Published on March 14, 2014

Entering the FRICTION ZONE — Aging vehicle parc ripe for brake sales

Honeywell Friction photo
Vehicle owners looking to keep costs down are realizing a brake is considered an important but relatively inexpensive investment.

AKRON (March 14, 2014) — Automotive brake companies are expecting upbeat sales this year as the average age of passenger vehicles in the U.S. reaches unprecedented levels — and that means an additional round of brake pad and components replacements.

Several friction materials makers have introduced products recently and are working on new ones to meet evolving aftermarket trends, such as including hardware with the brake pads. Another continuing development: meeting regulatory requirements that mandate environmentally friendly brake pad materials.

“With significant increases in the ages of vehicles in the past few years (11.2-plus years average), people are investing in their vehicles more,” said Celena Evans, director of marketing for NAPA Auto Parts Inc. L.L.C.’s Rayloc subsidiary.

“Where before when a vehicle reached 10 years or 11 years, consumers were thinking of selling it, now they’re thinking of, ‘How can I keep my car going?’” she told Tire Business.

“And they’re realizing that a brake pad is a relatively minor investment and a very important one.

“So I think that’s why we’re continuing to see growth in the better and the best categories.”

Grif Jordan, North American product manager for Honeywell Friction’s Bendix brand, said that “as vehicles last longer, you can actually squeeze that next brake job, that one more brake job on that particular vehicle.”

“In general, when the OE sales declined in ’08, that was our aftermarket today…. The vehicles that were being built in ’08, they came to us in 2012, 2013 and in 2014 and that lull is slowly making the recovery.

“We’re very upbeat about 2014. It looks like it’s going to be a very good year.”

However, old vehicles may not always get premium brake jobs as owners try to save money.

To address that trend, Honeywell introduced the mid-grade Stop by Honeywell line late last year and, according to Mr. Jordan, “it’s flying off the shelf.”

Hardware kits

For the aftermarket, one growing trend is suppliers including hardware kits in their brake pad packages to encourage technicians to replace worn parts.

“We’re continuing to see strong, strong growth in the better category of brakes. Consumers and repair shops are demanding more quality. They’re demanding more value in the box,” Rayloc’s Ms. Evans said.

“We’ve done things like add hardware to hundreds of SKUs. We’re adding more enhanced shims and features like that, because customers are demanding more.”

Honeywell includes hardware with its new Stop line of ceramic and semi-metallic pads and recently Robert Bosch L.L.C. debuted its Blue disc brake pads that include hardware kits with the top 200 SKUs.

But Honeywell’s Mr. Jordan said he has heard some techs don’t use the hardware that comes supplied in the box.

His advice to techs: “Install the hardware that comes with the product and make sure they are buying products that are of a high quality that will help them reduce their comebacks and grow their business.

“The hardware itself is a big part of getting a quality brake job, and we know where that takes us.

“It’s not so much the brake job the technician is performing today—it’s the one that comes back.”

Mr. Jordan said it’s “the person that tells two other people that they had their brakes repaired.

“It’s all about repeat business. Putting the right products with the right hardware, it’s all in the technicians’ hands. I would tell them to make sure that is what they are focusing on.”

Copper-free mandates

One of the major challenges facing the friction materials market is finding formulas that eliminate copper content in ceramic brake pads to meet the “Better Brakes” regulations initiated in California.

Laws in both California and Washington ban certain concentrations of harmful materials used in manufacturing brake pads, particularly copper, due to environmental concerns of copper dust from car brakes leaching into waterways.

Each state’s requirements differ slightly, but both laws forbid the sale of brake pads containing more than 5-percent copper from 2021 and beyond.

The California law forbids brake pads containing more than 0.5-percent copper after Jan. 1, 2025.

Ceramic pads contain different levels of copper, which helps transfer heat, so manufacturers are investigating various formulas and substitutions.

Jeffrey Kinsey, senior brake engineer for Rayloc, said if copper is removed from a brake pad, “my fear is the pad life will decrease greatly. Some products in the market today create high-pitch tonal noise late into the service life of the disc brake pad.

“So that is a challenge that both the OE market and aftermarket are having to deal with. That has to be solved in the next five years or so on the OE side and in the aftermarket in the next 10,” Mr. Kinsey said.

“I don’t see it as a give or take, though,” Mr. Jordan said. “I really don’t think that copper was the magic material. There really isn’t anything on the friction side. It’s a blend of different products and it’s going to be important to get it all right.”

Brake makers noted there is no common substitute for copper in friction materials so substitution formulations are proprietary.

Semi-metallic pads generally don’t contain copper. But ceramics, which can have up to 15-percent copper content, are growing in popularity due to their low noise and low dust properties.

“There are some people out there who are trying to market ‘new friction material,’” Mr. Kinsey said.

“I know some manufacturers have developed a ‘hybrid ceramic,’ where they basically put semi-metallic materials in a ceramic material, and I think you’re going to start seeing that as an easy fix to the copper issue short-term until they find a long-term solution.”

However, Bosch claims it has already formulated a copper-free ceramic pad and plans to introduce the new material in its premium grade QuietCast line in February.

Tenneco Inc. is conducting its own studies on lower copper content for its Monroe brake line, according to Tony Carter, Monroe marketing manager. He noted that the brake maker can meet the 2021 requirement on a majority of its products and is now focusing on development of zero-copper formulations.

Ceramic vs. semi-metallic

Generally, the aftermarket tends to prefer ceramic brakes because they tend to generate less noise and less dust, according to Mr. Kinsey, noting that while different European OE manufacturers favor semi-metallic, Japanese auto makers tend to prefer ceramic brakes. In the last 10 years there has been a migration in American OEMs toward ceramic.

