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Air disc brakes take centre stage at maintenance seminar

TORONTO, Ont. - The difficult and complex issue of disc braking systems was front and centre as members of the trucking community gathered at Toronto's Doubletree conference centre for the Canadian Fl...

TORONTO, Ont. – The difficult and complex issue of disc braking systems was front and centre as members of the trucking community gathered at Toronto’s Doubletree conference centre for the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars (CFMS).

The conference was an opportunity for fleet managers to discuss challenges and share successful best practices, as well as learn some strategies from the industry’s most notable personalities.

This was certainly the spirit of one particularly intriguing discussion on the contentious issue of disc brakes in the Canadian trucking landscape.

In what was an absolutely packed presentation, several representatives formed the basis of a panel discussion that delved into the details of what has now become a wide-ranging debate. Moderated by Jack Shantz, the panel consisted of Jim Pinder, who offered a fleet perspective; Matthew Williams, ArvinMeritor; Ned Fretwell, Bendix; and finally, Chitta Bera, of Haldex.

While each member brought to the table a slightly different take in the matter, the end message was clear: It’s time to invest in disc brakes.

Some North American fleet managers seem to cling to the belief that there has simply been insufficient testing to warrant a full-scale cross-over at this point.

But that view was contradicted by the panel, as they unanimously stood behind their various disc options, and emphatically defended their credentials.

“These brakes are new, and not new,” started Fretwell. “They have been in use since 1990 in Europe, where we sell 2.6 million of them every year. Put it in your heads, that Canada will not be the guinea pigs for disc brakes. It’s a process that has been fine-tuned in Europe, and in fact, we have 100,000 of them running here in Canada today.”

Bera echoed this sentiment, noting that currently Europe is running at around the 80% mark in terms of trucks employing the new disc braking systems over the outdated and inferior drums.

Further reinforcing the point was Pinder, who cited an Australian example.

“There is absolutely no doubt that this is the future,” he said. “For example, Australia started adopting the new systems in 1999, and when I was last there in 2005, OE manufacturers in that country such as Volvo and Mack were at around the 80% mark for disc brakes.”

The second major point that all of the panelists were able to agree upon, and for the most part, independently verify, was the superior stopping power of the new proposed system.

Taking the pending NHTSA stopping distance legislation as their primary touchstone, each panelist was able to show with striking similarity their own company’s detailed research into the stopping abilities of several different set-ups.

For example, for his part, Pinder was able to show dramatic improvements in not only stopping power, but longevity as well, which provides a solid ROI argument as well.

According to him, not only do the brakes provide superior braking, but also show an 86% improvement in rotor life compared to drum brakes, and an impressive 44% improvement in pad versus drum lining life.

Fretwell also noted some massive improvements in longevity, noting that through testing, they are finding their front pads and rotors are now likely to last for the entire lifecycle of the vehicle (a potential of some one- to three million miles) which is a far cry from the maintenance-heavy drum systems.

The issue of maintenance was also dealt with extensively by Williams, who demonstrated his company’s new single piston system, seen to be something of an evolution of the new disc system.

Designed to dramatically reduce maintenance and complexity, the system demonstrated by Williams employed 18 separate parts, down from the previous generation’s 39, which Williams equated to dramatically improved reliability.

On the whole, it would seem as though manufacturers today are realizing that the stopping power argument, despite being impressive, largely failed to convince fleet managers.

Their high cost, and uncertain dollars and cents issues clouded the argument and made is seem dubious.

With this recent presentation, it would seem as though the manufacturers themselves have shifted gears and sales tactics, to bring some new arguments, such as ROI, driver retention, and maintenance issues into the fold.

While it remains to be seen if these new approaches will strike the right buying bones on this side of the pond, the end result may be, in the end inevitable, given the direction of US domestic policies on stopping distances.

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