Green Chemistry: Designing Safer Chemicals

Previously when we discussed green chemistry, we listed 12 Principles of Green Chemistry the American Chemical Society has developed as guides. They are:

  • green-chemistryPrevention
  • Atom Economy
  • Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses
  • Designing Safer Chemicals
  • Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries
  • Design for Energy Efficiency
  • Use of Renewable Feedstocks
  • Reduce Derivatives
  • Catalysis
  • Design for Degradation
  • Real-time Analysis for Pollution Prevention
  • Inherently Safer Chemistry for Accident Prevention


The fourth one, Designing Safer Chemicals, is one that is vitally important for all of us, as any chemicals we use today have both a present and future impact. The ACS explains: “Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of function while reducing toxicity.”

People have been creating or refining chemicals to do certain jobs for thousands of years, but prior to the industrial revolution most of those chemicals were made from everyday organic ingredients that were only modified in small ways. Wine can be drunk, but vinegar is useful in dozens, if not hundreds, of daily applications. Both are biodegradable and do minimal damage to the environment.

When businesses began manufacturing items in bulk and from more complex materials like metal alloys or plastics, they started inventing chemicals that would allow them to make products faster and to make ones that had specific applications and would be stronger, brighter, more flexible and more durable. Today we are surrounded by products made from synthetic materials, and many of them are unable to be produced, cleaned, or even destroyed without similarly complex chemicals.

Because companies didn’t fully understand – or sometimes care enough – how those chemicals would affect the people who used them and the environments in which they were used, some of the unintended consequences were disastrous. These include sick and dying workers and Superfund sites. Solvents created both many solutions and many problems. Chemicals solvents were able to do many things other organic solutions couldn’t. They were used to remove dirt, grime, and grease from a variety of parts that needed to be cleaned, and also in paints, degreasers, glues, and adhesives. Unfortunately generations of people who worked with solvents may have sickened, died, or experienced lesser quality of life because of them.

The American Chemical Society acknowledges that designing safer chemicals is one of the largest challenges for green chemistry. The fact is, we still need degreasers, glues, paints, and parts washers, and we need them to work to specification. The parts washers that AEC designs for our clients keep automobile engines running and aircraft flying, and most of us rely on cars, trucks, and planes to get to where we need to go or deliver the products we use every day. We are unwilling to go back to the way people lived in 1900 or even 1950, and chemistry is an important component of the modern lifestyle.

So all of us need researchers to find new chemicals that will clean well and without toxicity. That’s a tall order because it requires a knowledge of toxicology, environmental science, biology, and chemistry. However, if we want our children to live in a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly world, however, we need to make the investment.

AEC Systems designs and manufactures solvent-free washers. The aqueous parts washers we produce use heat, water, and corrosion-free detergents to clean the parts our customers need cleaned to their specifications. We are proud to be a part of a trend of green chemistry in the 21st century.

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Another Breakthrough in Water Remediation

5597513455_ea15295f15_bAEC Systems produces a variety of parts washers designed to clean anything to specification, so our business depends on cleaning technology. For our purposes we concentrate on how to most effectively remove dirt, grease, swarf, and any other pollutants from items made of metal, plastic, and other materials. These include things like aircraft wheels, engine blocks, 55-gallon drums, locomotive crankcases, steel mill bearings, transmissions, and wind turbine gearboxes. In an effort to design parts washers that produce minimal waste during their processes – as close to zero waste as possible – we are also interested in advances in technology like environmentally friendly products like the washer washer.

Given this, the technology Deakin University announced recently is fascinating. Scientists at Deakin have produced a new material that can be used to soak up large amounts of oil like what is produced from a major oil spill. This material acts performs like a literal sponge for oils and solvents and is a breakthrough in water remediation.

Professor Ying Chen said that because oil spills are common in Australia, where Deakin is located, they had greater incentive to create a material that would minimize the devastating impact an oil spill can have on both aquatic and land ecosystems. It can take decades for an area to return to its previous function after an environmental disaster. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil out into Prince William Sound, and many Alaska beaches remain polluted even today. Exxon, in fact, is still involved in court cases. For the sake of environment and business, it’s imperative that we find better solutions that can be applied in situ and immediately.

