis, SEMA vehicle data product manager, who coordinates the program.
SEMA News: Why should SEMA-member companies consider joining the Tech Transfer program? What does it offer them?
Gary Pis: There are multiple reasons they should consider joining the program. First, they don’t have to hunt for a brand-new vehicle to measure in order to start product development. For instance, when the new Corvette came out, few owners wanted to loan one out for a SEMA-member manufacturer to tear apart. With the SEMA Tech Transfer program, members can access CAD files for vehicles months in advance of their actual release and get a head start on designing products without actually seeing the cars prior to them hitting the market. In addition, SEMA manufacturers don’t have to worry about any type of tolerance issues. They’re getting extremely accurate data and designing off the original OE CAD file, so their products will fit within the manufacturer’s range of tolerance variations, whether the vehicle was built on the high side or low side. They’re working with true measurements, which means that many developers can do their design directly in CAD and go quickly from design to manufacturing with a lot less trial and error or redesign and get it right the first time around.
SN: What types of companies can benefit from the program? Who’s using it currently?
GP: All SEMA manufacturers can benefit. We have wheel companies, suspension companies and even styling companies looking to do aesthetically pleasing parts for vehicles. Power performance companies come in and do air intake systems, superchargers, cylinder heads, full exhaust systems and everything else possible. Driveline components, interior trim pieces and pretty much anything imaginable can be designed with the help of our Tech Transfer program. A couple of years ago, we had one company based in England that produced a body kit for the new Camaro based on the OEM CAD data without ever having seen the vehicle. They brought their kit to the SEMA Show for fitting, and everything worked perfectly. We also have a range of companies using newer files to produce retrofit products to give new vehicles a sense of nostalgia. All sorts of companies are using our program and learning how valuable it is.
SN: The Tech Transfer program has evolved since its beginnings in 1999. Is there anything new on the way for members?
GP: We are working on a new, revamped website based on feedback shared by members. People will be able to go and search a database for all the older files that we currently have in the database, along with any additional new files available from the OEMs. By the end of the year, there will be a lot of new and improved web features to manage requests and track statuses of your file requests.
SN: For those who are unfamiliar with or new to the program, can you take us through the process of accessing vehicle tech data?
GP: Users have to be both SEMA and Tech Transfer members to access OEM CAD data. So say we have a new member who has just joined SEMA and is interested in the program. Our new processes are, first, to make sure that they’re eligible and, second, to get approval for the files they’re requesting from the OEM in question. The CAD data is sensitive since it’s the automakers’ proprietary engineering data, so the OEMs want it going to qualified companies. Anything relating to a production-based vehicle, however, is usually approved, and the participating OEMs are very supportive of the aftermarket.
SN: What do OEMs look for in granting approval for data files?
GP: They usually check out a company’s website, see what type of products they’re doing and what type of branding they’re doing. For example, an off-road company is not likely going to get approved for sports car or styling data. Unless the company is expanding its brand to different products, that’s going to throw up red flags for an OEM. The OEMs are making sure the correct file types are only going to the member based on their company products.
SN: What is the cost to members?
GP: Once the approval process is complete and everything is squared away, the member company gets invoiced for the Tech Transfer program. Since 2013, the flat fee has been $360, which gives a company access to all the files in the Tech Transfer database pertinent to that company, along with the ability to request files not found in the database directly from OEMs. The fee covers all Tech Transfer access until a SEMA company’s yearly membership expires, and it is subject to renewal every year along with the SEMA membership.
SN: What happens from there?
GP: After the invoice is created and paid, we create a login so that the member can get into the Tech Transfer system. Once they’re in, there’s a catalog that they’re able to search. At this point that catalog is limited and goes up to only 2010. But the new website will expand that catalog up to current-year listings. Ultimately, the main function of the website is for a company to log in, learn what’s available and submit a request. Once you submit a request, it creates a tracking number and the person who filled out the request form gets a copy of it. Meanwhile, we go into our database and retrieve the files that the member needs. If we have them on file, we release them. If not, we request them from the OEM for the member. Files are transferred to members by secure FTP and are in neutral CAD formats, so members should have no problem importing them into their CAD software. They’re easily recognized by any CAD engineer.
SN: How soon are data requests fulfilled?
GP: If an approved company requests data that we already have on file, we can usually process and release it to them within two to three days. Depending on the files, sometimes we can even do it in a few hours. If we don’t have the data in our system, OEMs can vary in the time it takes to release files. One particular automaker has a staff person dedicated solely to SEMA technical data requests. Others have teams of one or two people handling various other job functions and requests, so it can take more time for them to pull and release data. Sometimes the OEMs want to do additional cleanup on a file before releasing it to make sure things run smoothly for the member receiving it. Sometimes, especially with newer vehicles, there can be slight delays for OEMs in releasing entire new files in a quick manner. There’s often so much data and the files are so large that it takes time to polish the files for SEMA members. So time-wise we’re talking a few days on the low end to a few weeks on the high end, depending on the situation and workload at the OEM level.
SN: Ultimately, what would you most like SEMA members to know about Tech Transfer?
GP: We have more than 300 SEMA members currently taking advantage of our Tech Transfer program with new members being added all the time. Still, we wish there were more. There are a lot of companies out there that may not be aware of the opportunities the program delivers, and we’re taking the initiative to reach out to them. For example, recent tours of the new SEMA Garage have exposed a lot of local companies to the advantages of our Tech Transfer services. But SEMA-member product developers can access the program no matter where they’re located, and our staff is ready to assist them with the entire process. Almost every business nowadays utilizes CAD for product research and development, so this is a program that can offer a real a competitive advantage to those who tap into it.
Joining SEMA Tech Transfer
To learn more about accessing Tech Transfer data and to join the program, visit the SEMA Garage website at
www.SEMAgarage.com and click on the Tech Transfer link. You can also e-mail Gary Pis at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 909-978-6732.