nterview with Joe Villain, Director of new product development, Irvin Gers, Sales and production development support engineer, and
Company / Brand: Raybestos Powertrain
Industry: automatic transmission parts manufacturing
Headquartered: the state of Indiana, USA
Number of employees: ~500
Go4trans: Please tell us a little more about your roles at Raybestos Powertrain.
Irv: When I was hired in, they were looking for somebody that had tech expertise in product itself and could communicate the engineering jargon to the sales team. I am helping the sales team better understand the products and do job their job better.
Joe: as we develop a new product, we also have to communicate with our distributors and their sales team and they actually need to understand the new product that we are introducing. More or less, on a monthly basis, we visit our distributors, we present a new development, and we educate them. Most of our major distributors.
Go4trans: Is it done in a personal meeting or digitally?
J: At this day, in the wake of COVID-19 personal meeting have been hindered. If not for COVID Irv and I would go to the actual distributors accompanied by our sales guys and present it within 20-30 minutes. Doing this in person is more effective as you talk to people, you see them face to face, and you explain how a solution (a physical asset small enough to take with us) is implanted into the product, into the clutch pack.
Go4trans: Does this involve a lot of travelling around the country?
J: Up to ¼ of our time. Many of our major distributors are close-by – in Kentucky, for instance – so we can go down and be back in a day. At this, we are quickly back in to the development center where we do development on a daily basis.
Go4trans: How big is Raybestos Powertrain distributor group?
Nick: We have roughly 300 aftermarket distributors globally.
J. I graduated with an engineering degree. Started at Hershey, and then went on to Sony. I was accustomed to working at a facility that had a full supply chain distribution. Raybestos Powertrain works the other way: we work with many-many distributors throughout the nation.
Go4trans: You must be have built some strong ties with US vehicle companies like GM, Ford, Chrysler.
J: Indeed, Nick, Irv, and I are on the aftermarket side; however, Raybestos Powertrain has an OE side, which interacts with many Original Equipment Manufacturers as well.
I: We also do heavy-duty and motorcycle products. We have quite a list of heavy-duty products, although my work is primarily based within the automotive aftermarket.
Go4trans: What is the product that you personally are particularly proud of?
J: That’s what me and Irv are here for (laughs). From my perspective, there is a lot of products to be proud of. But I think more than anything, I am proud of the innovation that the Raybestos Powertrain NPI (New Part Introductions) team is giving the marketplace. When I first started here as an engineer, we always pushed to be ahead of the curve, as far as new product introductory. For instance, OE releases a new product to the marketplace – in a particular year, make, and model. What we do, we have datasets that provide us registered vehicles in the United States and that we have forecast data that we purchase that shows the projected units over the next 5-8 years. At this, Irv and I and the NPI board review this data and analyze what is the best opportunity for us in terms of demand and volume. We are also after the market percentage rate: if it is high, we are likely to get a serious market share if go after this particular transmission.
I am particularly proud of this year, from 2018 to 2020 we have introduced a number of new designs. A lot of new OE transmissions have been released and we come out with a re-design in the same year. The value of that is that (for aftermarket), if an OE releases this in 2020 we release a performance application the same year. Some people even ask us: why do you do this, the OE is even not out of warranty? We have a lot of friction materials in our Stage-1 red materials, GPZ materials, Gen2 blue materials that are specifically for performance applications. Nick does a great job in terms of marketing perspectives: we have a lot of online presence.
N: We also pay attention to transmission rebuilders discussion boards and forums. Transmission Brotherhood is a well-known group on Facebook.
J: I we need to get feedback from these guys that everything goes well for them. Performance applications – like Corvette, Mustang, Camaros.
I: …diesel trucks…
J: Clever point. In the USA diesels are a big thing. Many of these guys with a Corvette, Mustang, Camaro, and diesel trucks are willing to void their warranties and drop that transmission to have us redesign clutch packs for them. They soup-up or modify the engines to provide extra performance – more horse power or more torque. We get feedback from Nick saying this is a possible scenario that we need the best solution for. We additional checks with our distributors, with ourselves. We then need to look into the forecast data and it’ll say ‘X’ of this product will be coming out (say, a million). Irv and I will buy a transmission to do the redesign on. Oftentimes, guys will drop a transmission and send it to you so that you can do design work on that.
We at Raybestos Powertrain have a design room – we call it a ‘war room’. NPI will start working on a new transmission pulling it apart so we can see what physical assets are within this clutch pack. We see what are the physical dimensions of that friction plate, or that reaction plate, or the pressure plates, or the applied plates, snap rings, pistons – what we can do to modify and improve within this clutch application to give us a new product. I am most proud of the technology that we provide to the marketplace the same year that OE releases. We’re setting records, in fact.
I: Corvettes with our transmission parts are winning races.
J: The prototype design work that the NPI has just completed on the C8 Corvette. Our prototype clutch pack is in there. And it is the first C8 Corvette, the first TR9080 transmission in that year, make, and model Corvette 2020 to go 9 seconds.
