European vehicle braking systems have finally received the attention that they have required for many years. Advanced Akebono brake technology has developed a solution for European vehicles that will keep their wheels shining and the noise to a whisper while still allowing the driver to experience the European performance they expect. These vehicle owners can now start their weekends with a quiet ride around town instead of a gruesome morning of scrubbing their wheels, before they even think of going anywhere.
Akebono Corporation, a world class supplier of brake systems that control noise, vibration and harshness, or NVH, through advanced Akebono friction technology, knows well the need to supply comfort to this segment of the motoring public. But it’s also an up and coming class of drivers called the “tuners” that has captured the attention of Akebono. This is a demographic, ages 16 to 35, that is purchasing Japanese imports and, to invoke 1950s hot rod slang, “souping them up” by adding racing seats, neon paint jobs, high performance engines and high-end wheels.
So it stands to reason that after such a high level of investment, one would expect a stellar brake system as well.
“Formulations with ceramics are the most capable friction material for controlling NVH,” reports Ken Selinger, product development manager. “This line keeps the wheels clean. These people are spending a lot of money on wheels; they don’t want dirt and noise – they want clean and quiet.”
Suffice to say, Akebono has earned its fame in the automotive world on the benefits of “clean and quiet.” This is because customer satisfaction rests on more than just pure stopping power. Braking noise, vibration and harshness, as well as brake dusting, are major concerns for virtually all motorists. This situation has been exacerbated by consumer demand for more responsive, performance-orientated steering systems, which result in the driver feeling any vibration in braking much faster than before. This is where the Akebono Corporation literally cranks up its engines.
Ceramic Friction Technology
A growing number of global automakers have recognized that ceramic friction formulated brakes are often the best option for smooth, assured, quiet braking under a variety of driving conditions. Akebono Corporation has over the past 25 years played an enormous role in the development and refinement of ceramic brake pad technology, resulting in increased performance advantages over traditional semi-metallic and other NAO products. Akebono has developed hundreds of unique ceramic friction formulations for controlling and/or eliminating brake NVH issues. Whereas a traditional semi-metallic friction formulation may have only eight raw ingredients, Akebono’s typical ceramic friction pad contains an average of 20.
On the OEM side, the company offers more than 350 ceramic formulations from which to choose and, explains Selinger, “these are constantly evolving without exception. In the Aftermarket program, the ceramic disc pad program uses over 18 friction formulations and each one is validated at the OEM level – not one of our competitors can say that.” These competitors, he adds, tend toward using the same material for the lightweight Corolla as well as to stop a one-ton truck. Because of this, “at some point each vehicle’s braking system is compromised,” he adds.
With 1,900 employees at its four North American locations the company manufactures, through its Akebono Production System (APS), a wide range of brake friction materials and foundation brake assemblies including disc brake calipers and drum brakes. This business approach features proven quality control techniques to guarantee minimal process variation in all phases of production. Embraced throughout the organization, APS enables the company to achieve nearly zero defects per million parts produced.
Braking the mold
First embraced by automakers in the 1990s, ceramic friction materials as original equipment are now featured by an estimated 40 percent of new vehicle models currently sold in North America. Akebono currently leads the field in this sector as the largest OE pad producer with approximately 30 percent market share in North America, and has joined with OEMs on some very popular programs. For example: Akebono partnered with Mercedes Benz for a special design on its E and S class vehicles. Explains Selinger, “Mercedes Benz came to us to solve the black dust and NVH issues. As a result this year we are on the E and S class; their braking system is now rated much lower than Japanese competition.”
Akebono Friction Technology has attracted some very large OEM accounts, such as GM and Honda. The Akebono North American group has also done business with Audi and Volkswagen on the A6 and A4 platforms, as well as the Passat and Jetta imports. Its Akebono friction technology can be found on the 300 Series Chrysler and Dodge Magnum as well as the GM truck platform. In fact, from 2000 to 2005 Akebono was the primary friction supplier to GM on light trucks and SUVs. “Once we demonstrated our ability, we were on nearly every GM car and truck,” Selinger says. The company also supplies brake pads for the new Ford Mustangs, various Acura models and Nissan’s Titans and Armadas.
“Virtually every car manufacturer in the world embraces Akebono technology,” Selinger says. “We have brake components on eight of the top 10 vehicles sold in North America.”
