Clutches and brakes: beware of pirates

Louise Smyth

Where clutches and brakes form a critical part of any machine, their ability to perform effectively relies on the quality of the parts installed. So, fitting OEM genuine spares would seem to be an obvious decision. However, some businesses and operators are finding out the hard way that a short term cost saving can have much larger implications on their business.

Wichita Clutch, part of the Altra Industrial Motion group, provides a compelling argument based on real life cases and its own research.

Designing high performance, reliable clutches and brakes requires engineering expertise, high quality manufacturing techniques and continuous testing and improvement. The quality control facilities at the Wichita manufacturing site play a vital role in everyday production but also in testing other products that claim to be equivalent parts to those produced by the OEM.

The custom built dynamometer test stands have been testing friction material for wear rate, torque stability, dust generation, noise and overall quality since 1986. Recently they have been used to test components produced in Taiwan, with some troubling results. When tested over a period of one hour, the non-genuine friction discs exhibited some extremely unstable results as well as aggressive wearing of the metal components, all of which would lead to increased costs and more frequent servicing.

One customer in the UK had installed some friction material from an unauthorised vendor and after 4 months of apparent acceptable performance, was faced with the increased expense of replacing the metal components of the brake, rather than just the friction discs. In effect the non-genuine parts had caused considerable damage to the brake housing and the additional cost in terms of parts and lost production time were substantial.

In a similar case in Malaysia, a client chose to install a non-genuine copper wear plate in a Wichita braking system to make a small saving in maintenance costs. After a short period in service the production line had to be shut down after the braking system developed a serious coolant leak and started overheating. Further investigation showed that the copper plate had become distorted and suffered from serious wear that had led to the leaks.

The short term gain of a reduced purchase cost always results in a much greater expense in terms of repairs and lost production. This problem has been seen time and again across many industries and in many applications. When some of the lost production costs can spiral to huge sums. For example, on an oil rig or a dredging vessel, it becomes even more important to specify replacement parts carefully.

Process managers and maintenance managers are being approached by competing companies that offer equivalent parts for OE products and, in some cases, their arguments of reduced prices can convince the client to use the products. However, quality will always be remembered, long after the price has been forgotten.

One such customer was convinced to purchase a steel hub for an 18-inch clutch. The shutdown period was scheduled but the new hub was physically the wrong size and clearly of a different design and so could not be installed. Now the customer is in some serious trouble as the production process cannot be restarted until the correct hub is installed.

Fortunately, the customer called Wichita and a new cast iron hub was supplied overnight to allow the customer to get up and running. In the mean time a new steel hub was produced and fitted during the next available shutdown. However, this was a costly lesson for the customer in terms of lost production, maintenance and parts costs; to the point that the supplier of the non-genuine parts was banned from the site.

In some cases an OEM which uses quality components may try to reduce maintenance costs by installing non-genuine components as part of the service contract with the client. However, this also causes problems for all concerned. The level of technical support and service can fall short and the quality of the components can lead to frequent failures.

This only incurs more costs for the OEM and the end user. Once the issue is highlighted it can typically best be resolved by installing the genuine OE parts. There are currently multiple cases of end users taking legal action against agents and suppliers for problems caused by using non-genuine parts in their clutches and brakes.

Time and again, examples of customers choosing a short term gain are closely followed by the inevitable results of long term pain and increased costs. Brakes and clutches play a critical role in so many applications and they should not be short-changed. Choosing a high quality component is the first step; maintaining it with genuine parts is essential in maintaining the quality on which the application relies.

Always specify genuine parts for your clutches and brakes.

Recent Issues