Echuca brake brothers bringing Aussie invention to market

Image: supplied

Tested in demanding NASCAR and Touring Car racing environments, an Australian brake rotor innovation is ready for the market, according to the company behind it. Brent Balinski spoke to OzBrakes’ Colin Lagoon about the road ahead.    

After roughly a decade of testing and development, a two-man team based out of Echuca believes it’s on the brink of either breakthrough or failure.

What they’ve been working on is a type of brake rotor they say can wipe the floor with anything out there, making use of a novel alloy and delivering benefits in durability, heat transfer, performance and lightness.

Among other situations, it’s been put to the test on racetracks, including Australian Touring Cars and NASCAR Arca Racing Series, as well as in trucks, taxis, mining vehicles and elsewhere.

“The motor racing has been a good test bed, but not the prime focus of our ultimate sales, I guess,” Colin Lagoon, marketing director at OzBrakes, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“The category [we’re targeting] is pretty much high-performance transport, and that’s heavy haulage; also public transport aspects, emergency vehicles. We’ve been talking to quite a few people in those categories.”

Lagoon’s brother Mat, a long-time automotive engineer and mechanic on various US and Australian racing teams, is behind the metallurgic recipe.

Part of the Lagoons’ special sauce is a ductile iron formula, which Colin describes in terms of Rice Bubbles to regular cast grey iron’s Corn Flakes. The microstructure of OzBrakes’ product is spherical, providing benefits with heat dissipation – critical for rotors’ performance.

“If you put an oxy torch on a piece of steel you get a hot spot if you hold it there long enough,” he explained.

“If you put the same oxy on a ball bearing, you’ll see the flame dissipates around the sphere.”

Aiming globally

Australia does have a few high-profile automotive manufacturers, serving high-performance clients, notably ASX-listed PWR Performance Products (a cooling solutions specialist, with customers including NASCAR and Formula 1 teams) and Carbon Revolution (a one-piece composite wheel-maker and supplier for high-end vehicles).

OzBrakes will be hoping to follow this lead in supplying high-end aftermarket products.

According to testimonials and promotional material provided by OzBrakes, an unnamed Geelong taxi has gone 400,000 kilometres on a single set of OzBrakes’ rotors, and an ARCA stock car clocked up over 1,000 miles without needing to change.

According to the same material, they have had success in gaining preferred supplier status for an unnamed “major transport company”, have impressed Pitman Trucks’ CEO and founder Dave Pitman (who assisted in development for trucking brake rotors) and have earned the endorsement of several racing professionals.

Image: www.cquence.net
Image: www.cquence.net

The appeal of better heat dissipation in brake rotors for truck users is easy to see. The heavier the vehicle, the more weight they have to stop when braking, and thus the more friction.

It’s the reason brake discs have slots or holes, which also help transport gas and liquid away (trapped heat, gas and liquid impede performance – known as brake fade).

“So minimal brake fade, that’s the interesting part,” said Lagoon.

“We’ve seen that in a couple of the mining rotors we’ve made. So what are they? About 750 mm in diameter. So you don’t throw those in the back of your ute. [Laughs]”

Less heat also helps maintain the integrity of the rotors’ shape (minimising run-out) which is critical for performance and safety. They also claim their product outperforms rivals such as Bembo and PFC in tests, and reduce weight by a third.

The company manufactures at “several foundries” in Victoria, most recently a site at Coburg.

Its next steps include trying to get the word out here and internationally – including among contacts fostered over the years in the US – as well as pursuing R&D and Export Market Development Grants. It is also seeking equity partners.

“I guess where we’re situated now is restricted by funding – I’ll be straight up about that,” confessed Lagoon.

“And that makes the steps we take very slow.”

As anybody who has tried to start a business knows, it takes more than a product you’re excited about – as well as patience, the right backing, and a little luck – to be successful.

The future is exciting, though, believes OzBrakes. They have faith that what they make beats anything out there, and that the market will gradually come to know this.

“You know when you’re driving down a steep hill, you’ve got both feet on the brakes, and eventually you have nothing at the bottom?” asked Lagoon.

“Well these handle those conditions without fail.”