The Zero-Waste Manufacturing Goal

zero-waste manufacturingThis April the U.S. celebrated the 48th annual Earth Day, and news outlets all over the world focused on the work people are doing to conserve and preserve the environment. In the manufacturing world, many companies are making strides towards becoming zero waste manufacturing facilities. Since minimizing waste is one of AEC Systems’ largest priorities in designing our parts washers, we wanted to examine this concept of zero-waste manufacturing further.

What Is Zero-Waste Manufacturing?

Zero waste manufacturing is an initiative that aims to completely eliminate waste by reducing or reusing all products and byproducts of the manufacturing process. While in practical terms it is impossible for a manufacturing facility (or any business) to produce zero waste, many companies have been able to achieve Zero Landfill status. To do this, companies:

General Motors currently has 142 zero waste facilities. Another company dedicated to zero waste is Volkswagen. Volkswagen donates all of their used pallets to local community projects which use the wood for recycled or upcycled projects. Redirecting pallet waste from landfills is a net good in terms of the environment. It saves money on disposal costs. The community also benefits, making this a win-win strategy for Volkswagen in terms of both costs and public relations.

How Does the Zero-Waste Philosophy Affect Parts Washers?

As we’ve noted before, parts washers make both the service and industrial sectors run. Parts washers are everywhere – in farming, fuel production, manufacturing, transportation, and construction. Parts washers are input/output machines, however. They require chemicals, water, and/or heat to operate, and they do produce wastes.

Parts washers that operate using solvents will have toxic chemicals that must be disposed of. Parts washers that use water, surfactants, and agitation to clean parts will also produce wastes in the form of heat, sludge, and water based cleaners. Fortunately, these wastes are not as expensive to dispose of or as damaging to the environment.

Using the criteria listed above, it’s obvious that it will be much easier for manufacturers wanting to become zero waste to use aqueous parts washers simply because it is easier to separate many of the metals and oils and recycle them, preventing them from entering the environment.

The less waste a business produces, the more efficiently it is operating. Highly efficient companies realize greater energy savings and increased profitability. This is a virtuous cycle, and it’s why so many large corporations are pursuing zero waste as a goal. Companies interested in transforming their process to zero-waste manufacturing should shift from using parts washers that require solvents to using aqueous parts washers as one more strategy toward achieving that goal.


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Michigan Expands Testing to Determine TCE Exposure

TCEState officials in Michigan have reported that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will test more than 100 homes in Brighton for trichloroethylene (TCE). This toxic chemical was found to be present in the air of five homes near Brighton High School. Additionally, the state has opened another investigation of toxic air in a second location near Whitmore Lake Road.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chemical that is commonly used as an industrial solvent to remove grease from metal parts and as an ingredient in paint removers, spot removers, and adhesives. The reason TCE is in Brighton’s homes and groundwater is that the manufacturer Detroit Gaskets utilized and disposed of it carelessly it for over 30 years, from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Detroit Gaskets used TCE as a degreaser. Haigh Manufacturing, located in the second area of contamination, also dumped it in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dealing with TCE’s persistent toxicity has been an ongoing problem for residents in this area for decades since this chemical was discovered in the groundwater in 1990. The City of Brighton had to expand its water supply to some 89 houses because the well water was no longer drinkable. Since that time some clean up has occurred, and the footprint of the first groundwater plume is about half of its original size. Unfortunately, air quality in these homes is also affected. TCE can leach into residences on top of the contaminated areas through vapor intrusion. In cases where the air is found to be toxic, air purifying units must be installed in order to mitigate TCE vapors.

Previously we’ve discussed the consequences of solvent exposure. Because TCE was used in many settings for decades without precautions, there is significant evidence that long-term exposure to trichloroethylene can lead to kidney, liver, heart, and nerve damage, cognitive impairment, birth defects, and cancer. Like other solvents, it must be handled with care and disposed of correctly. People suffer when it is not.

As this story illustrates, the chemicals we use in our daily lives have an impact on us both in the present and in the future. This is why choosing green, environmentally safe options is so important for all of us in all aspects of our lives, including in our businesses. The choices Detroit Gaskets and Haigh Manufacturing made for decades have created a toxic environment that has made people sick and cost the City of Brighton and the state a great deal of time and money to mitigate.

