Chennai-headquartered Brakes India unveiled its hydraulic-assisted disc brake system, integrated brake control and other products at the recently-concluded Auto Expo 2018–Components Show. The new braking system improves braking stability and life, reduces weight and provides better ROI to customers. Sriram Viji, Deputy Managing Director, Brakes India, told T Murrali of AutoParts Asia in an exclusive interview that the company “has been focusing on improving efficiency, light-weighting and cost reduction”. Edited excerpts:
Q: How does the hydraulic-assisted disc brake system and its unibooster perform, and how does it provide effective braking by replacing the pneumatic air brake?
A: The concept is not completely new; it had been tried and used in certain segments globally. In a hydraulic system there is a vacuum booster that provides the boost required to generate the braking force at the wheel-ends. However, the booster has certain limitations on how much force it can generate, its size and how it could fit into the engine compartment.
We have taken the vacuum portion out and driven it hydraulically. The unibooster is driven by a hydraulic pump; all vehicles with power steering have a hydraulic pump. So instead of having it as a single pump for the steering system, it becomes a dual discharge pump that powers both the steering and braking systems. Since both are safety-critical the pump is designed to be robust. We leveraged the existing system in the vehicle without adding any weight to it using the hydraulic boost to drive the unibooster.
Q: Does the dual discharge need design modifications?
A: We have made the design modifications with the existing suppliers; we have an SOP, start of production, coming up with a customer in four or five months, we have already worked on the pump there.
Q: When the steering operation is on and braking is done; will not the load on the pump increase?
A: Yes, the rating on the pump is increased. We have a reservoir in the unibooster which allows to store accumulated pressure; it’s already field tested. The unibooster can be tuned to the requirements of the vehicle for the amount of boost in the ratio of 13:1 or 21:1 depending on the needs of the customer. The unibooster combines both the boost as well as the actuation of the traditional master cylinder into one, from where you have the hydraulic hoses and bundy pipes that take the fluid to the end-brakes. The extra range we are able to get in the vacuum booster is that it is effective up to six to seven-tonne vehicles, now can go up to ten tonne. It has performed well under overload conditions for the low and intermediate CV range.
Because you get this progressive feel from a hydraulic system it’s almost car-like braking. What that gives you is the confidence to go faster which means transit times are quicker. There are two big benefits: stability in high speed braking and good performance even under severe braking conditions. The fade is low and it’s very effective going downhill. Traditionally drum brakes perform well under certain conditions but under high stress and high heat, the fade reduces the braking effect and efficiency. Drivers have to compensate for this. We don’t want that sort of driver behaviour. We have tried to provide a more stable, high performing system under different load conditions. Disc brakes have less fade; they perform well at high speeds and temperatures.
Q: Have you eliminated the vacuum pump?
A: Exactly. The pneumatic drum brake itself is quite heavy with brackets, air chamber, etc. With this system lot of things in the vehicle get eliminated.
Q: What is the total weight savings?
A: It depends on the vehicle configuration. Typically, it would be about 100 to 120 kg at the vehicle level, for all four wheels with disc brakes as well as the unibooster incorporated with it.
Q: The moment the load on the compressor is reduced, it lessens the load on the engine; however, you have increased the rating of the hydraulic pump. So what kind of fuel economy will it translate into?
A: Technically there will be fuel saving though I don’t have the figures with me. Certain vehicles require a pneumatic system regardless of braking but many in the ICV range, especially load carrying vehicles, do not require it. When you save the 100-120 kg you can increase the load carrying capacity, save freight cost and have a shorter ROI since the incremental on-cost of the vehicle is low. Owners get an additional Rs 30,000 a year from the weight saved so the payback on the brake system will be in a matter of months.
Q: How service-friendly is this system?
A: As the number of systems goes down, you have fewer points for service. The end-callipers are proven global products of very robust design specifically prepared for high temperature use. Most mechanics know how to service it as it’s basically pad replacement.
