UK’s only bus and coach brake manufacturers
Over the years, UK brake lining manufacturers have moved their plants overseas, but there is one that has withstood the test of time. Nutexa Frictions Ltd has produced heavy duty brake linings for bus, coach and other CV applications since the 1960s
Based on the Wirral, it is believed to be the only major manufacturer remaining in the country producing for commercial applications. Chris Peat met the team behind the operation to get a peek behind the scenes at the company’s Hoylake headquarters
Top of the range
Even if you have not heard of Nutexa, you may well have braked with them. Its pads are fitted to some of the most modern buses running in the UK and abroad. The company has been one of the leaders in the market for many years and throughout that time, it has striven continually to ensure high quality for its products. One of its major developments came in 1982, when it was decided it should join up with the Abex Corporation and subsequently became a licensee. Although there have been many changes in that organisation, it has remained consistent and Nutexa continues to buy from its former licensees to this day.
As well as being the only brake lining manufacturer to have survived in the UK, Nutexa has also remained on the cutting edge of technology in the market. For instance, it was one of the first to have linings made using glass fibres when Abex moved to this product following the ban on asbestos, the material previously used. One of Nutexa’s Directors, said that in today’s industry disc pads are taking an increasing market share as bus manufacturers change from brake drum lining set up to disc rotors and brake pads.
This transition to pads has caused what he described as a ‘very confusing position for operators’ as ‘many companies entered the disc pad arena’. They said that, in the past, friction manufacturers producing linings held the quality at a high level and had the expertise for solving braking problems. Now, with pads having a flat surface and a backing plate, manufacturing them has become easier, and as such, a bewildering amount of suppliers and manufacturers seem to have entered this field, which effectively creates a lot of confusion. Brakes are a critical safety related item and this fact appears to be ignored or given scant concern, according to the company. The firm believes ‘cheaper, unproven product has flooded the market from various parts of the world, with no consideration given to the operator regarding wear and tear on disc rotors’. Paul said, ‘We will not compromise quality by fitting unsuitable materials.’
Nutexa’s disc brake pads benefit from a patented backing plate retention system with a large V-groove to prevent build up of debris. This design will lead to a reduction in operating costs. Its products have achieved ECE90 accreditation with the UK E11 marking, showing they were tested in this country against OE product. Nutexa claims that their products have high braking efficiency, performance and durability.
The same attributes are achieved for their brake linings, of which there are over 560 references manufactured for CVs and PSVs, suitable for fitment across the globe. Its bus and coach quality linings are widely supplied and designed to give extra performance in stop/start and long distance operations. According to the company’s website, they provide ‘excellent’ stability, fade resistance and recovery. The drums the company supply are compatible with their linings due to an inter-manufacturing arrangement with the drum producer. The company’s Bill Johnson said there are a noticeable number of operators reverting to drums and linings rather than callipers and pads, simply for the reason it is a less costly option.
Quest for quality
I was shown around the manufacturing facilities where the company’s focus on achieving a quality product became apparent. This starts with the raw materials. Nutexa purchases raw material to the ‘highest specifications’ from the largest manufacturing plants. Consequently, it has access to all improvements in technology and OE formulations, thus maintaining uniformity and quality of product. One good aspect is that its linings are made with wear indicators as standard, which is cut into the lining and painted in a different colour to the rest of the edging. When the brake linings wear down and only one colour remains, it means the linings require changing.
Another sign of quality is that its pads are built to ECE-REG 90 certification and they also feature a patented backing plate system for better retention of the pad material. Its Superior quality pads are recommended for bus and coach applications. These are designed to ensure quiet operation, whilst offering extra long life with minimal disc wear. Its Premium material also delivers long life, excellent performance and low noise.
Working with the best equipment is also paramount to achieving its high standards. Helping it achieve this, Nutexa has benefited from Invest Wirral, Wirral Borough Council’s support organisation for companies in the region that are manufacturing and exporting. The company attracted funding from this group, which has been used to secure new equipment bringing its facilities up to the latest specification.
Providing a high quality product means the price tags are not the lowest out there. However, Nutexa has found over the years that the bus and coach industry tends not to be as driven by just the cost of the products, but by ‘down time’ also, as longer life of pads and disc rotors result in fleet vehicles being off the road for less time . He also noted the industry’s concern in achieving optimum safety.
This attention to providing the best product has led Nutexa to be approved and used by the Ministry of Defence and many years ago gaining ISO 9001 accreditation. This enables the business to supply to bus manufacturers, Rolls Royce Distributed Generation Systems Ltd and many leading operators both in the UK and overseas. Notably, some of the largest bus operators in Hong Kong, Australia, USA and Canada use its product, as well as in the UK. Exporting is an area where it has had a lot of success, having previously been a finalist in the Exporter of the Year category at the Wirral Business Awards. The team was also invited to Downing Street to be congratulated by the then Prime Minister, John Major, for its achievements trading overseas. Additionally the company received invites to Buckingham Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia when supporting overseas Trade Missions.
Bus manufacturers and operators, in addition to its distributors, use Nutexa’s services on approved exchange brake shoe schemes. The focus here again is on quality, with the factory cleaning and stripping them, shot blasting them and then dipping them in a corrosive resistant paint for complete protective covering. Bill related one story of a coach driver turning up at Nutexa to pick up some refurbished brake shoes. They were so well finished that when he received them he thought he had mistakenly been given a brand new set. It was no mistake though and Bill said it took some persuading that they were indeed the right shoes before he left. The company also supplies new brake shoes as well as refurbished ones.
Skill and experience
Behind providing this quality is a team of well skilled and experienced workers. Paul said most of them had been with the company for well over 20 years. Though building applications for bus, coach and other CVs make up the majority of their day, they work on a plethora of different vehicles. On my visit, I saw one employee refurbishing ship winch bands with new friction material.
The team’s skill really comes to the fore when they work on classic and older PSV vehicles.
Although still a niche market for the company, dealing with brakes for these vehicles is a very familiar task for Nutexa. A great example of its work on these vehicles is the classic Bedford VAL Harrington Legionnaire coach used in ‘The Italian Job’, starring Michael Caine. The company continues to offer linings for such iconic vehicles as the Routemaster, Bristols and Leylands amongst others.
Joint Director, Janet Sergeant, said, ‘Although we promote our Superior quality for executive coaches and buses, for older applications where perhaps the vehicle does not complete high mileages, then our Premium quality also gives excellent results. Shearings for example use our Superior quality pads on their front line coaches, finding they give additional disc rotor life as well as performing well in delivering long life and being quiet in operation.’
‘We have handled the Klam electro-magnetic brake retarder since 1996, which is fitted to the Optare Solos and Versa as Original Equipment. ADL are currently installing the Klam product on newer vehicles.’
Clutches and retarders are another part of Nutexa’s offering, with its range including drive and pressure plates, bearings and clutch cover assemblies. In addition to those mentioned above, it also supplies retarders suitable for Dennis Darts, Volvo B10Ms and most rear engined coaches, amongst others.
Bus and coach brake products are a growing market for Nutexa, representing around 50% of its turnover. Even though it serves one of the biggest bus and coach manufacturers, not just in the UK but worldwide, the company is just as happy to supply smaller concerns, looking after everyone from independents all the way up to the big groups. To find out even more about the company, a good opportunity is at the CV Show, where the team from Nutexa will be exhibiting on stand D28 in Hall 4 from 29 April to 1 May 2014 where they will look forward to welcoming you.