Vehicle hydraulic braking systems could go the way of the AM radio antenna if Chassis Brakes International, which has its North American headquarters in Farmington Hills, has anything to say about the matter.
Chassis Brakes demonstrated its new Smart Brake system — a fluid-free, brake-by-wire system — at an industry meeting last winter in Sweden. There is no set timeline for bringing the advancement to market, but in the age of electronics, driver assist, electrification, and autonomy, its adoption likely is near.
The company’s Smart Brake platform replaces the entire hydraulic braking system (including brake lines, master cylinder, and modulator) the industry has been using for decades. In its place are sensors, wires, software, and motors.
“We’re basically taking out the hydraulics and activating the brakes electronically,” says Flavio Guacelli, president of the Americas for Chassis Brakes. “A signal from the command center (in a vehicle) signals all four brakes when and how to brake. It’s revolutionary for us.”
Guacelli says the system still has to go through regulatory approvals necessary for an automotive safety system, but he’s confident the offering will not only pass muster, but provide multiple advantages for automakers and drivers alike.
For manufacturers, installing, calibrating, and testing an electronic system is simpler than a hydraulic system, according to the company. Also, it’s easier to integrate features like automatic braking with a fully electronic system.
“With a hydraulic system, in an automatic brake situation, you have to send a signal to bypass the hydraulic system to activate the brake,” Guacelli says. “By removing the hydraulics, it’s more efficient, it’s streamlined, and it’s safe.”
An electronic system has a faster reaction time from the time a pedal is depressed to brake actuation, which means the ability to stop is greatly improved. There are other advantages, as well.
“Most people don’t hit the brakes hard enough to activate their vehicle’s anti-lock braking system,” Guacelli says. “With Smart Brake, the car’s anti-lock feature will be much easier to activate. It’s a streamlined operation, all electronic instead of mixing electronic with hydraulic.”
Moreover, as hybrid-electric, all-electric, and autonomous vehicles become more prevalent, electronic systems like Smart Brake make more sense, according to Chassis Brakes. “We think brake-by-wire is good for any car, but clearly for autonomous and electric cars, there’s a foundation there that makes the implementation much easier,” Guacelli says. “Hybrids and electric cars have all the enablers to apply this technology.”
Until the industry is ready to adopt a fully electronic braking system, Chassis Brakes is launching an automated parking brake (APB) system that has more than 33 percent of the global parking brake market but only 15 percent of the North American market.
“In today’s traditional parking brake systems there’s a lever or a pedal to engage the parking brake,” Guacelli says. “The beauty of the APB is that it becomes an electronic feature. It can be activated with the push of a button, or automatically when the car stops or the transmission is put into park.”
APBs eliminate the need for mechanical parking brake levers and pedals inside vehicles, along with lengthy cables and levers under the hood. The latter would simplify the assembly process and remove the need for parking brake adjustments and pre-sets.
“We believe that as the market grows, our market share will grow with it,” Guacelli says. “I think the North American market will grow to 35 percent in a few years. This will allow us to be a bigger player in this space.”
Chassis Brakes has been a formidable presence in the traditional brake market for more than 90 years, first as part of Bendix, followed by Allied Signal, Bosch, and now Netherlands-based KPS Capital Partners.
In addition to electronic parking brakes, the company produces disc brakes and drum brakes for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. It has operations in Europe, Asia, India, South Africa, Mexico, and the U.S.
Chassis Brakes has annual global revenue of about $1 billion, and 3 percent to 4 percent of its sales are funneled back into R&D for products like the Smart Brake system.
The company currently supplies traditional front and rear caliper brakes to two North American-built Daimler vehicle platforms and one Ford Motor Co. platform from its manufacturing facility in Mexico. Next year, two more Ford platforms will be equipped with Chassis Brakes products, “and we’re hoping to add additional platforms with other manufacturers,” Guacelli says.
Chassis Brakes says even its traditional products offer advantages over other braking systems.
“They self-balance, allow for minimal drag, and wear less because there’s a mechanism that retrieves the pad from the rotor when the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal,” Guacelli says. “That causes less friction, less wear and tear, and better performance. This helps with fuel economy and longevity of the pads themselves.”
Guacelli is bullish on Chassis Brakes’ future in the North American market. “The evolution of vehicles — with more electronics and with manufacturers requiring more value-added products — is coming in our direction,” he says.