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PURIFYING PROGRESS

Mike Rushton wants to take on dust with his new air filtration prototype

Story by SARAH PERKINS

At the heart of any good automotive shop is an even better air filtration system. In between the hustle and bustle of automotive repair, the reality of dust and air contaminants can often go unchecked in the drive to return a vehicle to a perfect condition. While a repair may be pristine, more often than not, a repair technician’s lungs aren’t.

According to a study done in 2020 and filed by the American National Library of Medicine, approximately 68.2 percent of trades workers surveyed had experienced some form of lung and chest discomfort during their career. Similarly, the Canadian Occupational Cancer Research Centre reports that approximately 560 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed annually in Canada as a result of exposure to diesel engine exhaust (DEE) and other oil-based contaminants.

As a result, for Mike Rushton, former autobody and paint technician turned environmental technologist and inventor, developing the Air Clarity Solutions (ACS) Workflow 5000 air filtration system is just one step in a journey towards helping the industry he loves work on breathing easier. While the invention may still be a work-in-progress, Rushton is hopeful for a dust-free future.

Recently, Collision Repair magazine sat down for a phone interview with Rushton to learn about his new product as well as what advantages it could have for helping to improve the health and safety of the collision repair industry.

Collision Repair: What was your initial inspiration for developing the ACS Workflow 5000?

Mike Rushton: I am a licensed autobody and paint technician from Fredericton, New Brunswick. I started to develop breathing issues after working in the industry and being exposed to airborne pollution. I worked with classic cars often, everything from old Fairlanes to Camaros, and I noticed that whatever car I was working on that day, I would blow my nose and find the colour on the tissue. I had asthma to begin with, but it started getting worse overtime.

I started to worry about my long-term health and career choice, which was disappointing as I really did enjoy the work. I’m hoping one day I can get back to it even if it’s just as a hobby if I can get it set up right. I decided to change careers as a result. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and fishing, so I returned to school to become an environmental technologist which led to my current role working in salmon conservation. My education included air quality management and other relevant subjects that helped me come up with an idea to solve this problem, and led to me starting Air Clarity Solutions.

I wanted to solve the problem of workplace air pollution to help others who are in the same situation I used to be, and also to help companies in this industry that I feel are neglected. Most innovation for air quality these days is focused on climate change or COVID, which are very valid areas, of course, but very little attention is paid to the trades industries even though workers and businesses are struggling with polluted air on a daily basis.

CR: Can you describe for us how the ACS Workflow 5000 works? What makes your system different from other air filtration systems that are currently being used in the automotive industry?

MR: While in the trade, I observed a lack of adequate filtration solutions available on the market. Many are too large and bulky to be placed where needed, as most shops are tight for space to begin with. Most also require fabric filters which can clog quickly and cost thousands of dollars to replace each year. Filters also result in a lot of guesswork as to whether they need to be replaced or not. After speaking with many shop owners, these flaws often result in them either regretting a large purchase of a system they are dissatisfied with or using nothing at all and losing heated and cooled air alike to the outdoors, with exhaust fans to try and deal with it. I knew there had to be a better way. My system uses a matrix of water and structures to remove airborne pollutants while eliminating costly and unreliable filters which can save users thousands of dollars each year per unit. This system provides over 90 percent removal of dust and does not clog or lose suction. It is mobile and compact so it can be placed wherever the user sees fit and recirculates the air within the shop.

It works by being filled with water rather than traditional fabric filter systems and can be used for direct capture near the source or can be placed in a corner out of the way for ambient capture.

When first thinking about the product, I saw how water was used in broader areas of manufacturing, engineering and environmental conservation, and realized that it is not often used in the same capacity in collision repair. I saw an opportunity for innovation, and I think that there’s definitely more room for innovation going forwards, whether by myself or others.

CR: You recently began a pilot project to test out the ACS Workflow 5000 in New Brunswick. Can you describe how that’s been going and what this entails?

MR: I have begun demoing units of the product across New Brunswick. Using a third-party lab in New Brunswick, I was able to achieve over 90 percent filtration of particles and so, I’ve begun to take units to some collision shops who I had previously reached out to and who are interested and willing to try something new. This is the fourth iteration of the product and so I am looking forward to getting feedback from these shops so that I can continue to improve for the future.

CR: If all goes well, what is your long-term goal for the ACS Workflow 5000? What is your hope for the product for the future?

MR: If all goes well, I would like to continue reaching out to shops in other provinces and, since this is a global and not just a national issue, continue to expand to shops in other countries. When I initially left my job in automotive repair, I had thought about starting my own shop, but I didn’t want to put my workers through the same breathing environment that I had just gotten out of. This is a business and selling products to keep it going is obviously important, but I really feel like this is something that can improve safety for workers and productivity for companies all over the world. The goal from beginning to end has always been about just providing clean air. There is no magical solution to totally eliminate airborne pollution in shops but reducing it as best as we can is the key.

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