MONROE, Mich.—If you're looking for rapid evolution of braking systems in vehicle design, you're more likely to see quicker developments in friction materials—and that includes material that's friendlier to the environment.
That's the synopsis of Tony Carter, product marketing manager for Tenneco Inc.'s Monroe Brakes brand, who has been an up-close-and-personal observer of an industry that makes its bones on its products' stopping power. In an exclusive interview with Tire Business, he shared his thoughts on the state of the industry's progression and trends.
Tenneco, which began making aftermarket brake kits in 2005, has found its niche as a provider of ultra-premium ceramic and semi-metallic brake pad kits packaged with everything needed to complete a brake job. The company entered the market with nearly 300 SKUs, much more than its nearest competitor had available at the time, Mr. Carter said.
“It's been seven years since we've been back in the aftermarket business, and we continue to be the lead aftermarket brand in a number of pad sets offered with all the components included,” he claimed. The company now offers upwards of 460 SKUs with kits.
Purely from a design standpoint, Mr. Carter said, brake systems have been one of the slower evolving aspects of vehicle design.
“”Brake technology really hasn't changed that rapidly,” Mr. Carter said. “In the last 30 years probably the top thing to come into the business has been antilock brakes. And then recently with the electronic enhancements and the computers working for stability control…. It's a slow evolution.”
What's been changing at a more rapid pace are the materials used in the development of brake pads and certain components. Brake friction materials originally were made with asbestos before health issues associated with the material were discovered, and then moved onto organic and semi-metallic formulations. Nowadays, ceramic brake pads have become very popular.
“When it comes to the processes and the materials, you're looking at almost a continuous improvement philosophy from engineering, the designers and the formulators,” he said. “They're doing the same thing with component materials. Brake pads were riveted in the '60s and '70s on the majority of pads because the resin adhesives and stuff weren't up to par.
“That's one of the things that's changed over the years,” he continued. “Of course you've had regulations with asbestos being banned and other ingredients that (can't be used).”
Copper, which Mr. Carter said “will probably become for the brake industry what asbestos was for the brake industry 30 years ago,” may be on its way to becoming one of those banned materials.
In 2010, Washington and California passed legislation calling for the eventual elimination of copper in light vehicle brake pads sold in the states. Proponents of the legislation claim copper dust is dispensed every time the brakes on a vehicle are applied and then makes its way into waterways, endangering fish and other wildlife.
Brake pads contain about 10 to 20 percent copper, which helps dissipate heat and is a key component in the wear process.
“Copper tends to be in most formulations for ceramic brake pads. It's one of the major components,” Mr. Carter said.
He noted that semi-metallic brake pads are still good when used properly with the right vehicle setup, but ceramic is the new material of choice for customers as it provides great stopping performance while reducing noise and dust.
Mr. Carter noted that nanomaterials also may have a place in future brake designs.
A reduction in copper isn't the only challenge the industry is facing, as costs—much like in other industries—also have been rising.
“Steel fluctuates so much and (so is) fuel, causing a lot of component costs to go up,” Mr. Carter said. “And obviously managing inventory from our growing global base of manufacturing. Everybody's making brakes all over the world and everybody's sourcing from everywhere, so managing that cost in inventory is probably going to be a big thing for manufacturers and suppliers.”
While the design of brake systems hasn't changed much, there are a multiple of products available and not everything is designed to be used on every vehicle. For service technicians, this means it's necessary to stay up-to-date with new vehicles and brake trends.
“For the service professional, it's very imperative that a technician stays current on the latest information about new vehicles in the market because there's such a vast selection and array of products for them to use,” he said. “They have to stay current with braking technology because there's so much information about vehicles and so many things that are specific to a vehicle.
“They need to know everything so they can install the best choice for that application. We stress a lot that they should try to put back on what was OE—don't change something that an engineer spent a lot of time designing.”
Mr. Carter said auto service professionals are at the forefront of brake technology and need to take an active role in educating people about what types of brakes are needed for their vehicle.
They also need to be good investigators when it comes to diagnosing brake-related problems.
“A lot of times things that we've investigated—customers' brake concerns related to either a pad, a shoe or a parking brake—turns out that there's nothing wrong with the product itself,” he said. “It turns out it's something with that old hydraulic system…. You can change out the brakes four or five times and you're going to have the same issue.”