AEC Systems, LLC is committed to designing and manufacturing parts washing equipment that does not rely on toxic solvents to clean industrial parts. We believe that it’s worth investing money to prevent damage to people’s health and to the environment. We are proud of the safe and effective products we design and of our commitment to safer chemistry in parts cleaning. If your company is exploring alternatives to parts cleaning with solvents, call us today. We would be happy to discuss with you how we can meet your needs.


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Water, the Universal Solvent

universal solventPreviously we’ve talked about solvents and how exposure to some solvents carries risks to health and well being. What is a solvent, though? In this blog we will answer that question and explain why water is the universal solvent.

What Is a Solvent?

A solvent is a liquid that dissolves a solute or a liquid into which other materials dissolve to form a solution. There are many types of solvents, including turpentine, benzene, trichloroethylene, ethanol, and – of course – water. A common rule of chemistry is “Like dissolves like.” There are polar and nonpolar substances and solvents. Water is the polar solvent we are all familiar with. Salt is also polar, and we know how salt dissolves into water. It dissolves so well that the majority of the earth’s mass is covered by salt water. Salt remains in solution in water indefinitely unless a process like desalinization is employed.

In contrast oil is non polar. It does not dissolve in water. When oil is added to water, it will float on top of the water. Any mixture of oil and water will quickly separate. To dissolve oil easily you must use a non polar solvent like benzene. Benzene has been in use since Michael Faraday isolated it in 1825. After it was discovered, people found a variety of interesting uses for it, including as an aftershave lotion, and over time they recognized as an effective solvent and degreaser. Benzene is very efficient at dissolving oils and pulling them off of the surfaces of industrial parts.

There’s only one problem: Benzene, like many other non polar solvents, is toxic to humans and the environment. The frequent use of benzene in industry resulted in many people becoming ill over time. The U.S. government banned the use of its pure form as a solvent decades ago.

In the mid-20th century when scientists and workers began noticing links between nonpolar solvent use and health problems like leukemia and brain impairment, they began searching for alternative ways to effectively remove grease and dirt from industrial parts and other items without the same risks and dangers.

Water, the Universal Solvent

Water is called the universal solvent because it is capable of dissolving more substances than any other liquid. People have been cleaning with water for millennia. It’s such a common and useful solvent that we reach for it it as a go to “solution” whenever anything gets dirty. By itself, however, water can’t compete with benzene or trichloroethylene in removing grease or oil. That’s why aqueous parts washers are designed to use heat, pressure, agitation and surfactants along with water to get parts clean.

AEC Systems, LLC designs our parts cleaners around the parts they must clean. Once we know what cleanliness challenges the part has, we can create a washer that will utilize mechanical processes like scrubbing, spraying, or agitation that, in combination with water, heat, and cleaners will accomplish the same task as solvents but without the exposure to toxins. If you have a part that you need cleaned to specification, we can design a washer that will get the job done and done right. We can help with a recommendation for reliable chemistry providers to assist your cleaning needs. Call us today to discuss which solutions we can design to meet your parts washing needs.  







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What Your Parts Washer Performance Should Be

parts washer performanceDoes your business need a new parts washer? Is your current parts washer performing efficiently and to specification? Does it need frequent repair? AEC Systems has been designing and manufacturing parts washers for decades, and we want our customers to know that a parts washer that is correctly designed and built will perform its job the right way the first time. There are five expectations you should have of parts washer performance. They should:

Remove contaminant from parts – Parts should no longer be coated with should after they have been washed. What’s more, a parts washer should be able to do this within one cycle. You should not have to run your machine repeatedly to ensure that all traces of common contaminants like dirt, grease, oil, cleaning fluids, water and swarf are removed. If you’ve been using an older machine or one that’s not suited to your application, you might think repeat cycles are necessary to get parts clean. This isn’t true.

Clean efficiently – Older or one-size-fits all parts cleaners often take longer to clean and use more energy to operate. Time and energy cost your business money every single time a parts washer is run. Efficient cleaning is possible with the right parts cleaner.

Dry to specification – Drying is usually the most complex part of cleaning a component, and it needs to be done exactly right and not expend any more energy than necessary.

