EIS Brake Parts has come a long way since it began as a manufacturerof hydraulic brake hose couplings back in the early 1930s. Todaythe company, which became a division of Standard Motor Productsin 1986, consists of five separate remanufacturing facilitiesin the U.S. and Canada.
The facilities are located in Berlin, CT;Ontario, CA; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; Montreal, Quebec; andManila, AR. The latest acquisition was the purchase of Fibro Friction,Inc., Montreal, Quebec, which took place July 10. Fibro manufacturesfriction material and supplies integrally molded (IM) disc pads.
TheBerlin, CT, operation remanufactures master cylinders, clutchslave cylinders, brake hose couplings and other hydraulic brakeparts. It provides distribution for all of EIS’ hydraulic brakeproducts east of the Rocky Mountains. The Ontario, CA, facilityrebuilds brake shoes and calipers, and assembles disc pads andloaded calipers.
The Canadian locations assemble disc pads andrebuild brake shoes, formulate friction pucks and manufactureIM pads and pucks.. They supports two Canadian distribution centerslocated in Mississauga and Calgary, Alberta, which carry the fullline of Standard Motor Products parts.
In Manila, AR, EIS rebuildsbrake shoes, assembles disc pads, manufactures brake cables andassembles new power brake boosters. We visited the Manila locationin late June and interviewed operations manager, Steve Suber,who is also incoming chairman of the Automotive Parts RebuildersAssociation (APRA).
Suber has been in the brake rebuilding marketsince 1971 when he started as a plant supervisor with Wagner Brakes.In 1984 he made the move to EIS’ Manila facility, which at thetime was owned by the Parker Hannifin Corp. Suber has overseena transition from an 87,000 sq. ft. facility which in 1984 hadthe capacity to rebuild 3,000 sets of brake shoes daily, to today’s395,000 sq. ft. facility which produces 8,000 sets of rebuiltbrake shoes, assembles 10,000 sets of disc pads and manufactures1,800 new brake cables, daily.
EIS’ Manila facilities consist ofapproximately 110,000 sq. ft. of brake shoe rebuilding; 25,000sq. ft. of brake shoe parts and core inventory; 50,000 sq. ft.of disc pad assembly and parts inventory; 50,000 sq. ft. of overstockreturn and processing space; 1,100 sq. ft. of brake cable manufacturing;and about 159,000 sq. ft. of finished goods inventory. More than300 people are employed in administration, manufacturing, salesand distribution.
In addition to rebuilding shoes, assemblingpads and manufacturing new brake cables, the Manila facility alsodistributes brake drums and rotors, processes core returns forthe Berlin, CT, plant and supports the Canadian warehouses withadditional product when required.
"We supply more than 50%of all the friction products produced by EIS," said Suber."About $400,000 per day in total Standard Motor Product salesare shipped from this location."
Process improvement and cost reduction are ongoing prioritiesat the Manila facilities. The plant has a goal of producing $2million in process improvements which include everything fromplant layout enhancements to material cost reductions. Recentlythe company implemented a cellular approach to the manufacturingof its brake cables. Technical support for implementation of thechangeover was provided from local industry and community collegeresources.
The changeover resulted in reducing the work area from 10,000to 1,100 sq. ft, and employees from 10 to six. The change to the"Kaizan" approach to work cells also reduced finishedgood rejection rates from five or six percent to less than onepercent.
Suber says that EIS plans on using similar manufacturingconcepts for its brake shoe rebuilding and its disc pad assemblyoperations. The Manila plant is scheduled to complete a new layoutto accommodate increased production demand by late fall.
A tour through the existing operation,however, reveals many equipment and material handling processeswhich have already enhanced the plant’s efficiency, customer serviceand quality levels. Following initial cleaning, shoe cores, forexample, are run through a $150,000 computerized Conklin coresorting machine which employs ultrasound to measure the thicknessof the shoe’s web and table. Two cameras on the equipment alsocheck hole locations and diameters.
Software on the equipment is designed to identify all customerreturns and then distribute the cores into one of 130 differentsort points. From here the cores are delivered to inventory forfuture processing. Although an expensive initial investment, theequipment resulted in substantial cost savings. Five employeesnow do what formerly required 10 to 12 employees. And productivityhas quadrupled.
"The equipment provides us good inventory control,"said Suber, "and it gives us a highly accurate core creditprintout for each of our customers." Such equipment is partof the necessary investment a company of EIS’ size and customerbase requires. It keeps track of more than 350 brake shoe applications,all of which are part of the equipment’s software programming.Application updates are provided two to three times each year.