The material Deakin has produced is a boron nitride nanosheet and “is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts.” The original substance Deakin scientists produced was white graphite, a powder, and the challenge was to turn that powder into a sponge that would absorb oil and organic solvents. In addition to absorbing up to 33 times their own weight, these nanosheets do not burn, can withstand flame, and can be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation.

Every day scientists and engineers test the limits of what science can do to improve our lives and push back our current limitations. Some of the breakthroughs they have made will allow us to repair the damage (and unintended consequences) of earlier innovations and inventions. They will also trickle down into everyday applications like the parts washers AEC manufactures. It is exciting to see these discoveries as they are made.

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What Is Ultrasonic Cleaning?

ultrasonic washerLast month we discussed what aqueous cleaning is, and this month we are going to delve a little deeper into a specific cleaning option by explaining what ultrasonic cleaning is and what it involves.

Ultrasonic cleaning uses ultrasound and a cleaning solvent to clean a specific item. People are most familiar with ultrasonic cleaning in a couple of its uses: jewelry and dental instrumentation. In both of these cases there are delicate items or precision instruments involved and often parts with small crevices that must be cleaned. These items are immersed in a liquid that is flooded with high frequency sound waves, and both act in concert to remove dirt and debris. Ultrasonic cleaning does not use scrubbers or brushes because the sound waves themselves act as brushes.  

How do sound waves act as brushes? Well, that’s interesting. Ultrasonic energy enters the cleaning tank the parts are immersed in and causes minute bubbles to form and collapse very quickly. This process is called cavitation and involves the creation of positive and negative pressure waves. These waves create bubbles that grow larger and larger and eventually implode, aiming heat, pressure, and velocity of the energy released at whatever hard surface is nearby. This energy acts as a tiny jet, or brush, and is excellent at dislodging whatever dirt may be on the item being cleaned.

How large and how powerful the bubbles will be depends on the frequency of the ultrasonic waves, and those are determined by which kind of transducer the parts cleaner utilizes. A transducer is a device that converts one form of energy into another. With ultrasonic cleaning the transducers convert electricity into pressure: those positive and negative waves mentioned above. The size and effectiveness of the bubbles created is determined by the frequency of the transducer, and most often with parts cleaners this falls within the range of 20 to 80 kHz.

AEC’s ultrasonic parts washers are designed with various stages of cleaning for best performance. These include ultrasonic washing, ultrasonic rinsing, and regen drying. With this kind of parts cleaner it is possible to get deep and probing cleaning that will remove a variety of contaminants including dust, dirt, oil, grease, mold release agents, blood, and even fingerprints from materials like glass, metal, plastic, and rubber without the use of harsh solvents.

If your company is in need of an effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly parts cleaning solution, we at AEC Systems would love to discuss your options – including ultrasonic cleaning – with you.

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What Is Aqueous Cleaning?

We have talked a number of times on this blog about why governments and businesses have moved away from solvent-based cleaning systems and towards more environmentally friendly solutions. Solvents are very effective at removing grease, dirt, and oils, but they come with a heavy downside: pollution and long-term negative consequences for human and environmental health.

Aqueous cleaners also have clear advantages over solvents because traditional chemical methods of cleaning are becoming more regulated and more expensive. Part of the expense involves the purchase of specific cleaning products, some of which have been by law slowly phased out of use, but as people and governments become more and more concerned about the unintended consequences of certain cleaning methods, it’s becoming harder – and therefore more expensive –  to find venues that will dispose of the waste that results from processes that utilize toxic solvents.

top loadThis is why we at AEC Systems have focused on providing aqueous cleaning solutions to meet the needs businesses and manufacturers have without exposing anyone or anything to the dangers and risks solvents carry.  What is aqueous cleaning, then?