Minimize costs – Time and energy are not the only costs associated with parts washers. Cleaners cost money,  and so does machine maintenance. There is also waste disposal to consider – waste heat, waste water, sludge. A correctly engineered machine will require less cleaner and produce less waste for a company to dispose of.

Operate safely – No parts washer should be a health threat to an operator. They should be designed to foil any anticipated operator error. Parts washers can be built to size in order to accommodate space requirements or constraints. They can also be designed to need less operator input in order to increase safety and lower operational costs.

There are so many parts washing options available that your parts washer should be able to accomplish all of the above. A new parts washer is an investment, but old parts washers are expensive to run. If you are interested in having a high performance parts washer built with the cleaning needs of your parts in mind, call us today at AEC Systems. We have over 30 years experience with these systems, and we can design one to clean any part efficiently and to specification.


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What Michigan is Doing to Help Manufacturing

MichiganPreviously we’ve talked about the lack of skilled workers in Michigan. This lack has impacted and continues to impact the manufacturing sector in negative ways. Since 2000 the state has lost 326,000 workers, and while unemployment is low, companies need skilled labor in order to grow and thrive. Currently in Michigan 100,000 unfilled jobs exist.

In July of 2016 there were 604,200 jobs in manufacturing in Michigan, and the state’s economy in general benefits greatly when it’s manufacturing sector succeeds. Unfortunately, the age of the average manufacturing worker skews older than in other sectors. Most workers are not young people, and unless that changes, as Baby Boomers retire and leave the workforce, the labor shortage will continue to increase.

A number of organizations have created initiatives to introduce young people to the kinds of trades and skills that manufacturing needs. Skilled professionals in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) fields in in great demand in the industry. Manufacturing also benefits from the work of those in education or research. New technology, including advances in robotics, directly influences what happens on the factory floor. Companies need computer programmers, production workers, and also technicians who are able to maintain the continually more complex equipment found in today’s factories.

The State of Michigan has gotten involved by creating the Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) which has been offering grants to companies who train their workers in additional skills. Right now the State is accepting applications through Michigan Works! for $27 million in grants that will be used to train either current workers or new hires. Companies have until October 6, Manufacturing Day, to fill out an application for these grants.

From 2014 until the present, the STTF granted 1,422 companies these awards. The average award amount was $33,938 and the average training cost per employee was $995.  The awards were split among companies of different sizes with companies of 500 employees or more receiving 173 awards, companies with 100 to 499 employees receiving 537 awards, and companies with fewer than 100 employees receiving 712 awards. Being a small or mid-sized company is not an impediment to applying for or receiving these grants, so companies of all sizes should consider whether offering further training to their employees would be of benefit.

The Michigan economy has emerged from the Great Recession and is doing better in the second decade of the 21st century, but companies need to think outside of the box to find and train the workers they will need in the future.  What is your company doing to ensure it will always have the workers it needs to grow and succeed?


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Why Is Aqueous Cleaning Better than Using Solvents?

Because parts washers are unseen heroes of the everyday world, doing the task of keeping myriad of parts we never even consider clean, most people don’t stop to think about how those parts washers do their jobs. How does that grease, oil, grime, or otherwise very hard-to-clean contaminants get removed day in and day out? Is that process safe?

Back in the mid-20th century, during the same chemical revolution that also produced wall-to-wall carpet, pharmaceuticals, and plastics, businesses that had to clean parts regularly in order to operate, produce, or manufacture used solvents. Chemicals such as benzene and trichloroethylene worked very efficiently and effectively to remove grease and baked-on contaminants. The problem was that these solvents caused real damage to the people who worked with them and to the geographical areas in which they were used. Many of the Superfund sites that cost the public, the government, and the environment so much money and time to clean were (and are) toxically polluted from solvent exposure. We as a society became aware of the damage these chemicals caused only after the fact.

The long-term effects of solvent exposure on people has been linked to reproductive damage, liver and kidney disease, respiratory issues, cancer, and even brain health and memory. Congress passed legislation like the Clean Air Act, and the EPA began regulating solvent use in the early 1970s, requiring businesses to follow much more stringent emissions and disposal requirements. Much progress has been made restoring polluted land and water and in designing safer chemicals since then. Still, solvents are widely used today in many industries and manufacturing sectors. You’re familiar with the smell of some of them, including that new car smell. Yes, that’s the smell a toxic mixture of solvents and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produces.

