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1998 Market Update – Brakes: The Application Specific Bandwagon…The Buzzword Of The Aftermarket Brake Friction World Today

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Many in the brake rebuilding market are getting on the Application
Specific Bandwagon. It’s the buzzword of the aftermarket brake
friction world today.

"We’re going to have to be application specific because of
performance requirements coming out of testing procedures that
the Brake Manufacturers Council is working on," observes
Gil Laycock of the Friction Materials Standard Institute (FMSI).
As one who has been around the business for a number of years,
Laycock has seen the pendulum swing both ways. "Friction
materials used to be application specific way back when, but they
got away from that and tried to be all things to all people with
one material," he explained.

The proliferation of different sizes and configurations of not
only brakes but automobiles themselves has brought the need for
more specifically tuned aftermarket brake friction material formulas.
It has also given priority to the need for standards. Alan Morrissey,
a vice president of product development at Brake Parts, Inc.,
McHenry, IL, is one of many in the business who see it that way.
"I think the need for standards is a very large issue,"
said Morrissey. "The industry has to find a way to allow
the customer to know that they have safe brakes. As an industry,
we haven’t really done a good job with that."

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Like others, he’s not happy with the prospect of the government
setting the standards, which he thinks is a real possibility if
the industry doesn’t come up with its own voluntary ones. "The
difficult part, of course, is getting agreement among the various
manufacturers," said Morrissey. "There’s always a balance
between developing standards and the economies of those who see
it as a threat to their existence. But it doesn’t seem to make
a lot of sense that an industry that is essentially in the safety
business doesn’t have any safety requirements!"


Indeed, the fact that there never have been safety performance
standards governing aftermarket brake friction materials is something
that the motoring public is not generally aware of. But today,
manufacturers in this industry are making moves to develop at
least voluntary testing standards, with the goal of assuring the
public and the automotive business community that an attitude
of "anything goes" is not at work in this business.

Oddly enough, other aftermarket products such as tires, window
glass, certain lighting components, plus brake hoses and brake
fluids are mandated to meet the same standards as components supplied
on new cars. "When they wrote standards for those products,
they called them ‘equipment standards’ as opposed to ‘vehicle
standards,’ " pointed out Brake Manufacturers Association
director Jim Lawrence. "That means that the replacement parts
have to meet the same standards as original equipment."

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But for various reasons, that’s not the way it went for brake
friction material. "The reason has a lot to do with time,
money, politics and public reaction," said Lawrence. "Our
government is generally reactive, not proactive. If it had been
perceived as a safety issue, brake lining materials would have
been classified as equipment standards, too. But the incentive
for that just hasn’t been there in the past," he observed.

Obviously, competitors are reluctant to share information, which
sometimes results in imprecise terminology. At the Automotive
Parts Rebuilders Association’s (APRA) Brake Clinic held last spring
in Memphis, TN, engineering consultant James Trainor observed
that, "even the definitions of semi-metallic and non-asbestos
organic (NAO) friction materials are not consistent from producer
to producer."

Today, however, with the help of trade groups such as the Brake
Manufacturing Association, friction material manufacturers have
begun to support new, more sophisticated testing standards that
more accurately simulate what happens to brakes that are installed
on a car. What’s more, friction material makers are also using
independent, outside testing facilities to quantify the performance
of their materials in the areas of stopping distance, noise and
durability for specific cars or car platforms.

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Like technology itself, the history of testing and certifying
friction materials moves from the simple to the complex. "First
came the edge code, based on the Chase dynamometer test,"
said Jim Lawrence of the Brake Manufacturers Association. "It’s
still around, but it isn’t at all application specific."

"Several years ago we began testing to a standard specified
by Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J-1652, which used a
dynamometer to test friction materials that would go on almost
any car made," explained Lawrence. And he points out that
it was a tremendous step up from the old chase test, which used
a small section of friction material to test for durability, but
was incapable of yielding any information about a material’s reaction
to heat or resistance to fade.

But progress has been made in efforts to supplant J-1652 with
something better. "The trouble with J-1652 is that it uses
only one fixture, which tests the brake configuration used for
the General Motors B-car platform," said Lawrence. "It
was a wonderful, repeatable brake that’s been around since the
1970s, but not all brakes look like that any more. The GM B-car
brake was a big component, but it may not be at all representative
of the brakes that go on a Honda."

