The conference was held this year in New Orleans, LA. The three-day event was a “can’t miss” event for the brake industry. This year, some of the focus was put onto what happens to brake systems after the systems leave the confines of the showroom floor.
What was amazing is the openness and candor of the engineers when talking about what they are researching. Recording the sessions is banned, but most presenters offered a paper to their peers for review. We are not talking trade secrets, but this is the type of information that can save some companies millions of dollars and the chance of heading down a dead end. But the greatest benefit is giving the driving public the safest possible vehicle to drive.
The sessions were also a chance for aftermarket brake companies to see what is coming their way in the far and very near future. What is in store for shops did scare me at times, it also gave me hope that more OEMs are considering what happens to the brake system long after the warranty has expired.
I had the chance to be on a keynote panel with editors from Consumer Report and Car & Driver. We were also joined by an executive from JD Power. We focused on what happens after a vehicle is released to the public and how the brakes are judged. I was charged with representing the aftermarket and how technicians evaluate a vehicle’s brake system and replacement parts.
One topic that peaked the interest of some of the engineers was serviceability issues in the aftermarket. Some engineers were even curious to find out how some shops were dealing with electronic parking brake systems and inquired how they could make the systems easier to service and disable. Another engineer was curious about how some technicians are dealing with lateral runout and if issuing an extremely low spec was helping technicians.
New Rotor Technology
The engineers at the Colloquium gave me a new appreciation for rotors. I never realized how much a rotor’s materials, design and surface can influence the overall friction characteristics of a brake system. Most of these new technologies focus on making a lighter and quieter rotor that can last longer.
Several presentations focused on technologies that will enable manufacturers to cast rotors in different metals for the hat and plates. These new designs can reduce the mass of the rotor in the hat while allowing the plates of the rotor to be cast of metals that do the best job of creating friction. The Cadillac CTS-V is using this technology for the Brembo brake package. But, some these rotors will find there way onto more economical vehicles.
One of the most interesting presentations was on a “dampened steel” rotor. Imagine a solid rotor with an inner core material that absorbs certain noises and frequencies. This has a lot of potential if the rotors can be manufactured economically.
One of the best-attended sessions addressed how to make rotors last longer and less prone to corrosion. Many of these new treatments and alloys are more than skin deep. New treatments are coming to the market that will prevent corrosion of not only the hat, but the friction surface. These new treatments will also improve the rotor’s friction surfaces and reduce disc thickness variation.
I learned a lot about noise and how noise is produced and eliminated at the engineering level from the engineers at the Colloquium.
Much of the material was over my head, but some of the findings left me with a better understanding of how noise complaints can be addressed at the shop level.
The latest tool many engineers are using is called a laser-vibrometer. The expensive tool is basically a camera that can take a picture of a brake system and determine where certain vibrations and frequencies are being produced.
What really peaked my interest were some of the laser vibrometer pictures of front brakes and how much sound and vibration was generated by the caliper bracket. As technicians we put so much effort in cleaning and lubricating the body of the caliper, but most of the noise/vibration is generated by the rotor and transferred into knuckle and caliper bracket. The bracket can also be excited at the same time by the pads. This information made me think twice about how I inspect and service caliper brackets in the future.
One of the hottest topics with engineers was solving grunt, groan and grind brake noises. You may think that they would focus on friction materials, but most of the conversation was about strut, sub-frame and control arm mounts. It turns out that the design of some lower control arms and upper strut mounts can make a vehicle more prone to produce noise. The advice of the engineers was to make sure the mounts and bushings are in good condition. So, if you have a customer in the shop concerned with a low-frequency noise that happens when the brakes are applied, look at the rubber bushings and mounts first.
No More Vacuum Boosters
With engines becoming more efficient, one item drawing the attention of the OEs is the vacuum brake booster. With direct injection and improved measurement of the fuel/air charge in the combustion chamber, the vacuum draw of the brake booster is creating a new inefficiency.
But the vacuum booster still has a place on the modern vehicle until the OEMs can engineer systems that can offer the same levels of safety and redundancy.
Bearings and Seals
With new fuel efficiency standards on the horizon, engineers are looking atthe drag produced by the bearings and seals. But, OEMs are also demanding that bearings last longer and have tighter tolerances. Drag, sealing and longevity are three characteristics that almost work against each other. The solution for this problem will be innovations in bearing a seal lip designs.
Hoses and Hydraulics
One area of improvement engineers are exploring is brake hose and lines. In order for brake systems to become more efficient, many OEMs and brake system suppliers are looking at reducing the expansion of brake lines.
More rigid lines can create better brake pedal feel. Also, more rigid lines make ABS and stability control corrections more predicable.
Sitting in these sessions one thing became evident, engineers and technicians are in the same boat. Both parties face the same expectations from the driving public of quiet and safe brakes. As much as you may curse an engineer every time you skin your knuckles, they are up against the same challenges.