Volatile organic compounds aren’t just bad for indoor environments. They evaporate and react with other pollutants in outdoor air to produce ozone, and increased ozone is bad for health too. It causes headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation, exacerbates respiratory problems like asthma, and has even been linked to cancer. Because of this, many state governments continue to pass legislation further limiting the use of VOCs.

Companies still need clean parts, however, regulations or not. As a result, aqueous washers have proliferated as the safer and more economical alternative to using traditional solvents. Aqueous washers use water instead of chemical solvents in tandem with other mechanical or chemical methods in order to clean parts to specification. This can be challenging, but the results are safer and even more economical in the long term. It’s important to remember that, while aqueous cleaning is a more environmentally safe way to clean, proper disposal of all cleaning solutions should always be done.

AEC Systems designs our industrial parts washers to utilize water and heat, pressure, agitation, and other engineering solutions to remove dirt, grease, oil, and swarf effectively and safely, minimizing expensive waste removal costs. We can design a parts washer to clean any part, no matter how large, small, or complex. If you have a unique cleaning challenge, call us today. We would love to discuss how we can solve your problem together.







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How Do You Know If You Have the Right Parts Washer?

right parts washerWhy are there so many different kinds of parts washers? If you browse AEC Systems’ product line page, you’ll see a wide variety of parts washers? If you’ve never before purchased a parts washer before or have only used a washer that was purchased “off the rack,” you might be overwhelmed by the number of choices available. What is the right parts washer for your need? How do you know where to begin?

Most people inherently understand what is required to clean things from doing dishes or washing the car. Some dirt will come off with soaking or spraying. Grease requires soap to remove. Stickiness or baked on grime will require scrubbing with varying degrees of pressure. It’s the same with industrial parts. To choose the best kind of parts washer you need to understand what needs to be removed from it.

Aqueous parts washers utilize water to clean. Water is the primary solvent, and it can be heated, sprayed, or agitated to increase its cleaning action. In addition to water, various chemicals will be added to add in removing contaminants like grease, rust, scale, or coolants. These cleaners may be alkaline, acidic, or chelating agents.

The benefit of working with AEC Systems is that we have designed a spectrum of parts washers specifically for our clients’ needs. We have the experience and knowledge to make choosing which parts washer would work simpler, and we can design a system to clean any part, no matter how complex or large. Our design process begins with understanding what our clients’ requirements are in terms of cleanliness, system operation, work space available, and environmental impact. If you’d like to have the right parts washer that will work most efficiently and cost effectively for your need, you can depend on us to supply you with that system.



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How Often Do I Need to Change My Aqueous Cleaning Product?

cleaning productWhen business owners begin to do their research on industrial parts washers, they often think about what kind of parts washer would be best to use for their specific needs, whether they can purchase one already made or need to have one designed to clean parts to specification, how much space the parts washer will take up on the shop floor, and how many employees it will take to operate it. Another question they should ask, particularly when it comes to aqueous parts washers is: How often will the aqueous cleaning product need to be replaced? If you’re a business owner in the market for a parts cleaner, how do you know the answer to this question?

While aqueous parts washers use water-based solutions to clean instead of petroleum-based solvents, those solutions require cleaning formulations to do their work (in addition to heat, agitation, and soap action). Those cleaners have a limited lifespan. Even when a parts washer is combined with a washer washer, the cleaners do not last forever; they degrade. A number of factors influence how long they will do their job effectively. These are:

The amount of dirt, grease, or swarf the cleaner has to remove – This would include how dirty the individual parts are and how many parts there are to clean. Is the “dirt” just dirt or is it debris or swarf? What is the overall workload? The dirtier the parts are, the sooner the cleaner will lose its effectiveness and have to be replaced.

How big the parts washer’s sump is – The size of the sump determines how much soil in solution the parts washer will be able to accommodate before the solution no longer works to clean. The smaller the sump, the sooner the cleaner will need to be replaced.

Because the soil composition varies based on the parts themselves and how they are used, it’s difficult to estimate how long a cleaner will last. It’s a good question to ask of your parts washer manufacturer, however. The engineer who designs the parts washer will have an idea.