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Enter SAE 2430, which the SAE prefers to call a "recommended
practice" rather than a safety standard. It, too, is a dynamometer
test, but a far more sophisticated one that takes different size
brakes into consideration, as well as the ratio between how much
work is done by the front and rear brakes for various car models
and/or manufacturer’s platforms. At this point, it’s a self-policing
standard, meaning that compliance is voluntary.

The full development of the new standard/recommended practice
is probably at least a year away. But that hasn’t stopped some
of the major brake rebuilder and friction material suppliers from
developing and implementing tests that quantify just how application
specific their friction formulations really are.

"Our idea is to supply friction material (for aftermarket
brakes) that doesn’t degrade the performance of the braking system
that was part of the original design," commented Brake Parts’
Morrissey. To that end, they’ve worked with Greening Laboratories
in Detroit to develop their D3EA (for Dual Dynamometer Differential
Effectiveness Analysis) test that compares his company’s aftermarket
friction material with what the OE supplies for a given automobile.


"We send our materials to Greening to be independently tested,
and they come back with a ‘pass or fail’ report for use of a specific
formulation on a specific car," explained Morrissey. "And,
yes, we’ve had to change some of our friction materials over the
last two years because for certain applications the material we’d
chosen proved to be unsuitable."

Part number proliferation has created problems across the board
in the auto replacement parts business, and brake rebuilding is
no exception. However, rebuilders and friction suppliers we talked
to believe that while the number of new part numbers of disc and
drum shoes is still going up, the growth has leveled off somewhat
in the last few years. The accompanying chart on page 50 from
the Friction Materials Standard Institute (FMSI) illustrate that
these perceptions are correct.

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Another interesting bit of data from the FMSI is that of the 754
disc brake part numbers assigned over the last 14 years, 570 of
them, or 75%, are still "active," that is, they’re still
in the FMSI catalog. During that same 14 years, only 33% of the
734 drum numbers assigned are still in the catalog.


Understand, of course, that FMSI part numbers describe the configuration,
or dimensions, of a disc pad or shoe – not the friction material
that goes on it. FMSI director, Laycock, would like the part number
designations to include some way that would identify whether a
shoe uses an asbestos or NAO lining (semi-metallic shoe linings
are less common). "Theoretically, it could become an issue
when an installer throws a used shoe or pad in the trash,"
explained Laycock. "He could be throwing away asbestos material.
The discussion about that is still ongoing, without resolution."

ABS opportunities?

Another part of the brake rebuilding business that’s been without
concrete resolution is the matter of ABS brakes, and whether there’s
money to be made in rebuilding the systems that control them.
Many rebuilders seem to believe that there’s not much profit in
it, citing that the motoring public realizes that they can stop
their cars safely even if the ABS system is not functioning.

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At the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, Nabil
Nasr, who directs the school’s National Center for Remanufacturing
and Resource Recovery, has conducted a lengthy study that concluded
that remanufacturing ABS systems can be profitable. But there
are, he acknowledged, certain hurdles that have to be overcome.

"The bottom line is that it is economically viable,"
said Nasr. "But there are technical challenges that have
to be overcome to rebuild them correctly, mainly having to do
with the electronic modules. The average rebuilder will not have
the ability to reverse-engineer the electronic modules. Besides,
sometimes the manufacturers no longer make the chips, so a replacement
part is not available," he points out. Nasr believes a lack
of cooperation between rebuilders and the OEMs has been a large
part of the problem.


However, Nasr doesn’t agree that cars with malfunctioning or disabled
ABS systems are free of brake problems. "They’re supposed
to revert to manual, but we’ve seen many reports saying that it
doesn’t always work that way," he commented.

On the other hand, an Arizona brake rebuilder who also does a
fair amount of installation work says that most of the trucks
he sees have already had their ABS systems disabled. At least
in the world of trucks, Mark Johnson of Arizona Brake and Clutch
Supply, Phoenix, AZ, doesn’t think ABS is viable.

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"There’s a lot of different ABS systems for trucks, but as
far as I’m concerned, they’re still in the experimental stages,"
he said. "I don’t think there’s a proven system on the market,"
he said, adding that he foresees a day when it will be illegal
to disable a truck ABS system.

He also observed that trucks that are operating with a disabled
system that used old technology will have to be retrofitted. That
seems likely, especially when one considers the ongoing march
of electronics into automotive systems, and the fact ABS systems,
while not perfect, do prevent more injuries than they cause.

