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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Design for Energy Efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Grateful for West Michigan

West Michigan

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

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

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

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

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


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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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