Hard Water, The Parts Washer’s Nemesis

hard waterWater is the universal solvent in the sense that it is capable of dissolving more substances than any other liquid. Not all water is the same, however, and the quality of your water may affect how well your parts washer will work and how clean it will get your parts. Hard water is a nemesis to any parts washer.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water is water that has a high mineral content. Specifically, hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium carbonates in solution. The more calcium and magnesium carbonate the water contains, the harder it is. Hard water isn’t just well water. Water from treatment plants can also be hard. This water may be safe to drink, but it may leave behind residue when you clean with it.

In your home, you may notice the signs of hard water when it stains your porcelain sinks or bathtubs or leaves white, chalky residue or spots on the dishes and glasses in your dishwater. The heat from your dishwater will evaporate the water molecules and leave behind the dissolved minerals. Hard water also creates other problems. Because soap may not lather or rinse as easily with hard water, your hair may be limp and your skin dry. Your pipes slowly clog with scale buildup. You may notice poorer water pressure coming from your shower head and your water taps as a result.

Hard water causes the same problems for industrial parts washers. Eighty-five percent of the United States has hard water, and approximately 95% of the solution in your parts washer is water, not aqueous cleaning product. The harder the water in your water supply, the more problems you may notice. The parts you clean may have water spots on them, and you may have calcium build up in your pipes. In your parts washer calcium will deposit on the heating system components. This reduces the efficiency of the machine and will eventually cause these heating components to overheat and require repair or replacement.

When using hard water, parts washers have to work harder and use more energy to do the same work. They require more cleaning detergents too. This is because, instead of increasing alkalinity, the detergents form soap scum. This scum falls out of solution and creates increased maintenance costs.

As you can see, hard water causes a number of issues for parts washers. If you want to have better cleaning results from your parts washers, the water you use for washing and rinsing, as well as makeup water, should have less than 50 ppm hardness. We will discuss various options for treating your hard water to make it more suitable for parts washers in future blog pieces.



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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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How To Achieve Parts Cleaning Beyond the Machines

While an industrial parts washer can go a long way, it’s only part of a comprehensive clean parts process

conveyor washer mini

An Effective Cleaning Concept

The great influence of parts cleanliness on subsequent product quality makes parts cleaning a value creation step within the manufacturing sequence. An effective cleaning strategy is essential in order to manage this step economically. Some of the most important considerations include which machining processes need to be followed up by a cleaning step, and which results need to be attained. Strict requirements for parts cleanliness can be fulfilled with up-to-date cleaning systems, for example with a cabinet parts washer — assuming the cleaning process has been well matched to the work pieces to be cleaned and existing contamination, as well as the required results, with regard to process technology, cleaning agent, temperature and duration.

Looking at the cleaning system as a “problem solver” at the end of the production process which provides the required cleanliness at a single stroke is certainly unrealistic—and uneconomical. Furthermore, expectations such as these would necessitate highly complex cleaning systems, resulting in high investment and operating costs. The following applies in general: the less contamination is carried over from manufacturing, the faster and more economically the desired results can be achieved.

Cleaning and transport containers also influence parts cleanliness. Due to corrosion, a damaged coating layer or the carryover of contaminated cleaning agents, cleaning racks and bulk goods containers can themselves be transformed into sources of contamination. It’s wrong to assume that containers which are only used to transport cleaned parts always remain clean. Transport containers must also be subjected to regular cleaning, in order to prevent recontamination of cleaned parts through contact with the container.

Temporary Corrosion Protection—Part of the Overall Process

During production—for example, after degreasing, as well as during and after machining processes—very clean surfaces are exposed to the air, which are highly susceptible to corrosion. Aqueous machining media are also frequently used which, as a rule, promote corrosion. Effective drying and/or cleaning is thus advisable, without delay, after processing with aqueous or corrosive media. Chips and metallic rubbings must also be removed as quickly as possible, because this type of contamination may lead to corrosion, even underneath protective coatings. Storage times between the individual machining steps should also be kept as short as possible. However, due to the fact that this cannot always be assured, temporary preservation is an imperative part of the manufacturing process for many workpieces.

Preservation during the Cleaning Process

Workpieces are protected from corrosion during the cleaning process by means of additives contained in the used cleaning agent. In order to provide parts with protection during subsequent storage and transport as well, temporary preservation is required. It makes good sense to apply the preservative while the parts are in the cleaning system. Oily, aqueous and wax-like substances are available to this end. Processes such as phosphate coating can also be carried out within the cleaning system.

Corrosion protection oils, emulsions and greases are used for corrosion protection purposes. Corrosion protection oils are mineral oil raffinates with various viscosities. The viscosity determines the thickness of the oil film, and thus the degree of protection. Corrosion protection emulsions consist of aqueous emulsions containing mineral oils and waxes, to which biocides and corrosion inhibitors have been added. These additives prevent the aqueous phases from causing corrosion before they evaporate. As opposed to corrosion protection oils, corrosion protection greases can be applied in greater thicknesses— they consist of Vaseline to which inhibitors have been added in order to increase the degree of protection. Fatty acid and amine adducts are normally used for temporary, aqueous corrosion protection. These substances are added to the final rinsing bath in the cleaning system, and may also be added to aqueous machining media such as coolant water. They create a dense film on the surface of the treated material which only seldom disrupts subsequent processes and thus, as a rule, need not be removed. Volatility and the hydrophobic effect can be adjusted by selecting the appropriate substance.

Hydrophobing agents create a water-repellent coating which facilitates drying, and which is washed away only slowly by condensate. However, these film layers can only be removed with alkalines. Corrosion protection waxes are complex, fluid systems made of waxes or wax-like substances, mineral spirits and corrosion inhibiting additives. They form workable, hard layers which are resistant to touch.

Criteria for the Selection of Temporary Corrosion Protection

Depending upon the selected corrosion protection medium and how thickly it’s applied, temporary preservation usually protects the workpiece for a duration of a few hours to two years. Which processes the parts will be subjected to after preservation is a critical factor in selecting the right medium. Being able to easily remove the corrosion protection medium prior to further process steps is an additional criterion, because it may impair surface finishing results.

If the part will be sent immediately to the next process or to assembly, a thin, perhaps even volatile protective layer is usually adequate. In this case, it must be kept in mind that even a fingerprint could be enough to trigger the corrosion process. If a lengthy period of storage or transport is required, longer term protection must be applied. Solutions of this sort include, for example, the so-called VCI materials (volatile corrosion inhibitors). They consist of powders and liquids, as well as impregnated films and paper. Due to the fact that the corrosion inhibitors contained in these materials are volatilized into the ambient air, the parts—if they’re not packaged in VCI film—must be stored and transported in containers which are airtight to the greatest possible extent.

Adapted from Process Cleaning Magazine.

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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?

aqueous cleaningBecause 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?

When 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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