Q: Does it go well with pads or both?
A: You can use a unibooster with drum brakes; callipers make it easier to service. As it’s a new product in the field we are working with OEMs to tell dealers how to service the part. Overall it would not require much service as kit replacement in the field would take care of it.
Q: The hydraulic chamber has a reservoir for the fluid. To what extent has its capacity been increased?
A: The hydraulic fluid reservoir serves as a buffer. The important thing is we need a fail-safe in case there are any issues with the discharge pump or any other system failure. We have looked at eight stops where you have enough fluid reservoir capacity to enable the driver to do that even without the system working in place. That’s the focus of the reservoir.
Q: Are you already in touch with OEMs?
A: Yes, we are actively working with two OEMs; one vehicle will be out in a few months while the other one is undergoing field tests for which we expect approval by year-end and SOP soon after that. It will be a 10-tonner in the ICV range.
Q: How can this eliminate the electronic stability control (ESC)?
A: IBC, the integrated brake control, does not go to the motor-on-wheel level. It is an integrated system that takes the existing vacuum booster and ESC system and combines it into one control unit with the motor which drives the hydraulic pump that provides pressure to the system. IBC is proven in field and in SOP globally with many more OEMs signing up for it.
Q: Coming to regenerative braking where the energy is stored while braking and then it is used; how does it happen here?
A: The braking system has to interface with the energy regen system where energy regeneration happens through the drive system. The motor drives the wheel-ends. When you decide to brake, you first do regen to the extent the motor battery charging capacity allows you to, and then you have to seamlessly transition from energy regeneration to active braking from the hydraulic system. IBC gives you a high level of modulation between pedal and control that gives a seamless experience of regenerative braking.
Q: From BS-IV to VI engine temperatures are going to rise by about 10 degrees. While the OEMs are able to manage and channelise it effectively, they are also looking at solutions that can be electrically driven instead of load taken from the engine. On this, do you have any solution for the OEMs?
A: For the braking system there are two sources of energy that are typically required – pedal force and vacuum. Vacuum generation is the one that is going away with the advent of electric vehicles as the engine is absent. What people are doing is to adapt a vacuum pump which takes away energy from the system; this is where IBC comes in. IBC comes in for light vehicles, SUVs and most passenger cars – it provides electric drive for the braking system as a boost. It does not require an extra vacuum pump that sucks energy away from the engine drive system. This is where we have a carefully modulated motor that is powered exactly when needed for energy saving from the engine system. On the CV side we still see the IC engines and air disc brakes playing in that space.
The other interesting thing we are looking at is the electric park brake (EPB). We have already done the SOP in India for this; it will be the first domestically manufactured EPB in India; we have done it for the JEEP Compass. We have worked with the ZF global team to arrive at the price for a single solution of the product. This is a huge value-add to the end-customer, taking electric drive on the brake for parking, thereby saving lot of space in the engine compartment. The control system becomes very flexible; it allows you to do safety and convenience features. From the safety perspective you have automatic wheel lock when the door is open and automatic downhill descent control.
Q: As the CEO your job is to enhance the content per vehicle. So what are the options you have, the directions that Brakes India is going into?
A: There are many things in the braking system which have been there for many years. There we are focusing on improving efficiency, light-weighting and cost reduction. Where we think we can add value is in efficiency gain and light-weighting; we are looking at aluminium components that give overall value addition. At the end of the day when you increase content per vehicle what you have to see is whether you are increasing value and reducing cost; what is the return for the end-customer?
From the megatrends viewpoint there is electrification, where you lose some components in the vehicle as they become inefficiencies. At IBC we are integrating the vacuum pump into a simple motor; we are combining the ESC and boost systems into one. The value of that is higher than a traditional vacuum booster but at the system level it’s actually a cost-down on the overall vehicle. We are integrating auxiliary systems into the brake system.