Following the sorting process, cores are put in a 17,000 sq. ft.covered inventory area. The company scraps out about 7% of allshoe cores processed, replacing them with about 50% new and 50%replacement cores. The Manila facility carries close to 1 millionshoe cores in inventory.
The debonding of old friction material and degreasing of shoesare accomplished in a high temperature conveyor/burnoff system.Cores are fed onto a conveyor that travels through a three-stageheating process. The system is equipped with an afterburner toeliminate all visible emissions. Between 15,000 to 18,000 shoescan be processed each shift.
Immediately after the core preparation stage, shoes are shot blastedand then run through Conklin automated shoe correction equipment.The equipment essentially corrects distortion in the shoe resultingfrom previous use or the cleaning process, and is required toensure that replacement friction material can be applied correctly.The machines cost about $30,000 each, but they’ll process between700 and 900 shoes per hour.
Depending on customer preference, shoes are then run through eithera clear or black dipping solution designed primarily to enhancethe bonding of the friction material to the shoe. The processis an automated conveyor step which feeds the shoes into a diptank solution. Two adjacent dip tanks are on wheel tracks so thatthey can easily be slid into place depending on which dip thecustomer has specified.
The combination of pressure, time and temperature is the key tosuccessfully bonding the friction material to the shoe. EIS hasdesigned its own unique patented bonding fixtures which provideone of the strongest bonds of any rebuilt brake shoe. The fixturesfeature a spring design which presses the friction material tothe shoe with about 2,800 lbs. of force. The fixtures are usedon all shoe applications of nine inches and above.
All bonded brakes receive a "finish" grind which ensuresthat the friction material will properly contact the brake drum.One hundred percent of all riveted or bonded shoes are visuallyinspected and stamped as "rebuilt," along with a datecode. The date code includes date of manufacture and specificplant and inspector identification. Rivets used on pads and shoesalso carry the EIS logo to help in processing warranty returns.Suber said that currently the plant is using between 60 and 70%of its brake shoe capacity.
Disc pads are running at about 40% of capacity. Disc pads actuallyaccount for 70% of all of EIS’ friction sales. The employees wesaw operating pad assembly equipment were capable of assembling260 to 400 pads per hour, depending on whether the equipment wasof the single or dual riveting variety. Suber told us that EIS’Ontario, CA-plant was also currently experimenting with automateddisc pad assembly equipment having the capacity to produce 900to 1,000 pads per hour.
With both shoes and pads, EIS has implemented SPC (StatisticalProcess Control) procedures. The procedures are an important ingredientfor ensuring that on each riveted pad or shoe the proper rivettorque has been applied. The company is also working towards ISO9002 certification, which it hopes to achieve by late fall ofthis year.
When speaking of quality control and ISO 9000 standards, Subersaid that as incoming APRA chairman he would like to see the associationbecome more involved in helping its members achieve such certification."ISO certification is something that we want to help APRAmembers be able to achieve," said Suber. "We are lookingat the possibility of bringing an APRA staff member onboard whocan help our members reach it."
The association, continued Suber, has begun work on implementinga five-year plan designed to provide expanded services for itsmembers over the long term. The plan’s focus will initially bedirected at providing training opportunities and technical information."Today, APRA is a proactive and dynamic organization,"said Suber.
Meeting customer needs
Of course, producing a quality product isonly part of the equation for success in the aftermarket. Developinga product which the customer wants, and then pricing and deliveringthat product when and where the customer wants it is just as important.
In some respects, EIS recently began bucking market trends bydeveloping an application-specific, high-end replacement pad.Most players in the brake market will tell you that brake padsand shoes are as much a commodity item as any. There has beena lot of pricing pressure, many feel primarily due to large volumeretailers, which has lead to an increasing use of economy gradesof friction material on many replacement pads and shoes.
Although EIS carries economy, premium and fleet grades of replacementbrakes, in October of last year it introduced an application-specific,premium grade disc pad line. Suber said that the company has beenpleasantly surprised by the demand for its new Xtender QMX discpads.
"We’re selling more than 100,000 sets of the pads per month,"said Suber. "Although there has been some erosion in ourpremium line, a lot of it is new sales. We were shooting for 10%of our pad sales to be in the Xtender line, but we may end upover 25%."
Suber said that EIS sells the new line with a "no noise"guarantee, providing coverage on about 200 part numbers – about90% of disc pad demand by volume. When asked why he thought theline is doing so well, Suber replied, "The noise reductionactually works, and the consumer wants that; it also keeps theinstaller from having to do the job again."
