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The SEMA Show Must Go On

In November, the world’s premier automotive trade show returned to Las Vegas, bringing the latest innovation and technology to more than 150,000 industry professionals.

by Vince Piva 

Photos: Vince Piva & Iva Kestrankova

Another year, another great SEMA Show, hosted by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).  

The very first SEMA Show was held in 1967 under the grandstands of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, with nearly 100 booths and 3,000 attendees. Now fast forward 56 years to this annual event held again in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the number of exhibitors has expanded to an astonishing 2,200 exhibitors, 450 of which were exhibiting for the first time.  

Although the event sounds like a success, it was bittersweet, as some of the top paint manufacturers did not attend the show, opting to secure a private venue to show their new products to media and an elite group of companies attending SEMA. The absence of “regulars” who opted not to attend was also noted, and some companies decided to attend AAPEX at the Venetian instead. 

After the notorious COVID scare, which caused the cancellation of SEMA for the first time in its history, it took time to rebuild the venue. I would add that having the Formula One race, held November 18, 2023, did not help the situation either. Many streets were blocked off to traffic, and other streets had lanes reduced to accommodate the upcoming race. It was a logistic nightmare for the trucking industry tasked with bringing in all the material for the show, but with a lot of effort, the logistic people of Freeman made it happen.  

"There is so much at SEMA that four days is simply not enough to see what is available to meet your needs.”

The SEMA Show, as you might know, is open only for the public associated with the automotive business in general. No others can attend this event, so no looky-loos or wanna-bes allowed inside. As I was told, 150,000 attendees came through the turnstiles, and about 2,500 accredited media professionals. 

Cliff Lu of Induction Innovations presented the Mini-Ductor series and followed with a live demonstration showcasing the tool's ability to release rusted or corroded items, thread-locking compounds, and various adhesives.

Of course, social media has entered the show scene like a tsunami. A lot of young guns are using various digital platforms to live-stream videos and share instant photos from the venue, and many don’t have sophisticated gear: a good cell phone, a good smartphone tripod or a gimbal, and a wide-angle lens might be sufficient to start your own show. 

One of the main events at this year’s SEMA Show was the tribute to the late Ken Block, who died last January in a snowmobile accident. Ken was an icon in the car drifting scene and a regular performer at SEMA drifting challenges (sponsored by Hoonigan racing team).  

On the last day of the convention, 30 individuals came together and performed a special tire burnout to commemorate Ken. Smoke filled the area, and some parts of the track were set ablaze from chunks of the smoldering rubber. Even the nearby hotel was enveloped in smoke. Needless to say, the acrid smell of burning rubber pained the audience’s nostrils as well. 

SATA’s premium spray guns

Touring inside, I stopped at the SATA display, which was promoting their new gun, the SATAjet X 5500. This paint gun can handle all paint systems. Its silent nozzle reduces the noise for the operator, and it also reduces paint consumption.  

Chip Foose, the legendary automobile designer, returned to SEMA as the show's official artist.

The SATA air filtering system is also a winner. It will prevent moisture and microscopic particles from entering the paint, thus making the operators job much easier and more precise. Next to the filter system, there was a mannequin dressed in a coverall with a hood and shield that incorporated a filtered air respiratoranother tool for the professional refinishera far cry from the olddays when you only had a dust mask to protect yourself. 

Moving along, I stopped to visit Induction Innovations, the makers of the famous Mini-Ductor Venom HP, a tool that heats up rusted/frozen metal parts faster than using an oxy-acetylene torch to free up and remove them faster and safer. It is so good that like the Remington commercial said: “I bought one myself. Now I don’t have to curse and bust my knuckles anymore.”

Next was a stop at the Spanesi booth, which had so much to offer it is hard to enumerate everything. Their rig to check for bent and out-of-alignment frames and unibody vehicle construction is a definite winner. It only takes a few minutes to figure out the problem(s) using their specialized equipment to repair the vehicle to factory specification.

The PPG MagicBox body shop assistant is a small but powerful device that communicates environmental conditions in mixing rooms and receives formulas direct from the PPG LINQ Color software.
Chris Balboa showcases the groundbreaking PPG MoonWalk mixing system, specifically designed for PPG Envirobase High Performance toners. This system is engineered to reduce overall cycle time by 15%.

Another tool Spanesi exhibited was the PULL UP! repair system, which uses a special set of suction cups, glue, and either slide hammers or a puller to restore the shape of damaged body panels. First, you need to glue the suction cups to the dented area, then connect them with a pulling system, and the final step is to simply pull. This innovation means no more welding rivets and then pulling. It reduces hidden damage inside door panels and associated problems.  

On a different note, Collision Quarterly’s publisher, Iva Kestrankova, challenged herself to a virtual painting operation using Spanesi’s virtual reality spray tool, it did not take long for her to get a “handle” on using it. “It was fun,” she said. 

With the advent of ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems) in newer vehicles, it is imperative to have the tools to check for calibration for lane changing departure, forward collision warning, front obstacles, pedestrian avoidance, and night vision using radar and LIDAR. This system utilized an infrared laser to see in the dark.  

I also visited the Hunter Ultimate ADAS system—not for the faint-of-heart. There is a learning process involved for body shops, but after you master it, you will be able to perform those tasks with precision and without fear.  

