A big break

After several years of stop-start progress, 2004 could be the year Surface Transforms gets its big break in the brake big league.

After several years of stop-start progress, 2004 could be the year Surface Transforms gets its big break in the brake big league.

The UK materials technology group, which is developing applications for new ceramic materials in braking systems, has signed two development deals with heavyweight partners.

The first will see the Cheshire company deliver prototype materials to the US Air Force Research Laboratory, where they will be assessed for possible use intop-secret military projects.

The second, more significant agreement is with Dunlop Aerospace, which plans to use Surface Transforms’ technology in the braking system of an unnamed commercial aircraft programme.

The Dunlop partnership is a milestone for Surface Transforms’ range of carbon fibre reinforced ceramic (CFRC) materials.

The company claims that its CFRCs are up to 70 per cent lighter than steel, highly durable and able to work efficiently at the wide extremes of temperature to which brakes are subjected.

Surface Transforms was set up more than a decade ago to commercialise technology developed within chemicals giant ICI.

It expected its early success to come in the automotive sector – especially Formula

One motor racing, where brakes are subjected to the most demanding conditions imaginable.

But after carrying out some test programmes, the company discovered – like many before it – that F1 is a tough market to get into. Rule changes restricting the number of suppliers F1 teams can use each season raise the barriers to entry even higher.

Surface Transforms has enjoyed some motorsport success, however, most notably with a US Indy Car team, and still has big long-term ambitions in the automotive sector.

But the Dunlop Aerospace deal has the potential to catapult it into the big league within a few years. Provided technical development goes as planned and the CFRC brake receives certification for the airliner, Dunlop will take a 10-year licence to supply Surface Transforms’ technology to its global customer base.

Engineers from the two companies have been working together for more than a year, and test batches of CFRC materials for Dunlop have been regularly produced at a purpose-built pilot production site at Surface Transforms’ Ellesmere Port plant. Full-scale production would take place at Dunlop’s Coventry site.

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