NeoBrake Systems, an Oak Creek, Wisconsin-based remanufacturer of brakes and formulator of asbestos-free brake linings and pads, announced its 30th anniversary in business.
NeoBrake founder and President/CEO Rick Ballew, a Michigan native, first came to Milwaukee in 1980, where he managed a reman shop for United Brake Systems. He went on to open facilities in Grand Rapids, St. Paul and Fargo. But most notably, he was on the front line rebuilding brakes when the use of asbestos was banned in 1982. That’s when the quest to formulate equally effective non-asbestos brakes began.
“I saw brake material go from consisting of three basic components to over eight with non-asbestos formulas,” Ballew said. “No one has been able to replicate the wonders and performance of asbestos fiber, but we’ve come as close as anyone, and that’s something we pride ourselves on.”
In 1986, Ballew noticed a trend of public companies buying up private, independent friction companies. It was a trend that didn’t sit well with him, as he witnessed manufacturing shortcuts occur as a result of these consolidations. It was during this business climate that he decided to launch NeoBrake.
“Starting out, we marketed CM Brake lining as a way to navigate shrinking distribution channels due to these buyouts,” Ballew said. “Once CM Brake was absorbed, things got tougher. That’s when we found our own supplier and began formulating NeoBrake linings – a high-quality product back then that we’ve steadily improved upon since.”
That improvement began in 1997 when Ballew traveled to Asbest, Russia, to better understand how asbestos worked in order to better replicate its effectiveness. He met with a team from Uraliti Friction Manufacturing Co., who eagerly shared their knowledge and showed him the ins and outs of their enormous operation. He recalls seeing some 200 presses under one roof, which dwarfed the remaining four U.S. friction manufacturers, which had 70 to 75 presses between them.
“The volume was a sight to see,” Ballew said. “As manufacturing dwindled here in the states, we needed to align ourselves with global suppliers to stay ahead. We may be small, but our experience and knowledge-base has taken us around the world.”
As outsourcing to China increased, Ballew set out on a global mission to find the ideal supplier in a manufacturing environment suited to deliver the optimum product. His journey ended in India, where he not only found them but found manufacturing partners eager to adopt the American way of developing friction. This was better than a win-win; it was a win for roadway safety, according to Ballew.
“We don’t have deep pockets for marketing,” said Ballew. “But we do have deep conviction for developing the highest-quality product available. Through our Indian partnerships, we have R&D capabilities second to none. It’s enabled us to be successful these last 30 years, and why they’ve grown to become leading suppliers in their own right here in America.”
NeoBrake plans to celebrate its 30th anniversary over the next fiscal year through October 2019, with special promotions and anniversary merchandise and gifts.