How It’s Made – Fireworks

It’s the heart of summer now and that means many things – shorts and t-shirts, barbecuing and grilling, backyard pools or trips to the beach and, in non-COVID-19 times, professional baseball games. It also means celebrating Independence Day by setting off large explosives in the sky (a.k.a. fireworks). That got us thinking – how are fireworks made? And that, of course, brought us to this month’s How It’s Made article.

Before we get to the specifics, I want to point out that fireworks can be placed in three general categories:

  1. Sparklers
  2. Fountains
  3. Aerial Shells

About Fireworks

Sparklers are hand-held fireworks, fountains are ground-based fireworks, and aerial shells are the large ones that you see exploding in the sky. You can break these categories down even further but, for the sake of this article, we’ll leave it at these three types. Regardless of the type, each firework contains key elements in various levels or combinations.

Those key elements can be seen in the image below which can be found at Compoundchem.com. Key elements of fireworks include:

Metal Compound Pellets (or Stars) – These produce the colors you see when fireworks are lit.

Fuel/Bursting Charge – This creates the burn/blast of the firework.

Oxidizers – In combination with the fuel, this produces the blast.

Binders – Required to hold the mix of elements within the firework.

Chlorine Donors – These are used to deepen the effects of certain colors.

As I mentioned, different combinations and different levels of these elements are used depending upon the type of firework and intended effect of the firework.

With all that said, let’s get to it.

Below are short summaries of the way in which each of the three types of fireworks are made. As we move through the categories, each type gets a little more complex in nature and the way in which they are built.

Sparklers

sparklers

These slow burning wands of sparkles are made of a metal compound (depending upon color), black powder/gun powder (fuel/bursting charge), and a binder. When these elements are mixed with water, a slurry is created. Once the slurry has been concocted, the wand is dipped in the slurry then dried. This is the end of the wand that, when lit, emits the sparkles. When the fuse is lit, the powder ignites. This, in response, pushes the metal compounds out, creating the sparks.

Fun fact: the end of the wand can reach temperatures upwards of 2900° Fahrenheit.

Fountains

Fountain fireworks are a bit more exciting than sparklers and, as a result, have more elements as well. Fountains consist of the following parts:

Base

Tube (made of paper or plastic)

Clay Plug and Choke

Metal Compound and Fuel

Fuse & Protective Paper

For these, imagine a rocket. A mixture of the metal compounds and fuel are placed into a tube (the rocket), which sits on a base. The mixture is, of course, based upon the desired effect. Also, inside the tube is a clay plug at the bottom and a clay choke at the top. A fuse is placed through the clay choke at the top and then wrapped in protective paper. When lit, the flame travels down the fuse into the tube (the bottom of the rocket) to ignite the metal compounds and fuel which creates the display and sparks. Note: due to the nature of this setup, it does not “launch” the firework.

Aerial Shells

Bigger doesn’t always mean better but, in the case of fireworks, it usually does. Aerial shells are the largest in size when it comes to firework types. As a result, aerial shells are slightly more complex than the others in build.

It’s important to remember that, unlike other fireworks, there are two bursts that happen in aerial shells:

The lifting charge – to lift the shell into the air

The bursting charge – creating the burst of color and sound

 

 

To generalize the makeup of aerial shells, consider that of the fountain firework as aerial shells are similar. Where the differences lie is in the number of fuses, the purpose of the fuses, the number of chambers, and the design patterns.

Aerial shells have two fuses: the time-delay fuse and the fast fuse. It might not sound like it but each fuse takes the same amount of time to ignite. The difference between the two is that the timed fuse ignites the charge/cache of powder that launches the shell. After launch, this fuse continues to burn until it reaches the fast fuse. The length and burn time of the time-delay fuse is calculated very carefully to ensure that the shell is at the appropriate altitude for full ignition. When the fast fuse is lit, it ignites the metal compounds and sets the burst into the sky.

It might seem simple enough but, to add to the effects and complexity, multiple chambers of gun/black powder will be built into the shell. These chambers go off at different times creating the many effects of light, color, or sound. Additionally, the explosive shells/stars can be strategically placed inside the tube in a desired shape (say a flower) to then explode in the sky in that same shape (a flower).

Extra Information

Now, if all that sparked (see what I did there?) more curiosity in you, I’ve linked some great articles below for you to check out:

Keep in mind on this last one: your typical 20-minute show, set to music, can cost upwards of $40,000. Also, they’ll often put this show on twice in one day!

 

About the Author

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Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach

 

Constitutional Grounds

‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…’  Many Americans do not know this phrase, but they are the first words of the Preamble of the US Constitution.  With the recent events, and responses to them, it’s clear that we as a country are confronting a major challenge in what those words mean.

