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Eis Brake Parts: Consists Of Five Separate Remanufacturing Facilities In The U.S. And Canada

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EIS Brake Parts has come a long way since it began as a manufacturer
of hydraulic brake hose couplings back in the early 1930s. Today
the company, which became a division of Standard Motor Products
in 1986, consists of five separate remanufacturing facilities
in the U.S. and Canada.
The facilities are located in Berlin, CT;
Ontario, CA; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; Montreal, Quebec; and
Manila, AR. The latest acquisition was the purchase of Fibro Friction,
Inc., Montreal, Quebec, which took place July 10. Fibro manufactures
friction material and supplies integrally molded (IM) disc pads.
The
Berlin, CT, operation remanufactures master cylinders, clutch
slave cylinders, brake hose couplings and other hydraulic brake
parts. It provides distribution for all of EIS’ hydraulic brake
products east of the Rocky Mountains. The Ontario, CA, facility
rebuilds brake shoes and calipers, and assembles disc pads and
loaded calipers.
The Canadian locations assemble disc pads and
rebuild brake shoes, formulate friction pucks and manufacture
IM pads and pucks.. They supports two Canadian distribution centers
located in Mississauga and Calgary, Alberta, which carry the full
line of Standard Motor Products parts.
In Manila, AR, EIS rebuilds
brake shoes, assembles disc pads, manufactures brake cables and
assembles new power brake boosters. We visited the Manila location
in late June and interviewed operations manager, Steve Suber,
who is also incoming chairman of the Automotive Parts Rebuilders
Association (APRA).
Suber has been in the brake rebuilding market
since 1971 when he started as a plant supervisor with Wagner Brakes.
In 1984 he made the move to EIS’ Manila facility, which at the
time was owned by the Parker Hannifin Corp. Suber has overseen
a transition from an 87,000 sq. ft. facility which in 1984 had
the capacity to rebuild 3,000 sets of brake shoes daily, to today’s
395,000 sq. ft. facility which produces 8,000 sets of rebuilt
brake shoes, assembles 10,000 sets of disc pads and manufactures
1,800 new brake cables, daily.
EIS’ Manila facilities consist of
approximately 110,000 sq. ft. of brake shoe rebuilding; 25,000
sq. ft. of brake shoe parts and core inventory; 50,000 sq. ft.
of disc pad assembly and parts inventory; 50,000 sq. ft. of overstock
return and processing space; 1,100 sq. ft. of brake cable manufacturing;
and about 159,000 sq. ft. of finished goods inventory. More than
300 people are employed in administration, manufacturing, sales
and distribution.
In addition to rebuilding shoes, assembling
pads and manufacturing new brake cables, the Manila facility also
distributes brake drums and rotors, processes core returns for
the Berlin, CT, plant and supports the Canadian warehouses with
additional 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 sales
are shipped from this location."

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Process improvement

Process improvement and cost reduction are ongoing priorities
at the Manila facilities. The plant has a goal of producing $2
million in process improvements which include everything from
plant layout enhancements to material cost reductions. Recently
the company implemented a cellular approach to the manufacturing
of its brake cables. Technical support for implementation of the
changeover was provided from local industry and community college
resources.

The changeover resulted in reducing the work area from 10,000
to 1,100 sq. ft, and employees from 10 to six. The change to the
"Kaizan" approach to work cells also reduced finished
good rejection rates from five or six percent to less than one
percent.

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Suber says that EIS plans on using similar manufacturing
concepts for its brake shoe rebuilding and its disc pad assembly
operations. The Manila plant is scheduled to complete a new layout
to accommodate increased production demand by late fall.

A tour through the existing operation,
however, reveals many equipment and material handling processes
which have already enhanced the plant’s efficiency, customer service
and quality levels. Following initial cleaning, shoe cores, for
example, are run through a $150,000 computerized Conklin core
sorting machine which employs ultrasound to measure the thickness
of the shoe’s web and table. Two cameras on the equipment also
check hole locations and diameters.

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Software on the equipment is designed to identify all customer
returns and then distribute the cores into one of 130 different
sort points. From here the cores are delivered to inventory for
future processing. Although an expensive initial investment, the
equipment resulted in substantial cost savings. Five employees
now do what formerly required 10 to 12 employees. And productivity
has quadrupled.

"The equipment provides us good inventory control,"
said Suber, "and it gives us a highly accurate core credit
printout for each of our customers." Such equipment is part
of the necessary investment a company of EIS’ size and customer
base 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.