Joe Rhodes, president of Util Automotive, Inc., Conyers, GA, finds
it interesting that among the largest suppliers of OEM brake parts
are Robert Bosch Co. and Lucas Automotive. "Both of them,
along with the American supplier ITT, have their origins in electronics,"
said Rhodes. "So there seems to be a pattern developing that
brakes are going to be interrelated to electronics in the future."

Offshore factors

Imported aftermarket friction materials have been finding their
way into American and Canadian cars and trucks for a number of
years. People in brake rebuilding and related industries continue
to keep a watchful eye on competition from Asia. Brake Parts’
Morrissey has tested some of them and found them sub-standard,
which leads him back to the need for standards and standards testing.

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"Of course, when there are no standards, everybody makes
the assumption that all brakes are safe," Util’s Rhodes said.
"And then the only thing that defines the product is price.
But I know for a fact that some of these companies are not in
a position to be application specific, at all."

Util, an Italian based company, sees the competitive pressure
from China not so much as a challenge to quality but as a challenge
to the traditional distribution system that gets aftermarket brake
parts from the factory to the wheels of American cars. "We’re
seeing players from China who would like to sell lined shoes directly,"
explained Util’s Rhodes. "Right now it appears that they
need to establish a database on the numbers and volume, who’s
who in the business and so forth.

"They’ll go through a couple of years of this and if they’re
successful in establishing their infrastructure, they’ll go to
where they can make the most money," Rhodes continued, "which
will be the area closest to the installer. They’ve proven that
they have no loyalty to our distribution channels."

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The distribution channels and the number of players who participate
in them is another much discussed topic. Ed Nejdlik, plant manager
at E.I.S. Brake Parts, Manila, AR, compares the shrinking number
of small, regional rebuilders to the shrinking number of small,
mom-and-pop bakeries.

"There are several reasons, like the increased regulatory
requirements, and maybe there’s nobody left in the family who
wants to take the business over," said Nejdlik. "But
the customer base has changed, too, and with more and more mass
merchandisers and buying groups, the little guy just can’t compete
in the marketplace as it exists today."

Util’s Rhodes agrees. "If you’re not a big rebuilder, you
can’t do business with the big people (in terms of pricing and
volume), and your market evaporates," he observed. "You
can see by the number of people exiting this business that it’s
hard to make money in it."

But Rhodes ponders the reason behind the reason, and believes
the perceptions of the motoring public play a part in the situation,
too. "Retail customers for brake work increasingly want the
comfort of walking into a Goodyear or a Pep Boys where they can
identify with the perception of good service, warranty, etc.,"
he commented. "They’re not as likely to go to the independent
garage today."

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As in all business endeavors, there are changes and new products
on the horizon; some driven by the OEM and some the result of
companies trying to survive in the aftermarket brake business.
One change, apparently spearheaded by the OEM, is an effort to
reduce noise by the use of a refined NAO material that contains
ceramics and other exotic materials. According to reports, such
friction material is pricey. Meanwhile, aftermarket friction suppliers
are responding with similar new formulations, but there’s some
doubt whether the public will accept the price when its time to
replace their pads and shoes.

For example, Wagner Brake Products Brands, now a division of Moog
Automotive in St. Louis, MO, is developing what they’re calling
a Nonasbestos, Nonmetallic (NANOM) material. Bill Aymond, vice
president of the company’s friction product aftermarket division
points out that the OE’s number one problem is noise. He says
that this new, nonmetallic friction material all but eliminates
it.

"They’re trying to get away from metallic for reasons of
noise and rotor wear, too," Aymond said. Wagner’s new NANOM
product is not being marketed yet and Aymond admitted that he
can’t be sure about its acceptance in the aftermarket because
of its present cost.

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Meanwhile, over in McHenry, IL, Brake Parts’ Morrissey talks about
his company’s new aftermarket product, a nonferrous semi-metallic
friction material. "It’s basically a ceramic-based material,
and it does contain some copper, but no steel or iron," he
reported. "The OEMs are trying to reduce the incidence of
brake warranty work, so they’re willing to pay a higher cost up
front" (which will be hidden in the cost of a new car). "But
it’s one thing for car makers to save money on their new car warranties,
and another thing for the consumer to pay $120 for a set of pads.
We’re still figuring out exactly where we want to place this product,"
Morrissey said.

Meanwhile, according to Util’s Rhodes, some futurists are looking
down the road and seeing the emergence of totally electric disc
brakes at all four wheels, controlled by a computer-controlled
servo motor on each caliper! No doubt about it, the future will
be full of opportunities as well as challenges!

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