7286 Penn Drive   Bath, PA 18014
Phone: (610) 837-8792     Toll Free: (800) 292-RIMS     Fax: (610) 837-8967

"The Express-Times"
June, 1997

Rounding the Bend

Daryl L. Robbins and George J. Herschman began second careers by teaming up to start a business repairing damaged aluminum wheels.

Damage a car's fender, it gets knocked back in place. A window dinged by a stone can be restored to full strength.But mangle a wheel, and traditionally it has to be replaced. A new rim typically runs hundreds of dollars, and a less-expensive junkyard wheel lacks factory-specified roundness.However, in the past few years consumers have had another option--repairing damaged wheels. A company started by two men--one from Bushkill Township--restores aluminum-alloy wheels to the manufacturers' specs.

Daryl L. Robbins and George J. Herschman began tinkering with the idea in 1989, working out of Herschman's Bushkill Township barn. Today, they are president and vice president, respectively, of Advanced Machine Systems, Inc., trading as Wheel Collision Center.

From their facility at the Airport Road Commercial Park in East Allen Township, workers make bent, cracked, gouged or broken wheels road-worthy once more. A new aluminum wheel typically costs more than $300. Wheel Collision says its average cost to restore a wheel is $120.The business employs 19 people and has estimated sales approaching $5 million. Its wheels of fortune have moved so steadily, the company started a nationwide toll-free number: 800-292-RIMS.

"I guess broadly, we'd like to be considered the Midas of the wheel repair industry," says Robbins, who lives in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.Wheel Collision Center isn't the only area business offering remanufactured wheels. "We're their direct competition..." says Tony Kilpatrick, office coordinator of Keystone Automotive Industries Inc. in Upper Saucon Township.for repairing wheels. Developing the process included two years of metallurgical testing at Lehigh University.

The two men met years ago while working at the former INPACO Inc. in Nazareth, now INPACO Corp. near the Lehigh Valley International Airport, which is a division of Liqui-Box Corp. in Worthington, Ohio.Herschman, 53, who sports a ponytail under a Harley-Davidson baseball hat with a tattoo on hisleft arm that says "Drifter", ran INPACO's engineering department.

Robbins, 39, who holds a master's degree from Harvard Business School was its business development manager.

When Herschman left INPACO after more than 20 years, he contacted Robbins. They researched the wheel business, visiting a shop in Maryland to learn more about the restoration process."We said, 'We could do that,'" says Robbins. Combining Herschman's machine-making skill (he holds other patents on packaging systems) and Robbins' business background, they got the wheels going, literally.They declined to give specifics of the repair process, citing the status of the patent and competition. However, it involves softening a wheel using controlled heat, then reshaping it with machines using specific parameters for various alloys. Refinishing the wheel is the last step.

To help get started, Robbins and Herschman got a $150,000 grant from Ben Franklin Technology Center at Lehigh University to test wheels repaired on Herschman's equipment."They came to us requesting funding support so they could get some assistance from Lehigh University to develop the process for repairing aluminum wheels," recalls Bob Thomson, program manager at Ben Franklin.Lehigh reviewed the welding work and strength of Wheel Collision's repaired wheels, according to David Thomas, professor emeritus at Lehigh's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Thomas stressed he was not involved at the outset with the testing.

The wheel-repair business is just getting rolling, according to Robbins and Herschman. They've estimated potential gross earnings of $225 million to $2.2 billion, assuming a 1 percent to 10 percent range of damaged aluminum wheels on about 60 million cars and light trucks running in the United States.

"We've been very pleased with their performance," Thomson says of Robbins and Herschman. "They've identified a unique market opportunity in which they were one of the first people to get into this kind of business."I think they have the potential to be extremely successful."

by Anthony Salamone

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