I: A record was just broken with a 1500 h.p. 10R80 Mustang that used our GPZ plates.
J: In 2018 we worked hard on developing product for the 10R80’s, the 10L80’s and the 10L90’s – this is raging in the USA and will be in the rest of the world. Again, the OE designs them for the general market so they are looking to provide a good product at the lowest cost they can do. They are not looking for a performance friction material to bring the engine well over 1000 horsepower – and this is where we step in along with Dan Truncone, who is also a part of the NPI team.
That Corvette, I am proud that we could see the data, identify the performance aspect, develop a new product and break the track record. We did the same with a Mustang 500s running with 10R80 and it has our clutch pack in it. We set the record on Saturday and we are coming in on Monday to sell this product all day long.
We have our performance material applications; we also have got OE replacement materials that will be more economical for those guys looking for warranty replacements. Hopefully, we have established ourselves as the dominant provider of the 10R80’s, for example in the performance world, before they are even out of warranty. Therefore, as the transmission rebuild community has those conversations, they know Raybestos Powertrain will cover performance products, and then 3-5 years later we can also be there for OE replacements with more economic materials.
As we look at material upgrades, we also look to dive in and see if we can add more material capacity. Irv will step in here.
I: One of the things that has been presented to me when we were working on upgrading clutches for the performance market, is that we don’t always need to just put in different friction materials. If a person has a failed clutch, we try to get our hands on that clutch. Then our team in the tech center develops new materials and tests them. We have SAE dynos here and the team tests new materials not just for performance or durability but they will also test them for failure to recognize the failure mechanism. They can help us determine: is just adding more clutch plates in there going to be the answer or do we need to do something else with the way this clutch pack is designed? Sometimes, it is about having more clutch area and maybe I can change the ID of the wafer or the OD of the wafer in order to get more surface area in there. I also get the opportunity to work with, maybe changing the grooving design to see if we can get more cooling or oil flow there.
People think that adding another clutch plate will do the job of improving but there is a lot of science in there. Part of my job is, once a failure is identified, to answer what we can do to improve and minimize the failure. We also are concerned about the right clearance and once we go through all engineering, they send me the prototype samples, and I fit test them. Thus, I find out if the thickness is correct, or we need to rethink some aspect. We identify if the prototype process has seriously changed something. This is how cover the demands of the performance market.
J: You mentioned dynos but we also have simulators run by our Doctor-level engineers. It is a combination of theory and diagnostics.
I: When developing for an OE supplier, we have FEA (failure element analysis): you dump a bunch of data into this program and you run a simulation with the computer. The returned data shows how this material responds, what the potential failures are. Then you can tweak the program and rerun it to see if you’ve made the right improvements. They do a lot of this before we start making prototypes and dyno testing them. So, this is the process: run the simulation, see how you can tweak this thing to make it the best that you can, then you make prototypes and dyno-test. At that, you see if the dyno test shows the same results as the initial program. After that, we do field testing: we make more prototypes and we get it out in the field to get real-time testing. Thus, we see if we did it all correctly or if we need to get back to the drawing board. In the end, it is obvious that hard labor is required to produce the top result.
Go4trans: This seems quite special about what you do in the parts supply section. Is such attitude to the R&D your special feature?
I: As far as I know, we are the only company that manufactures frictions clutch plates, steel clutch plates, and similar products, that is vertically integrated. In other words, not only can we test new designs, we also develop our own resins, and we can design and make our paper.
N: One of the unique things that we have here is our paper mill.
I: Yes, we make our own paper. We develop new formulas for the paper and for the resigns that we saturate our papers with. We, basically, cover everything from the ground up. This really helps when we’re in the middle of testing and tweaking this and that, we don’t have to rely upon anyone else.
J: Correct, and remind us how many years you’ve been with Raybestos for? What did you do before?
I: 16 years it is and prior to Raybestos I spent 17 years rebuilding transmissions, I worked on the help line for ATRA where I actually did diagnostic work over the phone. We also wrote bulletins and seminar programs. If I happen to have a transmission, on my research hours I would check if we can find fixes for a certain transmission. Then I went to work for a remanufacturing plant and a distribution place and worked as a Technical Director there. I have been in the industry for a few years (laughs).
J: I wanted Irvin to say this because he’s been in the transmission world for a very long time. I am an electrical engineer that worked for Hershey and Sony where everything was automated, and when I came here 5 years ago here’s what impressed me: we have a whole facility here not just the aftermarket product but also OE products. Not only do we have a fully-functioning paper mill where we can do mass volume, we also have a paper mill within the tech center that our Doctor-level engineers can use in full – changing recipes daily if they need to, running small runs and testing these materials on our dynos. We also have lasers used to cut cores. All this covers the prototyping and this is vertically-integrated. Summing it all up, we are a self-contained tech center backed up by top engineers. This is our distinguishing factor that even puts us ahead or level with OE’s.
