Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2013   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Race Is On For Low-Copper Friction

Manufacturers of automotive friction are starting to market new brake formulations to meet low-copper standards

Automotive friction makers are beginning to announce new low-copper friction for the aftermarket in the ongoing effort to meet the ‘Better Brake Laws’ announced in some U.S. states.

‘Better Brake Laws’ were first announced in California and Washington State. The legislation mandates the reduction of heavy metals and copper. Copper is known to cause damage to certain kinds of fish and sensitive watersheds, lakes and rivers. The laws have broad industry support, with the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, Brake Manufacturers Association and the Heavy Duty Brake Manufacturers Association giving their support to the initiative.

All the producers of automotive friction have agreed to participate in a self-certification process where they will have an industry-sponsored registrar that will ensure a third-party lab will determine the compliance of the submitted friction materials meet with the legislative requirements. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has worked with industry members to create an industry standard for markings that will appear on the packaging of automotive friction, a Three Leaf design that will clearly identify friction materials as being low-copper.

“While the legislation is state-based, it actually has global implications since brake manufacturers and vehicle OEMs are expected to introduce new, compliant formulations across all markets,” says Chris Battershell, director, braking North America, Federal-Mogul Vehicle Components segment, makers of the Wagner brake line of friction.

“The initial compliance level — identified as Level ‘A’ by the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association [AASA] and Brake Manufacturers Council — regulates cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and asbestos. Level A compliance is required by January 2014 in California and January 2015 in Washington State. The next level of compliance — Level ‘B’ — is required by January 2021, and covers all of the Level A metals as well as copper, which must be reduced to less than five per cent of material content by weight [“low copper”]. The final level of compliance — Level ‘N’ — reduces copper content to less than 0.5 per cent of material weight [“zero copper”]. The deadline for Level N compliance is January 2025.”

While the transition to low-copper friction is being rolled out in phases, friction makers have already started to bring out low-copper products to the market, says Terry Heffelfinger, vice-president, product development R&D/quality with Brake Parts Inc., maker of the Raybestos line of friction. The challenge for friction makers is that in moving to new formulations one has to keep the same qualities in the new low-copper friction material that vehicle owners have come to expect from today’s high-quality ceramic friction, which is low noise, stopping power and wear. Anything less will not be tolerated by vehicle owners or installers.

At AAPEX/SEMA this year, Brake Parts Inc. announced the Element 3 brake friction with Enhanced Hybrid Technology (EHT), combining the best attributes of ceramic and semi-metallic into one brake pad formulation, offering vehicle owners a combination of quiet performance and durability, and reducing the ­copper.

“In the past you had NAO, Ceramic or Semi-Met,” says Heffelfinger. “What we have done is combine the best of both worlds, of semi-metallic and ceramic. Semi-metallic has certain advantages and ceramic has certain advantages. What we have done is come up with Element 3 with Advanced Hybrid Technology. What we had done is come up with a new friction formulation that is environmentally friendly, is compliant up to the 2021 [Level B] regulation for copper in Washington State and California. It delivers on the stopping power and braking control. It has great pedal feel and provides no-noise.”

Heffelfinger adds Brake Parts Inc. put its Element 3 through rigorous real-world tests and industry standard tests in order to show that the low-copper formulation meets consumer and industry performance measures. Element 3 went through a range of Dyno validations, such as SAE J2784, was used on domestic, foreign name-plate and fleet vehicles and benchmarked on noise, braking, wear and groan measures.

“The analogy that I would use is that when we began to take asbestos out of brakes 15 years ago we came out with non-asbestos organic materials that did not work so well,” Heffelfinger continues.

“There were pulsation issues, and the performance and stopping power was not there. That is why we have done over a million miles of road testing, put [Element 3] on all kinds of different vehicles and fleets across the country, and tested on all the standards in the industry to prove that it is as good a product as we say.”

Wagner Brake recently introduced 2021-compliant low-copper formulations — known as Wagner OE21 — now available in Wagner Thermo­Quiet CeramicNXT brake pads. The Level B LeafMark designation, indicating full compliance with 2021 requirements, is now being added to Thermo­Quiet CeramicNXT packaging.

Bosch announced at the AAPEX/SEMA show in Las Vegas a new set of copper-free ceramics for its Quiet­Cast line of friction. According to the release given at the show to the automotive press, the new materials will meet the highest performance standards and will be introduced in the first quarter of 2014, well ahead of the 2025 deadline.

“As a manufacturer, we make sure that low-copper brake products have the same characteristics as our copper brake product line in terms of quality, fit, form, function and performance,” says Ramzi Yako, president of ProMax Auto Parts Depot Ltd.

“We are supplementing ingredients in our formulation that are harmful to our environment with environmentally-friendly ingredients that should not have any effect on the quality of the performance of the brake pads. Drivers or installers should not be concerned by removing copper from the formulation. We have other ingredients that we can use to replace copper. We are already testing product with low-copper and test results have showed no loss in quality of performance.”

“Wagner ThermoQuiet CeramicNXT brake pads, with Wagner OE21 technology are our best brake pads ever,” says Federal-Mogul’s Battershell. “We’re confident that as technicians and consumers learn about the advantages of these new pads, they will want to quickly transition to low-copper technology. These formulations are 35 per cent quieter and provide 15 per cent more stopping power and up to 40 per cent greater fade resistance than our previous Wagner ceramic formulations.

“Wagner brake engineers developed an advanced tribological ‘fingerprinting’ process that enabled us to map the dynamic properties of copper in a full range of operating conditions and then identify alternative materials that provide superior NVH control, improved stopping power, reduced fade and outstanding dusting characteristics,” says Battershell.

“So by recommending Wagner ThermoQuiet CeramicNXT brake pads featuring OE21 technology, the service writer can focus on these proven performance benefits. That’s a compelling message for any vehicle owner.”

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