How did EIS go about developing the application specific pads?Essentially it undertook dyno testing of various new frictionformulas and compared them against test results on friction materialit had been using for years and that it knew performed well. "Wedid a lot of dyno testing using a forerunner to the SAE J1652test procedures on the new materials," explained Suber.
"We worked with our friction suppliers to classify specificvehicle platforms and the right friction material for each. Weworked to develop pads that would solve known problems such asthe noise on Chevy trucks, and on cars such as the Lumina whichsees brake temperatures around 800° F, in order to achievegood wear and good noise control. These application specific materialsare very close to the OE formulas."
Suber says that 70% of all replacement brakes that the companysells are of a premium grade friction material. However, realistically,he notes that companies like his will likely always be requiredto carry economy grades of replacement pads and shoes. It’s especiallyimportant for WDs and their jobbers who are faced with seriouspricing pressure from large volume retailers.
Keeping their customers competitive for a brake replacementsale is an ongoing concern. EIS’ primary customer base are largeprogram WD groups such as IWDI, Auto Pride and Carquest, as wellas many small independent WDs. However, it also sells productsto a variety of co-manufacturers, retailers such as Northern Automotive,and although a small portion of total sales, exports to 55 foreigncountries.
"Seventy percent of our friction sales is in our premiumlines," explained Suber. "I think the explanation forthat is that most consumers feel they should be installing a goodquality brake." But most parts stores and WDs want to carrythe economy lines of brakes with the opportunity to sell up toa premium material. As far as traditional WDs and jobbers areconcerned, having an economy line of brakes not only preventslost sales, it increases the opportunities for sales of otherproducts.
Said Suber, "As one of my WDs told me, ‘When a customer firstwalks in and asks how much it is, you have to be able to offerhim a set of low-end pads or shoes or he might walk." ButSuber’s customer told him that from that point on he has the opportunityto sell up to a premium grade of brakes, plus the opportunityto sell other products. ‘Jobbers today don’t like to lose anysales,’ Suber said his WD customer told him. ‘You have to carrythe economy grade to get or keep the customer in the store.’ "
In many cases, Suber says he sees the demand for lower pricescontinuing. So it is important that EIS do all that it can tokeep its WD customers competitive. "We give them the bestproduct for the money," said Suber. "But WDs have tolearn to sell up. And to do a better job at that we have to beable to provide them, the jobber and/or the installer the informationand products to do it. We think that our new Xtender QMX lineis a good step in that direction."
Suber says that although EIS’ primary customer base is traditionalWDs and their jobbers, there is no market that the company willnot compete in. The resources provided by a company like StandardMotor Products help make that possible. "Standard Motor Productshas 500 sales personnel, the largest sales force in the aftermarket,"said Suber. They are well trained; 150 of them just sell EIS products.
Due to the fact that they offer extended distribution, programgroup WDs will likely continue to offer EIS growth opportunities.But there is no market EIS will not compete in. "We havespecialty sales forces designed to address the needs of specificcustomers from the co-manufacturer to the retailer to the three-stepand two-step WDs to hopefully the OE in the future," saidSuber.
"I think the success you have in any of those channels dependsnot only on product quality, service levels and sales support,but on how you structure the programs. I think that companiesthat lose market share lose focus with their customers. We aregrowing our market share in brake sales. We are being very aggressivein our product offering and pricing."
Today, and over the long term, Suber feelsthere will be fewer DIYers or shadetree mechanics able to completea brake job. He attributes that to the complexity of vehicle brakingsystems on many new cars and trucks, especially on imports.
"I think there are a lot of domestic cars in the market thatthe shadetree mechanic can still work on," said Suber. "Butforeign cars with all their hardware, clips, etc., are harderto do. On vehicles today the rotor always needs to be checkedand the hardware always needs to be changed in order to maximizebrake pad life and performance. I think it is hard to beat theprofessional installer for getting the job done right."
But rest assured, even professional installers don’t always getthe job done right. An analysis of EIS warranty claims quicklyreveals some of the problem areas. Returns often display no visiblewear (the wrong part was ordered), or one pad is worn substantiallymore than the other (the caliper piston was sticking) are common"warranty claims."
Despite the fact that the company offers a limited lifetime warranty,total brake product returns amount to only about four percentof sales. All warranty returns are 100 percent inspected whenreceived in Manila. Of total returns, only about 20 to 25 percentare actually valid claims, and much of those returns are due tothe company’s limited lifetime warranty policy.
In general, driving costs out and profits up, while providingthe customer the products, programs and services necessary tosell those products, is what every rebuilder is striving to accomplish.EIS appears committed to managing its business along those lines.
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