The events that took place in Minneapolis, as well as many other similar events across the country, have brought our society to a point of anger, frustration, and unrest.  These tragedies are sadly not the first of their kind, and likely not the last, but they do bring to light some major issues in our country.

In times of difficult crisis, it’s important for us to realize more than ever that what we have in common, infinitely outweighs that which we do not.  As tragic as these events are, now is an opportunity for us all to take a long look in the mirror and understand that regardless of race, color, or creed, we’re all citizens of the same country yearning for peace, clarity, and justice.

Today, and all days moving forward, offer your voice and action to help those who need it.  Not because you can, but because you should.  Brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and strangers all need us to be better than we are, and for our actions to speak louder than our deafening words…. ‘’We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…’.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.

Interested in reading more related to current events, check out our post on Tolerance Vs. Acceptance.

About the Author

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Dave Rohlfing, Senior Technical Solutions Coordinator

It’s Not the First Time We’ve Lost Our Sports

Take Me Out To The Televised Ballgame, Take Me Out To the Couch.

While COVID-19 has postponed, delayed, and even cancelled the sports we love, it’s not the first time it has happened.  Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, The Olympics – it’s been a bad year for spectators.  The good news is that these things have happened before, and we can get through this together.

The MLB has had a work stoppage eight different times, but only three resulted in missing games.  The worst took place in 1994 where the players walked out and the season was cancelled.  The NBA has had four different lockouts, the worst in 1995 which lasted for three months.  The NFL has had six work stoppages throughout its history, and most recently a 136-day lockout in 2011.

Internationally, the Olympics have only been cancelled three times in the past: 1916, 1940, and 1944.  Each of these cancellations was due to World War I & II respectively.  The World Cup was also cancelled in 1942 and 1946 due to WWII.

How do we manage?  The good news is that auto racing, golf, soccer, baseball, football, basketball, and hockey should play this year.  While fans will likely be unable to spectate in person, television and radio will likely cover most events.  This will include historically less covered sports on major television channels.

In addition, E-sports (video games) have grown as a spectator sport, as well as niche games.  ESPN will continue to show Madden and Overwatch E-sports, and Cornhole championships on the weekends.  Many of your favorite sporting channels will also continue to replay ‘Best Of’ games.

If you are looking for what to watch on TV, please use the link to help guide your viewing:

https://www.tvguide.com/sports/live-today/

https://livesport.center/

 

About the Author

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Dave Rohlfing, Senior Technical Solutions Coordinator

Tolerance Vs. Acceptance

Why Tolerance Isn’t Enough

I remember taking a course in college about race in the media.  It was during that class that I learned the true meaning of the word tolerance.  Of course I’d heard the word before, but it wasn’t a word I used frequently and I’d always assumed there was a positive connotation behind it.  But David Womack, the Dean of Students, my favorite professor, and an incredibly strong, confident black man, put it in a different context for me.  He said to tolerate someone means to ‘put up’ with them and then he asked if ‘putting up’ with someone was really enough?

Over the past several weeks, racial injustice has become a primary topic of conversation and I’ve started to see/hear the term tolerance again. It makes my skin crawl.

Rather than tolerating anyone, no matter the color of their skin, who they pray to, who they love, or what they believe, learn something about that person.  Ask them questions, understand where they’re coming from, and accept their educated view point as absolutely valid, even if your educated view point is completely different.  It’s their truth.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their truth, but you can accept it for what it is – theirs.  Without understanding that and accepting that, we lose an opportunity for unbelievable growth.

At my children’s school, they end each morning’s announcement by shouting:

Be Safe. Be Kind. Be Responsible.

Show your Cougar pride.

I feel like the perfect ending to this article, for you to consider each and every day, can be summed up similarly with:

Be Safe. Be Kind. Be Responsible.

Accept those around you for who they are – pride will surely follow.

 

About the Author

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Beth Bangtson, HR Manager

How It’s Made – Hand Sanitizers

Cleaners. Sanitizers. Disinfectants.

Although it might seem that cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are all the same, there are differences between these terms. For the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on sanitizer.

You can find sanitizers for a variety of applications and they’re all in high-demand right now, namely hand sanitizer. Due to demand, there are plenty of articles online sharing recipes for making your own hand sanitizer, but we’re dedicating this monthly How It’s Made feature to commercial hand sanitizer.

Before we get into it, if you’re curious about other hand sanitizer facts, we’ve found a few good website pages for you. The CDC showcases the science of hand sanitizers while Chemical & Engineering News outlines many, many details about hand sanitizer.

While the details and science of hand sanitizer are great, we at PMG really like the (very automated) manufacturing process.