Aqueous cleaning uses water as its primary solvent. The following may be added as well: surfactants and detergents, emulsifiers, inhibitors, anti-foaming agents, PH buffers, builders, deflocculants, and chelating agents. By altering the PH of the aqueous solution, it can more effectively remove different substances. Acidic aqueous solutions are better for removing scale, rust, and oxides from metals, whereas alkaline aqueous solutions remove salts, oxides, organic soils, metal chips, and grease. Alkaline solutions are the most common type of aqueous solutions and can be used effectively within a range of temperatures.

Soaking parts alone will not remove some substances effectively or efficiently which is why parts washers are designed to incorporate ultrasonic equipment, spray washers, and other technology like immersion. When parts are immersed in an aqueous solution for a period of time, heat or agitation is used to clean hard-to-remove contaminants. Pressure spray washing can also use heat, along with steadily applied water pressure, to achieve the same goal.

With ultrasonic cleaning, a detergent is dissolved in an aqueous water solution and high frequency sound waves are used to produce bubbles that help dissolve and displace the targeted contaminants.

While aqueous cleaning does result in waste, the process is much healthier for both the environment and for those who have to operate the parts cleaners. Additionally, other technology, such as the washer washer, is available to lower the waste output and reuse the cleaning solutions in solution.

If your company is in need of an effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly parts cleaning solution, we at AEC Systems would love to discuss your options with you.

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What is a Washer Washer? An Interview with Ray Graffia, Jr. of Arbortech Corporation


Today we’ll be talking with Ray Graffia, Jr. of Arbortech Corporation. His company manufactures washer washers, and these devices have considerable overlap with the work we do at AEC Systems. Ray graciously agreed to answer our questions, and we’ll let him explain what his business does and why it’s important.

What exactly is a “washer washer”?

Washer Washer is the name we give to Arbortech’s series of wash water recycling devices.  Essentially all water-based cleaning solutions are candidates for recycling, including floor wash and all forms of mechanized parts’ washing – from pressure sprayers to commercial washing systems like those built by AEC Systems USA.  Our equipment washes the end-user’s aqueous cleaners – often used in washer tanks, hence we offer Washer Washers (WW)!

How complex is the chemistry involved?

Other than restoration processes (cleanings) for the membrane filters that accomplish the separation of good stuff from bad stuff, there is no chemistry involved.  This is a mechanical process and not a chemical one…  Think of your skin = it will pass “water” when we get our heart (pump) going during exercise, but retains blood, organs, bones, etc.  Same/Same w/WWs, where we pass water and the cleaning chemistry under the pressure of a circulation pump, while retaining oils and soils for concentration and removal from the cleaning process.


How does a washer washer work in conjunction with a parts washer?

Parts washers clean parts and as those oils and soils accumulate, the effectiveness of cleaning may diminish due to loading of contamination.  We tie into the washer on a sidestream basis (think of kidney dialysis) taking the snarky stuff out on a continuous basis and returning clean cleaner, thereby, over time, bringing wash solutions back to and maintaining them at near initial cleanliness.  This, of course, means that the parts being washed are consistently clean from Day One and in perpetuity.  Without recycling in use, cleaning may offer a great performance for minutes to maybe a shift, followed by pretty good cleaning, followed by so-so parts’ cleanliness, followed by increasing levels of rejects, followed by “Uh-oh – better do something!”, followed by dumping the solution and making up a fresh batch of cleaning chemistry.  WWs ensure parts always being kept in that good to great range of cleanliness!

How will investing in the filtration of the cleaning water save companies money over time?

Let’s just think about a company who recently (~2 weeks ago) sent us their operating costs.  I attached the Excel calculator we prepared for them so you can see where savings can be made.  In essence, they would save >15,500 gallons of water per year, close to 2,000 gallons of chemistry, ~26 work days of labor, energy (to heat the water ~5 versus 31 times), nearly $10,500 in haul-away charges, and so on, to the tune of paying back a >$36K recycler in less than 10 months.  Now, if they add chemistry regularly to boost deteriorating effectiveness and/or get the residual from the Washer Washer to a point where its oil content means an oil reclaimer might take away the leftovers at little to no charge, or in cases where folks are treating this wastewater in-house, between operational savings and, even more importantly, the savings of their WWTP operator’s happiness, the payback can be nearly instantaneous.  Most WWTP operators will tell us that their worst nightmares come every time a wash tank is dumped — from the deleterious effects such cleaning chemistries have on their normal WWT methods.

