Brake producers moving forward in quest to quit copper as an ingredient

Oct. 22, 2014
New regulations limiting the copper content of brake components – including a provision that took effect at the beginning of this year – do not put a stop to selling and installing industry products already on the marketplace.

New regulations limiting the copper content of brake components – including a provision that took effect at the beginning of this year – do not put a stop to selling and installing industry products already on the marketplace.

“Existing inventories don’t need to be discarded, returned, exchanged, sent back or repackaged,” says Frank Filipponio, communications director for Centric Parts/StopTech.

“There is a lot of confusion in the market right now about compliance with the law, and it has led to some misinformation about existing inventories,” he notes.

“The most immediate change is in labeling. All brake pads and shoes manufactured after January 1, 2014 are required to have appropriate labels indicating compliance with state regulations regarding friction material compounds,” says Filipponio.

“However, a key provision of both the California and Washington State legislation grants motor vehicle manufacturers and distributors, wholesalers and retailers of replacement brake friction materials the right to continue selling brake friction materials manufactured prior to Jan. 1, 2014 in order to deplete current inventories. So products currently in inventory are exempted.”

Filipponio says that “all of our current brake friction products, both consumer and performance, already meet the requirements through 2020. Also, the vast majority of our products also meet the new regulations that kick-in in 2021.”

Other manufacturers, such as Wagner, Bosch and Raybestos, are equally eager to assure the industry that their offerings are on the road to full compliance with the complex regulatory changes being promulgated.

Copper, which does a great job of speeding along curing while handling the heat generated during the stopping process, became a popular brake ingredient as efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s effectively put an end to asbestos content because of its health hazards.

Copper consequently became a culprit when authorities determined that minute copper dust particles being dropped onto roadways were washing via rainfall into streams and rivers, creating havoc with sensitive wildlife by impacting the aquatic plant and fish food chain.

“People don’t necessarily understand the environmental impact, but it’s a real thing,” says Filipponio.

Recipes for alternatives

“Because of its unique structure and makeup, copper has been the primary substrate used in friction materials to improve the dissipation of thermal energy, helping prevent fade as brake temperatures go up,” explains Dr. Poh Wah Lee, Centric’s director of friction materials sciences.

“The goal is to find a suitable replacement formulation that will improve friction performance characteristics over a wide range of driving conditions,” he adds, citing the quest for stable permeability, consistent pedal performance, improved pad and rotor life, and low noise, vibration and harshness.

As state legislators in California and Washington began putting the kibosh on copper in the 1990s, the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) – a division of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) – spearheaded industry efforts to ease the consequences. The BMC is especially intent on avoiding a patchwork of differing state laws as its member firms voluntarily seek viable alternatives to copper.

“It is unfathomable that a manufacturer in any industry sector would produce high-volume products differently from one state to the next. This is certainly true of the brake friction industry,” says MEMA Senior Vice President Ann Wilson.

“Brake manufacturers are already investing in research and development to produce materials compliant to California and Washington laws. These products will be rolled out nationwide, not just in the states required. Additional state laws requiring compliance aren’t necessary,” according to Wilson.

“The manufacturers of friction products represented on the BMC are committed to compliance and development of the next generation of brake products. These businesses annually invest significant portions of their corporate budgets in research and development of products that are safe and protect the environment,” she says.

Filipponio says Centric’s new Friction Materials Laboratory, which began operations in October, “almost looks like a test kitchen.” Located next to the engineering department at Centric’s facility in Compton, Calif., the lab contains a mixer, stove and oven along with an array of brake-oriented scientific equipment and other diagnostic devices.

“We are using the lab to analyze, manufacture and test new friction materials much more rapidly in-house,” Filipponio says. “With the new lab, all of our new friction formulations are being mixed, molded and cured on the spot – allowing us to run samples on our newest brake friction dynamometer in a matter of hours. Along with our three existing Link brake dynamometers, the new Chase style of dyno (also produced by Link Engineering of Plymouth, Mich.) and all of our on-car data recording equipment, the lab is allowing us to fully support continuous improvement,” he says.

Developing compliant technology

In May, Federal-Mogul’s Wagner Brake division premiered a technical video for repairers and other aftermarket professionals portraying the global implications of the various mandates requiring reduced copper levels.

“We continue to extend our leadership in low-copper technology with a number of first-to-market 2021-compliant brake pads for late-model vehicles,” says category director Chris Battershell. “As the market leader, we feel it is important not only to explain why low-copper legislation is affecting all parts and service providers, but also to detail the significant performance advantages of our new, compliant technology.”

Introduced last year, the company’s line of Wagner ThermoQuietCeramic CeramicNXT replacement brake pads features OE21 low-copper friction qualities. Battershell says that by 2015 more than a million original equipment vehicles will be equipped with Federal-Mogul’s low- or zero-copper pads.

Bosch is using copper-free ceramic material in its premium-grade QuietCast line of braking products, providing full coverage for domestic, Asian and European cars, vans and SUVs.

“In fact, many of Bosch’s semi-metallic formulas already meet this 2025 requirement,” says product manager Robert Backode, noting that the company “is well on the way to having our entire braking portfolio be compliant with this future regulation.”

Brake Parts Inc. (BPI), which produces the Raybestos line, has been exploring alternatives that include fiberglass, Aramid and Kevlar fibers to ensure driving safety and environmental stewardship while shielding installers from any regulatory repercussions.

BPI is “actively engaged” at its R&D Center in Winchester, Ky. as it develops new low-copper or no-copper friction materials. “We already have a no-copper formula in production, and our semi-metallic brake pads already meet the requirements for 2025,” says Vice President Terry Heffelfinger.

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