Cristina Spanesi with Constantino Uliano at the Spanesi booth

Hunter’s Ultimate ADAS system was on public display for the first time at SEMA. This innovative system uses gimbal-mounted lasers that allow for precise calibration procedures. The Ultimate ADAS can work with the Hunter wheel alignment equipment. It will check electronic stability control (ESC), side-facing radar for blind spots, lane changing and parking assistance features, as well as the forward-facing camera.  

Numerous other manufacturers displayed their own ADAS calibration systems as well, including Bosch, Snap-On, Autel, and AirPro Diagnostics. You need to do your homework to find what fits your business best for calibrations after a repair. 

Collision Quarterly's publisher, Iva Kestrankova, testing the Sprayverse, spray painting VR simulator, at the Spanesi booth.

Over at the AirPro Diagnostics booth, the main attraction was their mobile ADAS calibration tool for forward-facing cameras, called AUGGIE. Steve Casella showed me a live demo of this completely wireless tool, completing the calibration in less than 10 minutes. 

Russ Duncan from Pro Spot
Steve Casella from AirPro Diagnostics showcasing AUGGIE, a mobile static recalibration device
Fellow Canadians from the Rust Valley Restorers TV show with Collision Quarterly's publisher, Iva Kestrankova.
At the Dominion Sure Seal booth, attendees could explore the company’s extensive line of automotive sealants, protectants, and primers, including a "must-have" product for the current weather—the rust wash.
Gabriel Yelle-Guerin from Arslan demonstrates how the Arslan’s AccuVision-3D measuring system can quickly and accurately measure the alignment of a vehicle using the handheld pointer.
Collision Quarterly's Vince Piva was impressed with the smooth performance and high efficiency of Mirka's cordless polisher during his hands-on testing.

At the Arslan Automotive booth, I had the opportunity to learn about the AccuVision-3D system, an automotive chassis measurement tool. Gabriel Yelle-Guerin from ARSLAN explained how this innovative tool, which combines an electronic pointer with stereoscopic cameras, can achieve measurement accuracy within 1 to 2 mm. Also, the AccuVision-3D allows for easy documentation of measurements without needing to place the vehicle on a straightening bench, integrating seamlessly with the Mitchell repair platform for regular data updates.  

Next, I stopped at the Herkules’ booth to investigate their paint guns and cup cleaning equipment. As you know, after every spray job, you must clean your equipment quickly to ensure cleanliness for the next job. Herkules has a neat sealed container where all your painting tools can go to get clean. The solvent is recycled, and no volatile organic compound (VOC) will escape into the atmosphere—a sure-needed tool for paint shops. 

Don Hunt from Herkules showcasing the company’s automatic paint gun washer.
Tommy Maitz and Brad Maschhoff with Hunter's Ultimate ADAS system, which revolutionizes the way ADAS calibrations are performed.

Finally, coating systems experts PPG, Axalta, and BASF showcased their pride and latest products. 

A day before the SEMA Show officially kicked off, I managed to score an invite to Axalta’s demonstration of their Irus Mix, a new fully automated paint mixing machine. The operator used a specialized scanner to scan the original paint scheme of the vehicle to be painted and then sent the file to a computerized mixing machine, where it was analyzed to make sure that the colour was original. After this, the mixing processes started, and it took only dozens of seconds to dispense the colour into a cup, ready for use in the spray booth. This system is available right now in Europe, and it should roll out May-June 2024 in the USA.

"If you’re planning to attend next year, do some homework—search for booths that are relevant to your business ahead of time.”

PPG held a special event at Drai’s Beach Club at The Cromwell in Las Vegas to showcase their digital paint matching and mixing tools, including the company’s MagicBox smart device, DigiMatch advanced colour matching tool, VisualizID digital colour visualization tool, LINQ Color Software, and MoonWalk refinish paint mixing system. As demonstrated, the combination of these tools saves technician’s time while delivering extreme accuracy with the colour matching and mixing process, reducing waste, and transforming the refinish mixing room into a cleaner and safer environment.  

The Axalta Irus Mix is a fast and efficient fully-automated and hands-free mixing machine that delivers accurate colour without waste.
A beautiful Bleu Bayou built by Goolsby Customs, painted with Glasurit’s Storm Gray Metallic 923-365 Glamour Production Clear, 923-55 Matte Clear, and Epoxy (EP769) primer.

BASF exhibited their waterborne and custom colour technology with award-winning customized cars, showcasing paint from its Glasurit and R-M automotive refinish systems. 

While roaming the halls, my eye caught a glimpse of Alientech, a company dedicated to “tuners.” They have all the necessary tools to re-map your vehicle, motorcycle, diesel vehicle, farm equipment, and in-board/out-board marine engines. The company’s software can improve engine and transmission performance in many facets—it depends on what your needs are. Over 30 years of experience in this sector makes Alientech a powerhouse, and they have subsidiaries all over Europe, USA, and Central and South America. If you’re thinking of becoming a tuner, you may want to look into it. 

There is so much at SEMA that four days is simply not enough to see what is available to meet your needs. If you’re planning to attend next year, do some homework—search for booths that are relevant to your business ahead of time. This will help you use your time most effectively. 

Take care, see you in Vegas next year! 

Vince Piva has been an automotive instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) for 33 years, and he is a long-time contributor to Collision Quarterly. Vince has been attending SEMA for many years.