Does this have environmental benefits?

Oodles – see above, paying particular attention to the greatly diminished usage of water, the lessened impact of spent chemistry disposal, etc.

Do you see washer washers becoming a larger trend in the future? Why?

I see there being no doubt that, one day – and it is already beginning to happen in CA, the increasing scarcity of water and increasing cost of same will lead to many more installations in coming years.  And if we become like California nationwide/worldwide re decreasing levels of water, I can even foresee recycling eventually becoming mandated by regulators as a Best Practice.

How did you get interested in developing water filtration technology? Was this your first career?

NewColony3Once a hippie tree hugger = always one!  Was this your first career?  Nope – rock & roll semi-star in the ‘60s.  Still perform a bit today (see Arcada Theatre Concert 4-19-15) but while music remains my passionate avocation, Arbortech Corporation satisfies both the desire to help Mother Earth and pay the Graffia, Jr. family’s bills as it has done since I started this adventure in 1981!



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5 Things to Look for in Your Parts Washer

cabinetWasher5We’ve previously talked about the importance of considering what kind of parts washer is best for a specific cleaning need. Since AEC Systems designs each parts washer to fit the application, we already incorporate learning our customers needs as a part of our design process. But often people will search online for “parts washers” or “part washer” looking for a product to buy off the rack. For small businesses whose parts-cleaning needs are not terribly frequent and do not require cleaning to exact specification, it would make sense to purchase a more general product.

These kinds of parts washers still have to do their job, however, or the money you’ve invested will have been wasted. Consider the following, then, when you go shopping for a generalized one-size-fits-all parts washer.

  • Environmental impact – Recent studies have shown the chemical solvents once used so often in manufacturing and many other industries are terrible for the environment and bad for human health within both the short and long term. The good news is that other studies have shown that, unlike solvents, surfactants are safe.  Aqueous parts washers – the kind we design at AEC Systems – rely on surfactants to remove dirt, grime, oil, grease and many other things from the parts they clean. They do so in a way that has significantly less risk to both the environment and the people who must handle them.
  • Safety – In addition to choosing an aqueous parts washer over one that uses solvents, you must evaluate the quality of the parts washer you select. Is it well put together? Will it be safe for your workers to use? Have there been any complaints about the model or the manufacturer? Are there any lawsuits pending?
  • Ease of use – How simple will this parts washer be to operate? How much training will it require the average user to have? Will it be easy to clean or fix if it breaks? When you purchase a mass manufactured solution, remember that this machine has been designed to clean a spectrum of products and not one specific part. This means in order for your business to get best performance out of it, you will have to figure out how to make that happen both in terms of employee training and modification of the machine itself or the way it is used.
  • Efficiency – Again, you must calculate if your company will save money over time with a parts washer that is not designed for your need. Often a more automated solution can save money in terms of employee costs, paying for itself over time. Additionally a custom parts washer will only use the amount of water or chemicals necessary and will produce less waste to be disposed of.
  • Cost – If any of the above factors prove expensive for your company, a cheaper parts washer will not be cheap in anything but the short run. Still, when selecting from among generalized parts washing solutions, it’s important to pay less attention to tag price and more to per use cost. And do not forget to factor in the cost to repair it or purchase replacement parts.

Not every problem needs a custom solution, but if your company’s experience using an off-the-rack parts washer has been less than satisfactory, AEC would love to talk to you about what kind of solution we can design to better meet your needs and save you money in the long run.


