Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2010   by Auto Service World

Copper Issue to Dominate Year for Brake Manufacturer Council’s New Chair

“Pennies from heaven” is some folks’ idea of a fantasy; copper in their water is not.

And as newly minted chair of the Brake Manufacturers Council, Rick Jamieson will have his hands full dealing with precisely that issue, as successive U.S. states capitalize on the early success of environmental lobbies in California and Washington to drastically reduce copper content in brake friction.

Jamieson, CEO and chief growth officer of ABS Friction, Guelph, Ont., says that the issue had been expected to take some time to come to the forefront, but it has exceeded both the industry’s and the council’s expectations in how fast it has reached the legislatures. And that has made the decision by the BMC to become part of the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association look like sheer genius.

“There are lots of issues for the BMC, but now as part of MEMA it is a much stronger organization. MEMA has a very strong government affairs group, and we have lots of issues to deal with at the government level.”

Jamieson says that although he has a personal stake in the the issue of standards for the brake industry, until recently it had not been a focus for the BMC. The U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) has been looking at the issue, but up to now has had its hands full on the recall front (most notably Toyota), leaving the BMC and its MEMA colleagues and industry members to deal with the copper issue primarily on their own. Yet it’s serious enough that it could potentially affect the brake industry in ways similar to the asbestos eradication that occurred decades ago.

“Washington State has passed a bill effectively limiting the use of copper, and there is now pending legislation in California. We’ve talked about it being a long way off; well, it’s happening now.” Now that the language of a bill has been settled on, says Jamieson, other states will find it easier to launch their own bills.

“There are four states now; by next year at this time, we could be looking at 14.”

The copper issue has itself been under study for at least 15 years. A study completed in 1995 stated that 35% of the copper found in San Francisco Bay originated from brake pads.

The basic direction of the bills is to limit the content of copper in brake pads to 5% by 2025, and 0.5% by 2032. The issue for brake manufacturers, and the BMC, is that some formulations can have as much as 20% copper in their formulations, which essentially means going back to the drawing board to create formulations that meet legislative and environmental imperatives and still deliver a safe product for consumers.

“The industry view is that getting to 5% copper is doable. Getting that down to 0.5% is equivalent to scheduling an invention.”

Affinia’s Terry Heffelfinger was one of those at the forefront of getting this point across to the California Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. Heffelfinger testified that the 2025 deadline specified in the bill does not allow suppliers and vehicle makers to collaborate in the introduction of acceptable new brake systems that meet customer expectations for stopping power and brake system performance. Due to vehicle design lead times, that deadline would effectively mean that formulations would have to be ready by 2012. He proposed that the committee consider a timeline that allows for sufficient R&D to test, validate, and verify the manufacture of safe and effective brake materials. He also testified that the difficulty in reducing formulations to the 0.5% level might result in unforeseen problems, and that an “off-ramp” to assess these issues should be included.

“Terry did a great job and really made them understand how safety has to be first and foremost for brake pad manufacturers, and the environment has to be number two. He spoke quite passionately on the subject,” says Jamieson.

For Jamieson’s part, while the copper issue will keep him on the road over the next year, he says that the initiatives brought forth as a result of the copper issue have already led to successes for the BMC.

“The biggest challenge is just that we needed to have the whole industry saying, what does it really mean?, keeping everyone together and building consensus so that we always tell the story the same way. And it helps us get our safety message out too, because we can say that we need to have a car safe from the time it rolls off the assembly line to the day it ends up at the scrapyard.

“I think our success will be if we can make sure [state legislation is created in a way that] allows people a good balance among all the various parties involved.”

And, he adds, the big success has already been added to his personal win column.

“I think we have already had success: getting to be part of MEMA. I know when my term is up in a year’s time I am already going to be very happy, because I was the guy who proposed we do this anyway.”