20 Jul 17. Driving is part of life, we get into our cars, start the engine and drive off. When we want to stop, we put our foot on the brake and the car stops!
Simple, no, what seems to be a seamless automated process between foot and brake is actually a highly technical system designed not only to stop a vehicle in the fastest, safest manner, but to ensure that the vehicle remains upright and straight. It is only when tragedies occur such as the event where a Land Rover ran into a roadside ditch in Norfolk, killing three children, that we realise what goes wrong when someone changes the specification of a vehicle’s brakes.
BATTLESPACE Editor went to the Bruntingthorpe, UK test track to for a Masterclass and test drives in braking technology from industry leader Alcon, based in Tamworth UK.
We were greeted at Bruntingthorpe by an impressive array of vehicles with Alcon products including the Supacat LPV 400 4×4, the Proteus electric van and the impressive (of which more later) RP Race Performance, Ginetta G55 GT3 car.
Alistair Fergusson, Managing Director of Alcon gave a brief about the origins of Alcon, its technology and expertise.
“Alcon was established in 1983 by engineer and sports car racer John Moore, Alcon initially made brakes for Audi Sport’s Group B Quattro rally cars. Today the company provides braking solutions for the top echelons of motorsport, all from our factory and HQ and R&D Centre in Tamworth, England. We supply parts around the world to customers who demand the very best, not only in motorsport but in the OEM and performance after-market sectors, too. And, for our ever-growing customer base in the USA, our dedicated US team is on hand for any state-side queries.”
Alistair organised a Management Buyout (MBO) in 1999 and he and his team now run Alcon which has two plants in the UK with the HQ in Tamworth and another in Northampton, with a staff of approximately 140 people. The company turned over £18 million in the 2016-7 year and expects to reach £25 million this year, The main products are brake calipers (aluminum and cast iron), clutches (carbon and sintered), disc brakes (iron and ceramic), and ancillaries such as pedal boxes, hoses and park brake solutions. The Company’s main markets are Motorsport 75% and Defence 25%; exports accounts for 75% of turnover.
Customers include JRA, Proteus Electric, ASC, Supacat, IAG, BAE Systems and Jankel.
Mike Jones, Chief Engineer – Specialist Vehicles, of Alcon described Alcon’s military activities.
“Specialist brakes and clutches are at the heart of what Alcon does. So, when it comes to brakes for armoured and military vehicles, we are the obvious choice. From armoured SUVs to MOD-spec military combat vehicles, our brake solutions are available for a number of applications. They are designed and built to the highest specification, developed to withstand the perils of this line of work while providing excellent braking performance. Our motorsport heritage requires us to provide a fast turnround and rapid prototyping for new products and developments and to that end we have applied this to our military customers. One example being the development of new braking system for the uparmoued RWMIK being produced under a UOR by Ricardo for the MoD. We achieved the new product from inception to final design in six weeks.”
Alcon has supplied braking systems for a number of military projects including PSNI Land Rovers built by Hobson Industries, Ovik/Abba and Penman Engineering, Land Rover Wolfs, all the Supacat Range of vehicles, the BAE Systems CVR(T) Upgrade Programme, McNeille vehicles, a transportable V-22 US vehicle, Toyota Hi-Lux and Ford F350 derivatives, NIMR, a number of Jankel vehicles and ASC armoured vehicles. Mike Jones was tight lipped about an 8×8 32 tonne military vehicle which had 12 calipers, four on the front wheels with one caliper per wheel for the other wheel stations.
“Do you see your military business growing?” The Editor asked.
“We have seen considerable growth in our military business partly through the Defence Initiative from the Motorsport Industry Association and also due to the myriad of vehicle upgrade programmes that require new braking systems to remain roadworthy with the increased armoured payload.” Mike Jones said.
The Demo Drives
After lunch, the audience were invited to drive in a number of Alcon-equipped vehicles.
Protean Electric Vauxhall Vivaro
Protean Electric is an award-winning technology company that has developed an in-wheel electric drive system for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric light-duty vehicles. The Protean Drive® system can improve vehicle fuel economy, add torque, increase power and enable improved vehicle handling to both new and existing vehicles.