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Filling the Skills Gap in Michigan’s Manufacturing Sector

The second week in May is Michigan Manufacturing Week. Manufacturing in the state has been in recovery for a number of years now, adding necessary jobs for Michigan residents and contributing to an overall more robust economy.

7853147006_a3e6f0ddf4_mWhile this is great news there is significant concern about what some researchers are calling the skills gap. Today’s manufacturing climate is very different from the one our parents and grandparents worked in. A high percentage of unskilled line work exited the country in the past twenty years and will not return as long as the global economy allows for simultaneous cheaper wages and affordable transportation options for finished goods.

Researchers at Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute announced in February that there will be nearly 3.5 million manufacturing job openings – skilled and highly necessary positions – over the next decade, and, if nothing changes, 2 million of those will not be filled because suitable candidates will not be found to fill them. The types of positions needed will not only be in engineering. The country needs technicians who can fix machines when they break down, computer programmers, scientists, and skilled production workers. Essentially, students who major in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will not have a problem finding work over the next decade. What’s more, companies that desperately need these workers will have to be generous with both salaries and benefits.

In many ways, a healthy skilled manufacturing sector creates a virtuous cycle. Skilled jobs are much more likely to state stateside, and the additional research and development they generate only result in more advances, more jobs, and more revenue. Unfortunately, of the manufacturing executives surveyed, 8 out of 10 of them said that the expected skilled labor shortage would affect the ability of their companies to meet current demand, improve productivity, and implement better technology.

Some states are taking measures to address this deficit, and Michigan is one of them. The Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) began last year as a pilot program to help Michigan companies train their workers and stem the flow of skilled young people leaving the state for better opportunities. While companies may have initially focused on the training of production workers, they are beginning to consider training for a broader base of employees. Companies can apply for retraining grants of up to $1500 per employee under the current program.

While policy making and grant program are important, it’s vital for manufacturers to begin thinking out of the box as well, not simply to avoid problems down the line, but because the stakes and the potential benefits from being proactive now in terms of seeking, hiring, and training skilled workers are so great.

AEC Systems is proud to be a part of the Michigan small business community at this interesting  time in its history.


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How Parts Washers Save Businesses Money

CameraThe high cost associated with the disposal of empty containers has made it advantageous to clean the containers and reuse them. Recycling pails and drums pays by reducing waste material, eliminating the need to purchase new containers, and saving on transportation costs.

AEC Systems, LLC recently has added a new line of industrial cabinet spray washers that will accommodate 5-gallon pails, 30- and 55- gallon drums, and even special-size totes. Each washing system can be designed specifically to meet the customer’s needs and is not “one size fits all.” These washers are designed with longevity and customer ease of operation in mind. Whether cleaning just a few containers a day or hundreds, AEC Systems now has the ability to work with customers in developing a system that fits their requirements.

CameraSome container-stored products leave residue that can be easily removed with hot water and then reused. Others require special cleaning chemicals and hot water to remove the remains, followed by a rinsing stage. However, there are times when a neutralizing agent might allow disposal of the waste stream through a normal sanitary sewer discharge. This could be done periodically when the washer’s solution tank needs to be cleaned and recharged with clean water and cleaning solution.

Customers are familiar with their own chemical products and know what needs to be done to comply with local, state and federal laws. All waste by-products need to be handled properly and hauled away by an authorized waste hauler.

AEC Systems parts washers are available in carbon steel or stainless steel, depending on the work environment and types of cleaning chemicals. Heating of solution tanks can be electric (encased heating elements are available if sludge buildup is a problem), steam, or natural gas. Units are designed for either manual or automatic sequence cycling. Loading and unloading can be done by hand or by using AEC System’s line of material-handling devices.

For more details on which cleaning system and accessories are best for you, please call an AEC Systems customer service representative at 1-888-211-6006 or visit the AEC System’s website for a look at many of our previous projects and their designs.  We would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss how best to solve any container cleaning challenges your business faces.


