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Barely two years old, Echlin Commercial Products eyes expanded brake markets.

It often takes a new company a number of years to develop any kind of presence in an established market. Yet just two years out of the gate, Echlin Commercial Products is well on its way to solidifying its reputation as a supplier of an expanding range of mechanical and hydraulic brake systems and components for the original equipment markets.

"We haven't been around that long, but people are beginning to recognize who we are," said Tom O'Brien, general manager of the McHenry, Ill.-based manufacturer. "In our first two years, we've gotten through setting our place up, getting our quality system in place and debugging our operations. It's been a learning experience. Now the aim is to grow the business. We've probably grown it about 20 percent from where we started and we think we can continue that."

Part of the reason for the company's early success no doubt has something to do with its lineage and heritage. Echlin Commercial Products is a division of Brake Parts, Inc., which is owned by Echlin, Inc., a $3.6 billion manufacturer of vehicle components that maintains 150 operations in six continents.

And Echlin Commercial Products didn't exactly start from scratch, either. While it officially began operations in July of 1996, the roots of the company can be traced back to Allied Signal's Commercial Products operation, which was purchased by Echlin at the beginning of 1996 as part of its overall plan to expand its OE focus.

"A few years ago, Brake Parts developed a strategic plan to get more involved with the original equipment business," said O'Brien. "The OE business grew from about 2 or 3 percent to about 12 percent in five years.

"In the beginning of 1996, Brake Parts had the opportunity to buy the Commercial Products business of Allied Signal, which was located down in Gallatin, Tenn. We purchased the assets of that business in the beginning of the year and had a plan to move the assets out of that facility to existing Brake Parts manufacturing plants.

"We moved the manufactured components, such as hydraulic parts, friction products and stamped products, into existing manufacturing plants within Brake Parts. But we kept the assembly and service distribution operations separated out as its own business so that we could develop a focused factory and grow the business strategically."

The move itself was interesting, as Echlin Commercial Products sent employee teams down to Tennessee to learn each manufacturing operation. Then after about two weeks of training, each manufacturing area was tom down and shipped north, while the employees flew home. When the machinery and equipment arrived - typically just a few days later - the same employees were responsible for setting up the new manufacturing area and getting it going, usually within a day, O'Brien said.

"It was a pretty interesting process," he recalled. "We had our people trained and at the same time, we had this place up and running in fairly short order."

Just how organized the move was is evidenced by the fact that a year after operations began, the McHenry facility, which combines administration, sales, engineering, assembly, packaging and distribution into the 110,000 sq.ft. site, received ISO 9002 certification.

"We started working on that in February of last year to go for a July registration date," said O'Brien. "It was a pretty aggressive schedule. But it was important that we insure our customers as quickly as possible that we had a sound quality system in place."

Another underlying reason for the company's success is its product range. Echlin Commercial Products designs and manufactures single and duo servo drum braking systems, including full-floating shoe and fixed anchor types that are used in a wide range of off-road equipment, including wheel loaders, combines, backhoes, forklifts, turf equipment and recreational vehicles.

"We haven't limited ourselves from a strategic point of view but our focus is the off-highway commercial vehicles," O'Brien said.

Along with complete systems, Echlin Commercial Products manufactures a range of system components, including wheel cylinders, master cylinders, friction materials, disc rotors, brake drums, backing plates, hose and tube assemblies and brake cables.

"We make about 95 percent of what we sell within Brake Parts," O'Brien noted. "We pour our own castings, we compound our own rubber, we make our own friction materials. We're vertically integrated, but we're extremely cost effective because of all the operations and resources within Echlin. And we tell our customers, we can also offer you anything else Echlin makes, which includes switches, electronic components, sensors, fuel systems, etc."

Most recently, the company has unveiled a 160 mm hydraulic brake assembly that is designed for a variety of small vehicle and equipment applications. The 160 mm hydraulic brake assembly is directly interchangeable with axle mounting patterns and brake drums already using the company's mechanical brakes. It has also been designed to fit other mounting patterns and to offer wheel cylinder diameters from 9/16 in. to 7/8 in.

The brake assembly includes automatic adjustment, non-asbestos friction materials and can be offered with or without parking brake levers.

A similar 200 mm version is also in development, O'Brien said, and will be going into production this month.

Other standard brakes include a range of mechanical brakes for dynamic service and parking applications. Brake sizes range from 6 x 1.25 in. to 12 x 5 in., with nominal torque ratings of 2400 to 67,500 On the hydraulic brake side, models range from 6.3 x 1.18 in. sizes with torque ratings of 5000, to 12.5 x 3 in. units with torque ratings of 52,000

Even more exciting is the fact that on the horizon is a line of disc brake calipers, the first of which will be unveiled later this year. "In the marketplace today, it seems like there are drum brake companies and there are disc brake companies," O'Brien said. "They appear to be different and separate. Our goal is to be able to go to a customer and say hey, we can do it all for you.

"We consider ourselves a one-stop source. We'll help design it and engineer it. We'll make all the parts and can help develop and deliver the complete system. We can supply production parts and service parts - from cradle to grave.

"We think that philosophy will provide us with some rather unique opportunities."
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Author:Brezonick, Mike
Publication:Diesel Progress North American Edition
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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