Akebono, needless to say, was quick to capitalize on the growing demand for ceramic formulated brake pads in the lucrative aftermarket sector, which by 2007 will account for 18 percent of the market. Spurred on by the growing demand, Akebono has introduced a European line of disc brake pads for European applications and a street performance line of disc brake pads for sport compact and “street tuner” applications.
“The European and sport compact markets both offered unique challenges for Akebono,” says Randy Mordue, director of aftermarket sales and marketing. “We saw the need to develop products that control brake dust and provide aggressive, high performance braking that are easy on wheels, rotors, and the expensive drilled and slotted rotors used on street performance vehicles. Akebono answered both needs, and has now expanded to three Aftermarket products, ProACT, EURO, and Akebono Street Performance Ultra-Premium Brake Pads.”
Akebono Ultra-Premium disc brake pads are a definitive upgrade to OE brake pads and perform well beyond competing brands. Akebono’s disc brake pads generate lower operating temperatures, promote improved vehicle control and extend the life of brake system components, while giving the driver a confidence-inspiring pedal feel.
A fleet solution
In addition to the performance market, Akebono has also recently developed a product line to cater to the massive North American fleet market. Akebono Severe Duty disc brake pads, set to be introduced in September/October, are specifically designed to survive and excel in the extreme operating environment found in fleet applications. These advanced severe duty brake pads lower fleet operating costs per mile and improve vehicle safety and control.
“Police, taxi, municipal and federal government fleets, commercial, limousine and other fleet operators are constantly searching for repair and maintenance alternatives that will perform as expected, extend service intervals and reduce costs and downtime,” explains Mordue. “Akebono Severe Duty disc brake pads give these customers a rotor-friendly, ceramic-based brake pad with improved stopping power and extended service intervals.”
“Typically with fleets you see higher vehicle weight operating loads that require more durable material, so the fleet can be operated at a lower cost – it also gives drivers a more pleasant driving experience,” adds Selinger.
Akebono Severe Duty disc brake pads generate lower operating temperatures, are rotor-friendly and eliminate pedal pulsation extending the life of brake system components. The new severe duty disc brake pads have an extended post-curing process eliminating the need for time consuming break-in procedures and are 100 percent shimmed, slotted and chamfered for further noise abatement. The resulting brake pad design offers extreme durability and delivers definitive NVH and disc thickness variation (DTV) control – significantly lowering cumulative brake service cost and increasing fleet operator satisfaction.
In January 2006 the company is planning to introduce another ceramic-based system for the medium- to heavy-duty truck market. “We benchmarked OEM suppliers and through their feedback developed materials ideal for vehicles of more than 14,000 pounds GVW, which are class 3-7 trucks,” Selinger explains.
The company’s claim to fame, and the product that has seen copycats from across the industry trying to develop something similar, is its Pro-ACT(r) ceramic disc brake pads, which have since set the standard in the marketplace. “We started penetrating the market using Pro-ACT,” Selinger adds, “now we’re seeing existing companies trying to copy our technology and reverse engineer it, but they can’t. Akebono invented the technology and perfected it.”
Put to the test
The company maintains three facilities in North America, including its headquarters in Farmington Hills, Mich., which is also home to the company’s extensive research and development engineering center. “We invest 7 percent of Akebono sales into R&D, more than two times that of the closest competition,” Selinger stresses. In conjunction with other Akebono R&D centers in Japan and France this facility develops advanced non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake friction technologies that optimize NVH performance and minimize brake dusting.
“We’ve made a significant investment and commitment to testing,” says Selinger. “To facilitate testing you need scientific excellence in terms of approach – it requires specific tools.” To this end the company has invested heavily in brake dynamometers, huge machines that help emulate real world vehicle braking situations. Akebono maintains 24 of these in the U.S. and 104 worldwide, and as Selinger points out, “Most of our competitors have one or two. We consider ourselves testing experts, just like our customers consider us.”
Being the first company to offer viable solutions to problematic NVH issues, which have been plaguing the industry for years, Akebono has made a name for itself as the originator of true ceramic technology in braking systems for OE channels in North American, and is widely known as the place to go for problem solving. It will no doubt hold this position for years to come. As Selinger maintains: “We intend to stay on the leading edge of brake technology.”