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Why the World Needs Parts Washers

Effective parts washing makes the industrial and service worlds run. So much of the world is now mechanized; most people do not even realize the extent they rely on moving parts. The closest they come to that epiphany is when they have a car break down and they are stuck somewhere they don’t wish to be.

passThruLargeBut if all machines failed to function or ceased functioning well, our society would greatly suffer. Farming, fuel production, manufacturing, transportation, and construction all rely on a multitude of small parts that must be maintained regularly. Without these sectors, society as we know it would collapse. From this point of view, the value of the industrial parts washer becomes more clear.

What do parts washers do exactly? They are designed to remove grease, grime, oil, swarf, or any other dirt or residue from parts so that they can be inspected. Damaged parts can then be discarded and good parts refitted into a mechanical system. If this is not done, engines and other machines can suffer a serious failure, damaging other parts as well. Therefore, an investment in clean parts is an investment glitch-free systems.

Of course, not all parts washers are designed to clean small parts. AEC Systems can design a parts washer for any need, great or small, intricate or not. We’ve created systems to clean whole items such as pallets and totes, enormously heavy parts of up to 60,000 pounds each with significant soil load, and multi-stage parts washers that allow for cleaning and chemical dipping.

How do parts washers effectively clean? There are a number of methods that can be used alone or in tandem including soaking either in water or solvents, agitating, spraying, brushing, rinsing, and drying. AEC Systems engineers consult with their clients to determine their needs. Often they have parts that are difficult to clean either because of crevices and holes or significant grimy build up. They may also have other boundaries or constraints they need to work within,  such as limited space within a physical plant or a small workforce. While the needs of our clients may be complex, we can always find solutions if we work together and communicate clearly.

One of the most exciting achievements of parts washing technology is the development of environmentally friendly cleaning solutions over the past several decades. While mid-century manufacturers and businesses relied heavily on solvents, we can now employ techniques that do not rely on poisonous chemicals and are, therefore, much safer and healthier for workers to use. We also continuously make advances in creating waste-free systems so that our clients do not have large amounts of toxic chemicals to dispose of on a regular basis.

Parts washing technology is an evolving science, but the more mechanized and environmentally aware society gets, the more necessary it becomes. At AEC Systems we are excited to see where the next decade takes us in parts cleanliness.


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A Look at AEC’s Design Process

smallAugerDrum1AEC Systems designs all of its parts washers according to specific client needs. As each part is different, each project is different. We took a look at our design process, in terms of how we explore various problems and solutions, in this post: Customizing a three chamber pass through washer with dip tank, but the variables involved with cleaning a vast array of parts, whether an injector, cylinder block, turbine, or electronic component – are considerable.

At the center of every project is the part that must be cleaned. To design the proper parts cleaning solution, we must consider what material or combination of materials the part is comprised of, what impurity must be removed, how the part is shaped, the required cleanliness specifications, and what the client requires in terms of both work envelope and manpower needs.

As society has shifted away from using chemical solvents for a number of reasons, aqueous cleaning methods have been developed including immersion cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning and spray process cleaning. AEC uses the right combination of these processes in order to accomplish cleaning to specification no matter how small or large, oily, dirty, or complex the part.

Additionally, as the regulatory environment is becoming more complex daily, so do our clients’ needs. The costs for waste disposal have also risen considerably over time. Therefore we at AEC Systems factor in waste minimization at the beginning of every project with the ideal goal being zero waste production for every cleaning process. Every success we achieve, in terms of lowered disposal costs and heat and chemical recovery, can be applied to future projects as we hone our ability to produce cleaning solutions with a small physical and environmental footprint that are simple to use and can be operated with limited staff.

We’ve highlighted on this blog over the past year a number of changes in technology that may affect our ability in the future to create better, more efficient, more environmentally low-impact cleaning systems. Other breakthroughs, such as in bioremediation and UV light technology, may not have a direct effect on AEC Systems’ clients but represent a rapidly evolving understanding of our world and how it works. Obviously it is exciting time to work in science and technology and all the fields that harness both in order to better interact within our environments and achieve our individual and collective goals.

Here’s to more fascinating discoveries and private achievements in 2015!


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