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Following the sorting process, cores are put in a 17,000 sq. ft.
covered inventory area. The company scraps out about 7% of all
shoe cores processed, replacing them with about 50% new and 50%
replacement cores. The Manila facility carries close to 1 million
shoe cores in inventory.

The debonding of old friction material and degreasing of shoes
are accomplished in a high temperature conveyor/burnoff system.
Cores are fed onto a conveyor that travels through a three-stage
heating process. The system is equipped with an afterburner to
eliminate all visible emissions. Between 15,000 to 18,000 shoes
can be processed each shift.

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Immediately after the core preparation stage, shoes are shot blasted
and then run through Conklin automated shoe correction equipment.
The equipment essentially corrects distortion in the shoe resulting
from previous use or the cleaning process, and is required to
ensure that replacement friction material can be applied correctly.
The machines cost about $30,000 each, but they’ll process between
700 and 900 shoes per hour.

Depending on customer preference, shoes are then run through either
a clear or black dipping solution designed primarily to enhance
the bonding of the friction material to the shoe. The process
is an automated conveyor step which feeds the shoes into a dip
tank solution. Two adjacent dip tanks are on wheel tracks so that
they can easily be slid into place depending on which dip the
customer has specified.

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The combination of pressure, time and temperature is the key to
successfully bonding the friction material to the shoe. EIS has
designed its own unique patented bonding fixtures which provide
one of the strongest bonds of any rebuilt brake shoe. The fixtures
feature a spring design which presses the friction material to
the shoe with about 2,800 lbs. of force. The fixtures are used
on all shoe applications of nine inches and above.

All bonded brakes receive a "finish" grind which ensures
that the friction material will properly contact the brake drum.
One hundred percent of all riveted or bonded shoes are visually
inspected and stamped as "rebuilt," along with a date
code. The date code includes date of manufacture and specific
plant and inspector identification. Rivets used on pads and shoes
also 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.

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Disc pads are running at about 40% of capacity. Disc pads actually
account for 70% of all of EIS’ friction sales. The employees we
saw operating pad assembly equipment were capable of assembling
260 to 400 pads per hour, depending on whether the equipment was
of the single or dual riveting variety. Suber told us that EIS’
Ontario, CA-plant was also currently experimenting with automated
disc pad assembly equipment having the capacity to produce 900
to 1,000 pads per hour.

With both shoes and pads, EIS has implemented SPC (Statistical
Process Control) procedures. The procedures are an important ingredient
for ensuring that on each riveted pad or shoe the proper rivet
torque has been applied. The company is also working towards ISO
9002 certification, which it hopes to achieve by late fall of
this year.

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When speaking of quality control and ISO 9000 standards, Suber
said that as incoming APRA chairman he would like to see the association
become more involved in helping its members achieve such certification.
"ISO certification is something that we want to help APRA
members be able to achieve," said Suber. "We are looking
at the possibility of bringing an APRA staff member onboard who
can help our members reach it."

The association, continued Suber, has begun work on implementing
a five-year plan designed to provide expanded services for its
members over the long term. The plan’s focus will initially be
directed at providing training opportunities and technical information.
"Today, APRA is a proactive and dynamic organization,"
said Suber.

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Meeting customer needs

Of course, producing a quality product is
only part of the equation for success in the aftermarket. Developing
a product which the customer wants, and then pricing and delivering
that product when and where the customer wants it is just as important.

In some respects, EIS recently began bucking market trends by
developing an application-specific, high-end replacement pad.
Most players in the brake market will tell you that brake pads
and shoes are as much a commodity item as any. There has been
a lot of pricing pressure, many feel primarily due to large volume
retailers, which has lead to an increasing use of economy grades
of friction material on many replacement pads and shoes.

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Although EIS carries economy, premium and fleet grades of replacement
brakes, in October of last year it introduced an application-specific,
premium grade disc pad line. Suber said that the company has been
pleasantly surprised by the demand for its new Xtender QMX disc
pads.

"We’re selling more than 100,000 sets of the pads per month,"
said Suber. "Although there has been some erosion in our
premium 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 up
over 25%."

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Suber said that EIS sells the new line with a "no noise"
guarantee, providing coverage on about 200 part numbers – about
90% of disc pad demand by volume. When asked why he thought the
line is doing so well, Suber replied, "The noise reduction
actually works, and the consumer wants that; it also keeps the
installer 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 friction
formulas and compared them against test results on friction material
it had been using for years and that it knew performed well. "We
did a lot of dyno testing using a forerunner to the SAE J1652
test procedures on the new materials," explained Suber.