Also, EPB allows the OEM to create far more space in the cockpit that helps to de-clutter it. It allows them to remove all the linkages between the hand brake and the rear brake, saving space and weight along the whole way and provides a full set of safety and convenience features that add to the value proposition. Though EPB is a cost up, it’s a big feature that provides flexibility to the OEM; we are trying to optimise it further.
Autonomous driving is the other big megatrend with braking one of its integral components that interfaces with all the sensor systems in the car. ZF has a portfolio that includes radar, monocam, tricam – they have a very strong presence in the global electronic space with products that interface with both the steering and braking systems to add value to the customer.
Q: Is IBC a part of ZF?
A: IBC is a ZF local product right now; it’s not in production in India. We are working with ZF to sensitise customers to IBC, as well as ADAS and ESC. Going forward we will work closely with them to bring these to market.
Q: Can you give an update on your manufacturing facilities?
A: Brakes India has grown quite a bit in the last five to six years. In Tamil Nadu we have plants at Padi, which is the corporate office, and Sholinganallur with foundry and CV braking and friction manufacturing. Pollambakam, south of Chennai, is the largest calliper plant in India which makes close to six million callipers annually; we also have some CV and drum-brake production there. We have another mother plant in Gujarat, south of Vadodara; it’s a calliper manufacturing facility that supplies to Tata Motors, Ford, Suzuki and some of the customers in the western region. That plant has scaled up very fast in the last few years. We have satellite assembly plants in Pune, Chakan, Bawal, Uttaranchal, Sitargunj and Lucknow. Jamshedpur is an assembly plant that we are making into an integrated CV brake manufacturing plant.
Q: Which are the segments you cater to?
A: For SUVs it is the full range. For CVs it is from the small commercial vehicles all the way to the 49T tractor-trailers for off-highway. We have a large share of both the dry and wet track-turn segment.
Q: How is your aftermarket business?
A: The aftermarket has seen quite a bit of turmoil this year. Implementation of GST created confusion in the supply chain. There is strong demand in the aftermarket. Our TVS Girling brand and Apache Friction are recognised for quality and availability in the market. There are models in the market than 10 years ago, and good demand in small towns and rural areas. GST has highlighted the sources of demand since we are not trading between states. With distributors our reach has been good.
From the friction pad side, which is also a big segment for us, the Apache brand name has really won lot of recognition. We have now differentiated also in the marketplace based on the type of vehicle. We are also cognisant of the fact that there are customers who want slightly lower price points; we have friction grades to meet that, in some cases providing additional life.
Q: What is the footprint like? How many touch points do you have?
A: We work through our distributors like TVS, Madras Auto Service, Sundaram Motors, IMPAL, Jullundur Motor Agency, Central Auto Parts, Associated Auto Parts; we have multiple distributors across the country and we have about 200 branches now.
Q: Do you see opportunities for remanufacturing?
A: We have looked at reman on-and-off. There are some credibility issues with reman parts as there are other parts in the market from local suppliers with brands which have had problems. Reman still has a bit of stigma in the Indian market; it becomes far more attractive when you do full assemblies. The Indian market is still not there; they are still geared to replacement of rubber parts, kit replacement of springs and certain other parts that fail in the field. Reman will pickup in the Indian market with more sophistication, more garages and when mechanics go in for full part replacement.
Q: For the CV segment it should really take-off as lot of resources are wasted.
A: Yes, but I think the market is quite efficient about not requiring a full replacement part.
Q: Do you see other issues that are also hampering reman like the reverse supply chain?
A: The reverse supply chain will be a huge issue in India. I think without the organised market being there, getting the parts back in a state where you can do reman will be a problem. But demand is still not there, we just don’t see full replacement happening often enough.
Q: Would you also source parts from other companies for your aftermarket distribution?
A: Our brand is focused on safety in the braking space; we have stuck to that. We also have a clutch business that we are well known for; we don’t want to get too tangential to that in the aftermarket. In the TVS group we have companies that focus on many different areas, and the distributors themselves carry many lines. For us to enter a different space is not practical.