Fabricating frictions: Keeping ahead of the curve at Raybestos Powertrain - Transmission Digest

Fabricating frictions: Keeping ahead of the curve at Raybestos Powertrain

While the transmission aftermarket is well familiar with Raybestos Powertrain branded friction elements for transmissions and torque converters, most would be impressed to learn the science and efforts that go into creating the product lines. Transmission Digest recently did just that, visiting the manufacturing plant and tech center facilities of the company in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

“You will not find another vertically integrated company in the transmission industry that has paper making, steel blanking, laser cutting, saturation, adhesive manufacturing, and everything else to produce the final product under one roof; it’s a pretty big deal,” says Tim Pearson, who is the manager of the Raybestos Powertrain Crawfordsville plant. This is proudly echoed by others in the engineering, product development and marketing departments at those two adjacent buildings.

Plant manager Tim Pearson (left) checks with the operator of the machine that cuts the paper rings.
Plant manager Tim Pearson (left) checks with the operator of the machine that cuts the paper rings.

“We have about 220 people working at the Crawfordsville, Indiana facility; while the total for combined employment with our Sullivan, Indiana facility for our parent company, Gearbox, is something like 450,” Pearson adds. “Every single Raybestos Powertrain friction and steel clutch plate is made in the USA, at either the Crawfordsville or Sullivan, Indiana manufacturing facilities. Raybestos Powertrain controls the entire process from pulp to paper to friction to bonding the friction wafer with their own adhesives onto their own blanked or laser-cut steel cores.”

The Crawfordsville paper mill displays the Gearbox logo. Gearbox is the parent company of Raybestos Powertrain.
The Crawfordsville paper mill displays the Gearbox logo. Gearbox is the parent company of Raybestos Powertrain.

The team points out that the job of supplying aftermarket transmission rebuilders is a complex task as they work not only to meet the demand for transmissions on the road today, but also seek to create innovative new products and solutions for the 10-speed transmissions of the future. 

“Right now, the biggest demand is still four-speeds,” says Joe Villain, director of sales. “There are still 9.2 million 4L60E transmissions on the road, although demand is decaying by anywhere from three to five percent a year. That’s followed up by the 6L80, with 8.6 million units on the road. Those are still the hottest transmissions out there from a sales perspective.”

Joe Villain.

As the company supplies clutch products to the OEM, heavy-duty and automotive aftermarket channels, product development typically has an early start. Angie Petroski, director of R&D, explains that there are many times when products being developed will be fed to the aftermarket team for field testing, something most OEMs require before adopting a clutch design. Such development is often a few years in advance of demand from aftermarket rebuilders. 

Angie Petroski directs the Raybestos Powertrain R&D efforts.
Angie Petroski directs the Raybestos Powertrain R&D efforts.

“We have definitive OE replacement and performance sales channels within the automotive aftermarket,” Villain explains. 

Often the demand comes for performance products before the need for the OE replacement. “Our new performance product releases are typically ahead of the head of the curve,” says Nick Truncone, the marketing manager and a fourth-generation Raybestos Powertrain employee. “We strategically release performance friction clutch plates for transmissions that are still under warranty. Then we release OE replacement friction clutch plates as the transmissions are coming out of warranty. For example, we have released performance GPZ friction clutch plates and steel clutch plates for all the new Ford and GM 10-speed transmissions, and are now beginning to roll out product with OE replacement focused friction material for these transmissions.”

An array of the different friction materials manufactured by Raybestos Powertrain.
An array of the different friction materials manufactured by Raybestos Powertrain.

While the GPZ friction material was originally engineered for towing, it has since proven itself and expanded its use within the company’s product offering as a solution to all high-stress driving applications, from mild street-strip to 1,500 horsepower applications. Nick says that GPZ fits in the middle of Raybestos Powertrain’s highly engineered and classic Stage-1 Red and Gen2 Blue performance friction material offerings. Raybestos Powertrain recommends Stage-1 Red plates for street-strip applications and Gen2 Blue plates for serious racing vehicles that are typically only driven on the track.

Raybestos Powertrain’s ability to deliver these kinds of products to the marketplace comes from collecting empirical data and analyzing feedback from its own sales representatives, transmission parts distributors, and most importantly transmission rebuilders across the United States and around the world. The company’s unique process of collecting strategic data also includes using automotive industry databases that forecasts the manufacturing of specific transmission units for up to 15 years in the future.

New product development efforts are spearheaded by engineers Dan Truncone and Irvin Gers, who boast a combined 80 years of transmission rebuilding and industry experience. 

Marketing manager Nick Trucone, his father Dan, and Irvin Gers with a display transmission cutaway. Dan and Irv are responsible for new aftermarket products developed by the company.
Marketing manager Nick Trucone, his father Dan, and Irvin Gers with a display transmission cutaway. Dan and Irv are responsible for new aftermarket products developed by the company.

Dan explains the process of the latest first-to-market new products developed for the 10-speed transmissions: “One by one, the team acquired each of the 10-speed units for me to tear down. I made initial measurements on the frictions and steels, followed up by further research on the filters and gaskets. Irv will create part prints and then we will begin the process of determining what types of steel and friction materials will be chosen for the final product before it goes into production.” 

Development of both the performance and OE replacement products can often benefit from the experience of seeing which components are subject to early wear or failure. Gers says that addressing the wear issues is something that might require a higher grade of steel or a different friction paper formulation to achieve. 

“Oftentimes we will choose higher grades of steel with improved surface finishes than what we find in doing research on the OE plates,” he says. “Each of our 10R80 steel clutches uses a higher grade of steel than OE.” 

Gers also notes that additional clutch plates, redesigned groove patterns to improve fluid flow, and changes in tooth counts and tooth dimensions are all things that Raybestos Powertrain considers when developing new products. These changes, he says, are exemplified in Raybestos Powertrain’s latest singled-sided extra-capacity D clutch and F clutch 10R80 performance clutch pack designs.

Gers, who works with the entire Raybestos aftermarket line, was particularly pleased to share the recent patent-pending development for 10R80 torque converters. “We are the first to have developed a friction wafer that fits the unique conical shape of the 10-speed converters,” he said. “By cutting out reliefs on the full wafer’s OD we were able to bend the ring and conform it to the conical shape for the bonding process.”

 Working with computerized images of parts allows new product engineer Irvin Gers to determine specifications and create drawings for the friction parts the company will produce.
Working with computerized images of parts allows new product engineer Irvin Gers to determine specifications and create drawings for the friction parts the company will produce.
 Lorenzo Muhammad is the CEO of Gearbox Group, which is the parent company of Raybestos Powertrain.
Lorenzo Muhammad is the CEO of Gearbox Group, which is the parent company of Raybestos Powertrain.

The team concludes our visit by emphasizing the constant effort to develop, analyze and improve the performance of the friction products they manufacture. Once in production the plant uses automated machinery to create the friction papers, adhesives and coatings; to stamp and laser cut steels, cut friction rings and assemble the individual items that will be combined into a module to be used by the rebuilder. From the idea phase through the final packaging, Raybestos Powertrain friction and steel clutch plates are, they say proudly, made in the USA under their constant quality controls.

Read more of our company profiles here.

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