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"We worked with our friction suppliers to classify specific
vehicle platforms and the right friction material for each. We
worked to develop pads that would solve known problems such as
the noise on Chevy trucks, and on cars such as the Lumina which
sees brake temperatures around 800° F, in order to achieve
good wear and good noise control. These application specific materials
are very close to the OE formulas."

Suber says that 70% of all replacement brakes that the company
sells are of a premium grade friction material. However, realistically,
he notes that companies like his will likely always be required
to carry economy grades of replacement pads and shoes. It’s especially
important for WDs and their jobbers who are faced with serious
pricing pressure from large volume retailers.

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Keeping their customers competitive for a brake replacement
sale is an ongoing concern. EIS’ primary customer base are large
program WD groups such as IWDI, Auto Pride and Carquest, as well
as many small independent WDs. However, it also sells products
to a variety of co-manufacturers, retailers such as Northern Automotive,
and although a small portion of total sales, exports to 55 foreign
countries.

"Seventy percent of our friction sales is in our premium
lines," explained Suber. "I think the explanation for
that is that most consumers feel they should be installing a good
quality brake." But most parts stores and WDs want to carry
the economy lines of brakes with the opportunity to sell up to
a premium material. As far as traditional WDs and jobbers are
concerned, having an economy line of brakes not only prevents
lost sales, it increases the opportunities for sales of other
products.

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Said Suber, "As one of my WDs told me, ‘When a customer first
walks in and asks how much it is, you have to be able to offer
him a set of low-end pads or shoes or he might walk." But
Suber’s customer told him that from that point on he has the opportunity
to sell up to a premium grade of brakes, plus the opportunity
to sell other products. ‘Jobbers today don’t like to lose any
sales,’ Suber said his WD customer told him. ‘You have to carry
the economy grade to get or keep the customer in the store.’ "

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In many cases, Suber says he sees the demand for lower prices
continuing. So it is important that EIS do all that it can to
keep its WD customers competitive. "We give them the best
product for the money," said Suber. "But WDs have to
learn to sell up. And to do a better job at that we have to be
able to provide them, the jobber and/or the installer the information
and products to do it. We think that our new Xtender QMX line
is a good step in that direction."

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Suber says that although EIS’ primary customer base is traditional
WDs and their jobbers, there is no market that the company will
not compete in. The resources provided by a company like Standard
Motor Products help make that possible. "Standard Motor Products
has 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, program
group WDs will likely continue to offer EIS growth opportunities.
But there is no market EIS will not compete in. "We have
specialty sales forces designed to address the needs of specific
customers from the co-manufacturer to the retailer to the three-step
and two-step WDs to hopefully the OE in the future," said
Suber.

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"I think the success you have in any of those channels depends
not only on product quality, service levels and sales support,
but on how you structure the programs. I think that companies
that lose market share lose focus with their customers. We are
growing our market share in brake sales. We are being very aggressive
in our product offering and pricing."

Replacement service

Today, and over the long term, Suber feels
there will be fewer DIYers or shadetree mechanics able to complete
a brake job. He attributes that to the complexity of vehicle braking
systems on many new cars and trucks, especially on imports.

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"I think there are a lot of domestic cars in the market that
the shadetree mechanic can still work on," said Suber. "But
foreign cars with all their hardware, clips, etc., are harder
to do. On vehicles today the rotor always needs to be checked
and the hardware always needs to be changed in order to maximize
brake pad life and performance. I think it is hard to beat the
professional installer for getting the job done right."

But rest assured, even professional installers don’t always get
the job done right. An analysis of EIS warranty claims quickly
reveals some of the problem areas. Returns often display no visible
wear (the wrong part was ordered), or one pad is worn substantially
more than the other (the caliper piston was sticking) are common
"warranty claims."

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Despite the fact that the company offers a limited lifetime warranty,
total brake product returns amount to only about four percent
of sales. All warranty returns are 100 percent inspected when
received in Manila. Of total returns, only about 20 to 25 percent
are actually valid claims, and much of those returns are due to
the company’s limited lifetime warranty policy.

In general, driving costs out and profits up, while providing
the customer the products, programs and services necessary to
sell those products, is what every rebuilder is striving to accomplish.
EIS appears committed to managing its business along those lines.

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