After you have installed your parts washer and begin to use it, you can monitor how clean your parts are bath after bath and then determine when the cleanliness levels dip below specification. After observing this process several times, you’ll have a better idea of how often you will have to replace the cleaning product for your parts washer to remain effective.

If you are looking at parts washers and would like to know how a specifically designed washer can and would work to clean your parts better and more efficiently, call us at AEC Systems. We would love to talk to you about your needs and how we can design a system to meet them.


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Design for Energy Efficiency

Another core principle of green chemistry deals with the energy that a chemical process uses, rather than the interactions of the chemicals themselves. This is Principle #6: Design for Energy Efficiency. It states:

Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted at ambient temperature and pressure.

Here is a video of Chemistry students at the University of Toronto explaining this principle in terms of controlling energy use within a lab.

Much of the time when we think of green chemistry we think of Principle #4, Designing Safer Chemicals. This is because the results of using toxic chemicals are easily detected and quantified. We can measure acres of land that can no longer be used after a chemical spill or leak. However, when it comes to energy, it’s much more challenging but just as important to determine how much is used, especially when evaluating the costs of using certain processes.

For instance, to use parts washers as an example, it’s much easier to quantify what goes into the parts washer – water, solvents, surfactants, and electricity. Aqueous cleaning is a greener and safer alternative to cleaning with solvents, but heat is an essential part of the process. Parts washers also contain multiple moving parts that act to spray or spin objects clean. The heat or steam that is allowed to escape after the parts washing process is over must be considered wastes along with the waste water, sludge, oil, dirt, and other contaminants.

The students in the above video discuss how much energy is wasted in a typical lab, but on a larger scale all of that waste is multiplied exponentially. Manufacturers must consider the expense of any industrial process, whether it is manufacturing or cleaning in order to operate profitably, but large scale heat waste can impact the environment or communities in a very negative way as well.

It’s our job at AEC Systems to design parts cleaners that use water, chemicals, heat, and energy as efficiently as possible, so that waste byproducts are produced at a minimum. Many companies today are striving for zero waste processes, and we want our parts washers to conform as closely to that ideal, whether that means reusing water, chemicals, heat, or motion or using less of any or all of those things. As the principle above states, environmental and economic impacts should be minimized so that our customers can operate profitably and are not faced with disposal hassles and costs.

How efficiently is your parts washer operating right now? If you’d like to discuss a better, more economical and environmentally friendly option, contact AEC Systems today.


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Grateful for West Michigan

West Michigan

This past election cycle states in the Rust Belt got more attention than they have in awhile as news anchors and pundits tried to figure out how formerly blue manufacturing states went red for the first time in years. One of those states was Michigan, a state that has suffered disproportionately in the past forty years due to the over-reliance its economy once had on the manufacturing sector.

During the last recession everyone in Michigan knew someone who lost a job, and most people knew someone who left the state in search of new opportunities. It’s been a long recovery, longer than most states’ because Michigan was already in recession before the recession began. West Michigan is different, however. The Greater Grand Rapids area is thriving and has, in fact, made many “Top Cities” lists due to its healthy economic indicators and high standard of living. Housing is affordable here, families can thrive, and the city continues to grow and revitalize itself.

Manufacturing too is doing well. No longer limited to only automobiles, manufacturing in West Michigan runs the gamut from food processing and office furniture all the way to biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. In fact, experts believe that West Michigan may become even more attractive to other companies because of the affordability of its contract manufacturing. Because the cost of buying or renting space here is so much less expensive than other regions like the East Coast, the finished product can be manufactured for much less. Businesses here are and are becoming more competitive, pulling more manufacturing into the area. It’s a stark departure from previous economic patterns the people of this state have lived through. West Michigan is far from rusty!

AEC Systems is grateful and proud to be able to operate here. We value our employees and our customers. Of course, many of our customers are not from this part of the world, but we are able to provide them with a wide variety of parts washers designed especially for their needs at a competitive cost because of the advantages we gain from being located in West Michigan and the work ethic of our employees.

As 2017 continues, we look forward to another successful year of providing high quality aqueous parts washers to our customers. Our products are designed to clean without a negative health, environmental, or financial impact on the workers or businesses that will use them – which means that they will make the future better and cleaner as well.


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