New Invention Aims to Change Cleaning for the Better

new inventionPreviously we’ve discussed the ultrasonic cleaning process and how AEC Systems ultrasonic cleaners work via cavitation to provide deep and probing cleaning without the use of harsh solvents. In 2015 researchers from the University of Southhampton announced their invention of a device called the StarStream that uses bubbles and ultrasonic cleaning to drastically improve the cleaning power of plain, cold water. It’s a small device that looks much like a hair dryer, but the technological innovation could change the way cleaning is done across industries and even in people’s homes.

Ultrasonic cleaners as they are currently designed work in tandem with heat and detergents or other agents to remove dirt, bacteria, grease, and debris. They are often used when very fine cleaning is required, and dentists and hospitals utilize them to clean probing or surgical devices. The new technology should allow for cleaning to specification with cold water, however. This has the possibility of creating considerable energy and financial savings over the long run, as well as innumerable environmental benefits.

So far the StarStream has proven capable of removing both bacterial biofilms that can cause dental disease and soft tissue from bones – a process necessary for some transplantation surgeries to be successful. Since the StarStream technology allows for the sterilization of surgical instruments without chemicals, it could also be used to establish and maintain entire sterile environments and lessen hospitals reliance on antibiotics and anti-microbial agents. In the future the procedures medical staff have to go through to keep their hands clean could be much simpler.

The ability to effectively and efficiently clean items with tap water has the potential to affect across sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, and food preparation. The water coming from the StarStream cleans extraordinarily well upon contact, but it also increases the effectiveness of other cleaning products.

Since this new technology is patented by Ultrawave Ltd., it might be awhile before we see it used in other products or cleaning processes. But, if there’s one thing that the enormous strides in technology have taught us in the past one hundred years: no one can stand in the way of progress. If this technology is as effective as its inventors want it to be, the applications of what these researchers have discovered are endless. Imagine cleaning not just without solvents or toxic cleaners, but without detergents altogether and using minimal energy. The kinds of health and environmental disaster we see in news articles about retired factory workers and superfund sites might be a thing of the past.

That would be incredible.


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Design for Degradation

designfordegradationWe’ve been discussing core principles of green chemistry on this blog, including designing safer chemicals and waste prevention and management. As the scientific community’s understanding and exploration of the boundaries of chemistry grows, we begin to see how we can accomplish two goals that previously were thought to be incompatible: environmental responsibility and modern living with large-scale economies and manufacturing. Another one of those principles is degradation, or as the American Chemical Society calls it, design for degradation.

Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they break down into innocuous degradation products and do not persist in the environment.

Ultimately, the goal for green chemistry is to leave the environment as it was, and to avoid any harm to the people who must handle these chemicals. Many people are familiar with the concept of biodegradation and assume that it’s an unqualified good. If the material in a chemical process is organic and will degrade, then it’s not harmful, right? Two examples of biodegradation we appreciate and promote as a society are composting and water treatment plants. However, just because something is organic and will decompose does not mean that it isn’t harmful in the wrong environment or quantity. One example is the molasses pipeline spill that occurred in Honolulu, Hawaii in September of 2013.

Molasses is, of course, edible, and it’s soluble in water, but it’s also a very dense material, and when 200,000 gallons of it spilled from a pipeline and sank to the bottom of Honolulu Harbor, it smothered the sea life there. The good news is that via bioremediation, bacteria in the water should be able to consume the sugar in the molasses and restore the harbor much faster than an oil spill. The bad news is, thousands of dead fish and a huge mess that will take time to fix.

The parts cleaners that AEC Systems designs rely on aqueous cleaning rather than solvents. This means that they are safer and do not have toxic wastes that must be disposed of after the fact. However, our clients are looking for solutions that have no after-the-fact wastes, including wash water or heat byproducts, both because these processes are green and because governments are becoming ever more restrictive about heat and water wastes.

It’s AEC’s goal to design and manufacture parts cleaning solutions that are efficient, inexpensive, and green to operate while meeting stringent requirements for cleanliness. Every stride made in green chemistry will eventually be incorporated in everyday products like ours, which is why every new discovery in modern chemistry is exciting for us to read about.

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Waste Prevention and Management

In our last blog we discussed one of the principles of green chemistry – designing safer chemicals. This time we’ll talk about another principle that AEC Systems considers paramount every time we design a parts washer for a client: prevention.

Zero Waste2It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it has been created.

In the natural world, organic matter  decays and becomes part of its environment when it dies, nourishing the soil and providing nutrients for future life. Ideally, we could design cleaning systems that accomplished the same: recycling everything for another use and producing zero waste.

Zero waste management is an important goal companies strive for a number of reasons. First, environmental awareness is more prevalent everywhere as the limitations of our planet become more obvious. Anything that can be reused costs less money and requires the mining or production of fewer resources. Second, the government is becoming more strict in its regulation of waste as a way of stopping the kinds of environmental disasters of the twentieth century from occurring, and no company wants to deal with either lawsuits or cleanup of that kind of damage. Finally, disposal of true waste – material that cannot be reused in any way and/or is toxic – is becoming much more expensive. Striving towards zero waste in cleaning processes makes sense in all of these ways.

Roger Sheldon,  Professor Emeritus of Biocatalysis and Organic Chemistry at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, described the measure of waste as the E-factor: the mass ratio of waste to desire product and the atom efficiency. This idea and terminology is now used by companies globally for assessing the efficiency and environmental impact of chemical processes.

When we interviewed Ray Graffia of Arbortech Corporation, he discussed the usefulness of the washer washer. Utilizing a filtration system, companies can reuse the same wash water over and over, saving money and limiting waste. But what about producing less waste in the first place? Can a system be designed that will produce no waste byproducts, heat, or exhaust?

That is the question that engineers worldwide seek to answer in the affirmative. Recycling or reusing oil, grease, dirt, swarf, and other residues that are removed from parts during the cleaning process might seem an impossible goal. However, we’ve seen other unimaginable goals achieved over and over in the last fifty years, including putting men on the moon and designing complex computing systems that can be carried around in anyone’s back pocket. With time, effort, research, and dedication very little is impossible.

AEC Systems has a commitment to building the best, most efficient, and most environmentally friendly parts washing systems for our customers, and a core component of that is pursuing zero waste as a goal.

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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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