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High Performance Brakes: Carbon Ceramic Rotors

December 20, 2010

While it may seem like these systems are untouchable like some super models, this expensive option on some high performance vehicles could be the brake of the future if they manage to bring the costs down.

Ceramic composite rotors are extremely durable. In fact, manufacturers claim that they'll never need replacement — at least with "normal" driving. They're also resistant to the kind of distortions and wear that leads to pedal pulsation — merely an annoyance in the “real world,” but a noticeable performance issue on the track.

Manufacturing
The brake discs are formed from a specially treated carbon-fiber compound that is silicated in a high-vacuum process at higher temperatures then any stop could produce. Not only are the resulting discs much harder than standard discs, they are more resistant to heat. The process used to produce the discs for CCB is complex and time-consuming  and costly when compared to cast iron.

The carbon fibers are blended with a resin of carbon and silicon. The mixture is pressed into a mold to create the basic disc shape, including its internal cooling vents. Using heat up to 3,000º F, the resin is converted to silicon carbide, a material nearly as hard as diamond. This is the “ceramic” in “carbon ceramic.” If you tried to machine these rotors, you would need diamond tipped bits in your brake lathe.

The low thermal expansion of the brake discs prevents deformation under heavy braking. Furthermore, the ceramic brake discs are totally resistant to corrosion and offer more favorable noise-damping properties.
 
Advantages
Because of their exceptional performance in extreme conditions, ceramic composite brakes were developed for use in high-level motorsports competition. Porsche was the first automaker to apply them for road use, with Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes included as standard equipment in the Porsche GT2 and Carrera GT and as an option in most other models.

Ceramic composite brake discs provide a 50-percent weight savings compared to conventional metal discs. This reduces unsprung weight, enhances shock absorber response and vehicle handling, and also improves fuel efficiency and contributes to reduced emissions.

Ceramic composite brake discs have an extremely hard surface that provides consistent frictional values throughout the deceleration process, even in braking from extremely high speeds and at high operating temperatures, such as those generated from repeated braking. But the system also provides benefits in low-speed situations.  In the event of an emergency stop, the technology does not require heavy pedal forces or outside technological boosting assistance to achieve maximum and immediate stopping force.

With cross-drilled discs and pads that are resistant to water absorption, the ceramic composite brakes provide superior response in wet conditions as well as dry. Because of their hard surface and immunity to salt corrosion, Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes have an extremely long operating life.

Service Life
Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes have been on the market for almost 10 years. There have been no recalls or lawsuits. There have been some complaints on low speed noise, but Porsche’s advice is to warm them up.

The only real complaints with the ceramic disc have come from weekend racers who have experienced cracked discs due to extreme abuse. Porsche’s advice to these drives is to check for cracks before they head out to the track. With the replacement costs of four disc and pads costing more than $20,000, many are switching to cast iron rotors and semi-metallic pads.  

 
About the Author
Andrew Markel
Editor, Brake & Front End Magazine
amarkel@babcox.com

Andrew Markel is an ASE Certified Technician and former service writer, and he brings this practical knowledge to the Brake & Front End team as editor.
 

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