NEWPORT, Ky.-In the movie ``Field of Dreams,'' an Iowa farmer subconsciously hears the words ``build it and they will come'' and winds up constructing a baseball field in his cornfield.
His family and neighbors are skeptical, but once the stadium is built it attracts the spirits of former baseball heros along with legions of fans to watch them play.
In the retreading business, Tom Sumerel and Bob Majewski of Sumerel Tire Service Inc. in Newport, have their own field of dreams-only this one involves a mold cure tire remanufacturing process they've developed called AcuTread.
And like the Iowa farmer, they're hoping to entice a dozen or more truck tire retreaders in the U.S. to believe in the system as much as they do.
With that in mind, these two visionaries aim to establish a network of 10-15 AcuTread-licensed retreaders positioned strategically across the country. These companies, in turn, would likely become shareholders in the AcuTread Alliance Group, a corporation formed last year to hold and license the AcuTread trademark.
``We feel like this will be good for the independent tire retreader who wants to do something really unique,'' said Mr. Sumerel, president of Sumerel Tire. It will allow the licensee to ``have an exclusive marketing territory and be part of a group network tied together''-not to mention a product that's different from those of competing retreading systems.
Mr. Sumerel began working on the AcuTread concept nearly 10 years ago when truckers began asking for a more uniform retreaded tire and one that was more cosmetically pleasing. The only way to get that in a retreaded tire, he believed, was through mold cure retreading. So he invested in the process and soon had two presses running.
Unlike precure retreading, where a pre-made tread is bonded onto a casing, mold curing involves taking a buffed casing, applying rubber to it and placing it into a mold where a new tread is formed.
What makes AcuTread different from other mold cure systems is its versatility. ``We can do all brands,'' Mr. Majewski explained. ``A lot of guys buy one mold and jam everything into it. And that's where mold cure in past years had got into problems.''
The AcuTread system, instead, fits the tire to the mold using three different mold widths, two bead-plate configurations and a minimum of two diameters for each size.
Using software programmed by Mr. Majewski, the AcuTread system precision buffs tires to a specific diameter with a Matteuzzi buffer, applies strip rubber via a 2001 Orbitread Series tread builder and molds and cures them under extremely high pressure in a Cima press.
And to fit the myriad tire sizes available, Mr. Majewski, vice president of Sumerel Tire and president of the AcuTread Alliance, has developed 83 different molds to handle tires as small as 8R19.5 in size-such as those used on mail trucks and recycling vehicles-to size 445/65R22.5 for concrete trucks.
The AcuTread process, according to Mr. Sumerel, creates remanufactured tires that are uniform in diameter, depending on the size and brand, and have a new-tire look with no splices. Just what today's truckers want.
``These tires are very driver friendly and they look good on the equipment,'' he said. ``They have a high degree of reliability and they're all the same diameter.''
Mr. Majewski became involved in AcuTread in 1994 after Mr. Sumerel enticed him to leave his position as technical director of the American Retreaders' Association and join him at Sumerel Tire as a part owner of the business.
While Mr. Sumerel had achieved some success in three years of working on the process, he knew that to move to the next level he needed help. So he called on Mr. Majewski, who had grown up working in his family's retread business in Pittsburgh and knew retreading as well, if not better, than he did.
``I thought that, to do this thing justice, I needed a partner who could really take this process and fine tune it and build it,'' Mr. Sumerel said.
Since then, both men have honed the AcuTread process at Sumerel Tire, which now has 20 presses producing 260 AcuTread remanufactured tires daily at its Newport plant.
Two other retreaders, Wonderland Tire Co. in Byron Center, Mich., and Central Tire Corp. in Verona, Va., also have AcuTread licenses. And now Sumerel Tire is ready to offer the process to others on a broader scale.
Wonderland, which has been an Oliver Rubber Co. retreader since 1982, took on the AcuTread system in 1998 after a thorough investigation, said Henry Kamps, president of the three-location commercial tire and retreading operation. ``The more we learned about it, the more we said we can't ignore this. This is the future.''
The AcuTread retreading process, he noted, produces a remanufactured truck tire with all the performance characteristics demanded by truckers, including good mileage, a smooth ride, good traction and uniformity in tire diameters.
Uniformity, he added, is crucial, especially in dual wheel applications. If one tire is larger than the other, both tend to wear inconsistently and drastically.
With AcuTread, ``the second tread life becomes a real savings (for truckers) without the loss of features and benefits,'' he said.
To become an AcuTread licensee, retreaders must use identical equipment, molds, bead plates, materials and an approved rubber compound. Operating programs are downloaded onto each piece of equipment, ``so it's a turnkey deal, Mr. Sumerel said. ``Our No. 1 goal is to produce as nearly a perfect remanufactured tire as possible.''
Becoming an AcuTread retreader isn't cheap. Mr. Sumerel estimates that it costs between $500,000 and $1 million to buy the equipment, molds and bead plates. That doesn't include the building, the boiler or the licensing fee. Plus, employees must be trained to understand and run the programs.
But the results are worth it, said Mr. Kamps, who's invested $2 million so far and now has in operation 11 Cima presses that produce 36,000 AcuTread tires a year.
AcuTread remanufacturing takes retreading to the next level in terms of performance and appearance, he said. ``With conventional retreading there's too big of a gap between a retread and a new tire and as a result some fleets are not using retreads as much as they could. With the new system we've found more fleets using a greater percentage of retreads.''
And they're paying more for them-as much as a 10-percent premium, he said.
Since using AcuTread, Wonderland Tire has picked up additional business in its Chicago marketing area and has added a couple of accounts in Detroit, a new territory for the firm.
``We're getting cut in because of AcuTread,'' Mr. Kamps said.