Protean Drive® is designed for a broad array of vehicles including sedans, SUVs, pickup trucks and commercial vans – any vehicle with an 18- to 24-inch wheel. The system also can be added to existing cars and trucks, utilizing their current internal combustion engine drivetrain. This allows automakers to create hybrid vehicles in less time and with far fewer changes to the vehicle design and components.
Protean’s system can increase fuel economy by over 30 percent, depending on the battery size and driving cycle. It is also powerful enough to be the only source for traction on a variety of vehicles. Its ease of integration can simplify the adoption of hybrid and electrified powertrains and save cost.
Protean’s system can increase fuel economy by over 30 percent depending on the battery size and driving cycle. It is also powerful enough to be the only source for traction on a variety of vehicles. Its ease of integration can simplify the adoption of hybrid and electrified powertrains across a broad range of vehicles.
Protean’s in-wheel motors have the highest torque and power density of any of today’s leading electric propulsion systems. Each Protean Drive® in-wheel motor can deliver 81 kW (110 hp) and 800 Nm (590 lb-ft), yet weighs only 31 kg (68 lbs.) and is sized to fit within the space of a conventional 18- to 24-inch road wheel.
Protean Drive® also has superior regenerative braking capabilities, which allow up to 85 percent of the available kinetic energy to be recovered during braking. This can increase driving range up to 30 percent and contribute to the reduction of battery size and cost.
Protean will offer demonstrations of its Protean Drive™ wheel motors coupled to a front-wheel-drive Vauxhall Vivaro, creating a hybrid, diesel-powered light-commercial van that to date has only been shown in Europe.
The Editor and Nick Wills were driven round the test track in the Protean van and the results were impressive.
The van is equipped with a hybrid drive system which can be driven in 3 modes, diesel only, hybrid and electric only. The driver switched over to electric-only mode and the results were, pun included, electrifying! The acceleration of the electric motors was spectacular, far better than the hybrid ore diesel. In addition the heavy battery pack give the van impressive road handling when driving at speed. The electric vehicle has no gears but with the flick of as with it can be taken back into hybrid-mode using gears. The Editor took the wheel for a brief stint round the track and, having been a total electric-sceptic, was instantly converted to the concept of electric drive. Electric drive for military vehicles is in its infancy but once range and availability of power is overcome there is little doubt that it will achieve a place on the battlefield, particularly given its silent running capability. The Alcon braking systems is unique as it is built into the Protean hub motors that are mounted outboard on the van wheels, which of course saves axle loading.
RP Race Performance, Ginetta G56 GT4 Car
During the pre-lunch briefings there was a background roar to the RP Ginetta G55 going through its paces on the test track!
The Ginetta G56 GT4 really is a rule-breaker on the racing scene. Formed around an aggressive carbon fibre aerodynamics package, the car is visually stunning but looks aren’t everything. At the heart of the G56 GT4 is a 3.5 litre, Ford V6 engine, capable of 340bhp with an Alcon braking system. Drivers aids such as traction control, ABS and power steering ensure the power of the Ginetta can be unleashed all level of competitor in a number of national GT championships.
The Editor was squeezed into the tight passenger compartment with the required helmet and strapped in. After the required thumbs up the driver Ollie Jackson, a successful Touring Car Driver, said I could signal to slow down or I might feel sick! So good, so far!
Driving sedately out of the handling area Ollie put his foot down and headed round the circuit. The acceleration was spectacular as the Editor was pushed back into his seat as we headed for the first corner.
Having adjusted to the spectacular speed and the very impressive handling and braking (Mike Jones later said the Alcon pads reach 800 Degrees C at their height), the Editor was able to monitor the speedo as Ollie settled down to the demo. Ollie seemed to sense that the Editor wasn’t going to be sick or wanted to slow down so as we continued round the circuit, the speed gradually increased. The second lap started with the car hurtling towards the first bend at 212 kph (131.7 mph); slowing down, Ollie settled the car into a twin bend, and the car skipped through the bends with not a sign of any loss of control. Accelerating out of the bends to a long straight the speedo touched 224 kph (139.18 mph) as we hurtled towards a line of blue tyres. Touching the brakes just before it looked as we would plough through the barriers, Ollie took the car round a triple bend and off we went for another lap. The Editor could have gone on all day but that was the end of the demo and I was not allowed my own drive!! Sliding out of the car, I went for a cup of tea while Ollie took another passenger for the rollercoaster ride!