“Ceramic formulations are now the predominant material type coming out of OE for domestic and Asian vehicles. Specifically, ceramics are gaining share on larger vehicle platforms which previously used semi-metallics,” said Robert Backode, director, product management, braking components for Bosch’s automotive aftermarket division.

“On Euro applications, we are now seeing the first ceramics coming out of OE, replacing the still predominant low-steel formulations. Overall, ceramic formulations now make up more than half of our overall sales, with a very strong upward trend into the future.”

Ceramic brakes help OEMs avoid warranty issues since customers expect brakes to be quiet with low dust, according to Mr. Jordan. And that trend has carried over into the aftermarket.

Ceramic products are taking over in a significant way, he said. “It used to be 50/50 ceramic and semi-mets. That’s no longer the case. Sales are now on the ceramic side.”

Ceramic pads have their pros and cons, but generally the industry and end-customers view ceramic as the solution for some of the problems out there on braking systems — specifically, dust and noise, according to friction materials manufacturers.

However, ceramic is not the perfect application for all vehicles, according to Mr. Carter, noting as examples, heavy-duty trucks and towing vehicles.

The brake manufacturers recommend replacing brake pads with the same type as the OE fitment on the vehicle.

“The OEs have spent a lot of time on the design aspect and the brake system is designed that if it was semi-met, to pull the heat away and if it had ceramic on it, then the brake system was designed to be able to hold the heat and let it transfer back out through the rotors. So our recommendation is to follow what was on the vehicle OE,” Mr. Carter said.

“If the designer of the brake system designed a brake system with semi-metallic materials in mind, I think it’s wiser to put semi-metallic materials in that vehicle,” Mr. Kinsey added.

“Vehicles respond to friction levels,” said Honeywell’s Mr. Jordan. “The reason you replace a ceramic with a ceramic is that particular customer is familiar with that particular brake. So if they are familiar with products that aren’t noisy, if they are familiar with products that aren’t dusty and if you were to go with a semi-met, they’d probably get more wheel dust and they may notice a difference.

“So generally speaking, we like to replace products with what (the vehicle) came with. But there are times when it makes sense to look at alternate materials. It’s all about understanding the consumer and their driving style,” he said.

Noise challenges

Brake design is a balancing act — much like tires.

According to Mr. Kinsey, if engineers want the quietest pad, they might have to give up some performance and wear; if they want longer wear, they might have to give up on noise suppression.

Brake engineers always test for NVH — noise, vibration and harshness. As newer vehicles and their engines are designed to be quieter, they are no longer drowning out the noise of the brake pads against the rotors.

“Now that the vehicle systems are so quiet, the tiniest little squeak on the brake can be audible in the vehicle cabin,” Mr. Kinsey noted. “Noise has become a big focus. Noise/vibration/harshness has become a big focus to brake design today more so than ever.”

Typically when the OEMs design a brake, they try to aim for the quietest performance without the shim or add a shim  later at a particular frequency to tune out the noise of the brake, he said.

Bosch said its new copper-free disc brake pads feature rubber-core shims, and many include Molded Shim Technology (MST), which Bosch said adds long lasting anti-squeal characteristics to the friction formulations.

Meanwhile, NAPA premium brakes have ‘SilentGuard’ shims with an outside coating of  fiber-reinforced rubber which creates noise abatement for the life of pad, according to  Mr. Kinsey said.

Vehicle-specific pads

In addition to fulfilling the general desire for quietness and performance, some friction materials manufacturers are designing specific formulas for specific vehicle models.

“We’re seeing brake requirements — vs. 10-15 years ago — are a little more tailored to the vehicle,” said Rayloc’s Ms. Evans.

“Our friction formulations are carefully selected from a vast array of compounds to provide the blend of materials best suited to each vehicle,” said Bosch’s Mr. Backode.

“We choose compounds that assure quiet, reliable and long-lived braking on all types of vehicles, from subcompacts to large SUVs.”

The trend toward low-profile tires also impacts brake design as the change in wheel diameter can alter the performance of the braking system.

Low-profile tires create less air flow and more mass in the rim so OEMs have to compensate for a heavier wheel and brake system that has to stop the vehicle without wearing down rotors and brake pads, Monroe’s Mr. Carter said.

“The challenge we run into on the aftermarket side would be where a guy takes a regular pickup or some vehicle and goes from a standard tire and puts on a low-profile tire, like a 24-inch or a 20-inch.

“When you look at it you think it’s a lighter-weight tire, but it’s actually a heavier tire with more mass being in the metal and steel. So you can run into some wear issues with the brake system since the brake system is probably not designed for that initial amount of weight,” he explained.

Salespeople should also be aware of a customer’s driving habits when recommending brake pads, Mr. Carter said.

“Customers always want a safe and reliable solution that’s cost effective for their vehicles,” Mr. Carter said. “The consumers’ demand may actually vary and the counterperson or the installers have to understand what the customer needs—if they’re looking for quality, or if it’s a price-conscious customer.

“The salesperson should always start with the best and work options down to find out what the customer is willing to go with.

“For customer demand, also find out what the vehicle is used for,” he continued. “Is it day-to-day travel? If it’s just from here to the grocery store and back? Or are they into a lot of towing? Are they a city traffic driver?

“Look at all those different things that would affect how the brake system would work. With all the facts and data, then you can really satisfy what the customer really is demanding.”

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To reach this reporter: kmccarron@crain.com; 330-865-6127.

 

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