Go4trans: At this, what kind of management structure do you have at Raybestos Powertrain? Do you feel it family-like or rather hierarchical?
I: Lorenzo is our CEO and when he came to our company one of things he did is he grabbed the NPI group at that time and he basically asked us questions like: go around the table and tell us a history about what you are about, what do you do? Sometimes that is a little unnerving because you never know why you are asked these questions – maybe he is considering firing you? But I actually give him a lot of respect for that because he was interested in the people here. I also found out he likes the same football team I do which was a little bit of camaraderie there. We would sometimes discuss our team and talk about the bad point and good points. I would say it is more family-like situation but it’s sure also business, when he needs to deal with the business side.
J: It is very much about the relationship here. Lorenzo may not be here all of the time but he’ll come in the war room on certain days, he’s very interested in what we’re working on. We feel comfortable with the CEO coming into the room, talking to us. In many organizations – like Sony where I had spent 21 years – you don’t talk to the CEO. Throughout those years at Sony, maybe I spoke to the CEO a couple of times. You know, we work jointly with the Director of sales too, and we travel together. From our perspective, as the NPI team, there’s a great family relationship here. I believe, there’s always up and downs within every company, it isn’t necessarily perfect, but a good relationship is very important. The Truncone family have been here for generations for example. How many is it, Nick?
N: I am actually a 4th generation employee in my family. My great-grandfather started working at Raybestos in Connecticut in the 1940s. My grandfather was an engineer and retired in 2006. He designed several friction materials that we have used over the years and are still using today. He was transferred to the Crawfordsville, Indiana location in the 1980s. My dad began working for Raybestos in the 1980s and I started in 2012.
I: Could you briefly tell us about the testing equipment used in your R&D dept? Dyno, some TC testing equipment, etc.?
J: We have a lot of assets, like MicroView, for instance. It is hugely valuable. When I first came here, we would do all the dimensional checks. But what was needed is a ‘go-no go’ gauge. When we set a program on a laser cutter we have to do some quality checks during a production run. What they would do is use the physical clutch hub of that transmission to drop that part into to say ‘yes, it fits, to verify that the specific product dimensions weren’t going astray’.
MicroView is a so-called ‘Virtual Hub’, it allows Irv and the development team to scan the brand new part and feed the program. This allows for a substitution to a physical part. It is extremely useful on the manufacturing side.
Irv can share more on this.
I: We are always trying to improve. That MicroView is a vision system and it is also a CMM (coordinate-measuring machine) all wrapped up in one. That allows me to get dimensionals on a part and, depending on the difficulty, I use different methods: optical methods or a touch probe when necessary. As for friction plates for instance, I can cast a shadow from underneath the part and I can get all the dimensions of the shapes of the teeth, the outside and inside diameters, depending on how many splines there are. I can get all that with a vision system but actually going in and getting the information I need on the thickness of the wafer and the shape of the grooves and all that. Sometimes I have to use a combination. You can’t cast a shadow through the steel core. Therefore, you have to be able to look down on it, or reach down and touch it in order to get the measurements. That data is now captured in that program and I can place that part on a particular grid pattern and record. Later down the road when we do checks instead of re-measuring (instead of what Joe was explaining) – especially if they can’t find a hub – they can take this thing over to the vision system, put it down on there the same way as it was oriented when we first did the measurement. It will run a test probably anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds, it can measure that part and we compare it to what was in there previously and then it can tell me if it matches or not. We can run 3-4-5 samplings trough there – as many as we need, and this quickly tells if we’re on the right track or not.
I can take that measurement into a CAD (Computer-aided design) program and then I can use that data to start with. If I want to tweak something in there or change the design from the OE, I can do that with my CAD program. That is also useful and I can do prints from there. It was like a child’s Christmas gift for me.
Go4trans: And do you also use transmission dyno test stands?
I: Our dynos are SAE #2 dynos. Our engineering team would tell more about them and the controllers. I don’t run them.
N: Check out this info - https://www.raybestospowertrain.com/oem/dynos.
Go4trans: As you are in the R&D dept, can you shed some light on your strategic plan for the upcoming years?
J: From the NPI Director’s perspective, it is driven from the bottom up, we try to be ahead of the curve, strategically. We use our data sets for registered vehicles – domestically and internationally – and we check forecasted units, so that we can forecast which units will be strategically important, how those developed, and hopefully the same year as the OE releases we can design and improve on those materials. The vision is always to be ahead of the curve. We release performance solutions so that we can enjoy that upfront revenue associated to those improvements. This year we have already developed the list of transmissions that we’re after. We’re already looking forward to 2021. We also are very much interested in developing new extra capacity GPZ Torqkits for upcoming transmissions.
We are already striving to determine what will be
most important in 2021. We look into the forecast data, we talk to distributors
and transmission rebuilders through social media, and we track our enquiry
database. Sometimes development takes up to 6 months, and Raybestos Powertrain
aspires not to react but to have the product ready when it is needed.