What are the ingredients in hand sanitizer?

Key Ingredients:

Purified water and one of the following:

  • Ethyl Alcohol/Ethanol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Benzalkonium Chloride

Fun fact: hand sanitizer needs to have an alcohol concentration of 60-95%.

Other Ingredients:

Without getting into the long, hard-to-say ingredients of hand sanitizer, we can classify their purposes into one of four categories:

  1. Provides moisturizers and conditioners
  2. Ensures the product tastes bad, should someone attempt to consume it
  3. Creates the gel-like consistency
  4. Adds fragrance and smell

Fun fact: you can find Marshmallow Pumpkin Latte, Fresh Sparkling Snow, White Peach Chardonnay-scented hand sanitizers. For real.

What to do with the ingredients? 

Compounding

hand sanitizer 2

Measure and add raw materials (according to formulas, recipes, and instructions) into large vessels called batch tanks, mixers, or compounders – this happens manually or automatically, depending upon the type of ingredient and the amount.

Forklifts bring materials/ingredients to the vessels in large drums or bags.

Mechanical agitators within these vessels mix the ingredients to very specific parameters, such as time and speed. Computer operations control these parameters.

Quality Control

hand sanitizer 3

Technicians draw samples from the compounding equipment to verify that the product is according to spec, including physical characteristics, viscosity, alcohol percentage, etc.

Next, technicians test samples to approve the batch.

If samples prove the product to be out of spec, technicians will make adjustments accordingly by adding ingredients and/or furthering mix operations.

After approval, the product goes into a holding tank until filling lines are ready for fill operations.

Filling, Capping, and Labeling

hand sanitizer 4

Mixed batches of ingredients go from the holding tank into filler equipment.

Note: Filling machines can vary in type according to consistency of the sanitizer (foam, liquid, gel etc.). As a whole, the main task of these machines is to disperse the mixed sanitizer into individual bottles.

At the start of a filling line, bottles are placed into a hopper that physically manipulates and moves them into their upright orientation appropriate for filling.

A carousel carries the bottles through the filling equipment for dispersal of the batched hand sanitizer.

The hand sanitizer disperses through piston filling heads, which dispense (i.e. squirt or shoot) the appropriate volume into each bottle squirt.

Once filled, bottles move into a capping operation which operates similar to that of the filling machinery. Caps come from a hopper, are oriented into the machines appropriately and then added and secured to the filled bottles on the carousel.

Once capping is complete, bottles are labeled through a heat-pressed application or with an adhesive.

Fun fact: this part of the production line is very fast, with some equipment operating at 200 bottles/minute!

Boxing and Palletizing

hand sanitizer 5

After filling, capping and labeling the bottles, workers place the new products in boxes. These boxes go on pallets for shipment immediately or storage.

Ongoing Quality Control

Quality control checks are ongoing throughout the entire process. They start at initial checks of raw ingredients, to batching operation samples, line inspection of machine operations and bottling components, sampling from the line for any microbial contamination and final inspection after bottling.

 

To see it all in motion, check out this video by Head & Shoulders. Although the product being manufactured is different in the video, you can apply the same operations to the production of hand sanitizer.

As a matter of fact, many personal hygiene companies have recently changed over their production lines from shampoo and conditioner to now manufacture hand sanitizer. And, they aren’t the only ones. Distilleries have done the same and if you’re interested in reading about that, start with this article on Entrepreneur.com. If that’s not enough, I definitely encourage you to check out a similar post on changes we’ve seen or will see soon (including procedures for sanitizing) in this previous  PMG blog post.

 

About the Author

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Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach

 

Resources for Conversations Regarding Racism

Looking for answers? Here’s where to find them.

On May 29th 2020, in response to violent and high-profile event happening in the US and around the world, the president of the American Psychological Association, Sandra L. Shullman, PhD, crafted a message to the public indicating “we are living in a racism pandemic”. This, in coordination with many other happenings, no doubt raises questions for some, if not for all.

As a result, we did some scouring for you to gather a multitude of resources to reference for conversations regarding race. It’s our hope that you’ll find a place of knowledge, information, and tips & tricks to use and access, when needed.

What Does it All Mean?

There’s a lot of information out there and it can get confusing. Below are links to current definitions of words you may be hearing and seeing frequently in your community or online.
1. Racism
2. Systemic Racism
3. Race vs Ethnicity
4. Resistance vs Rebellion vs Revolution
5. Defund
6. Black Lives Matter

There are many, many more than the six outlined above. For that reason, check out the glossary of terms provided here. And, if you’ve got some time, check out this article in The Atlantic outlining the change in the definition of “racist” .

How Do I Talk About it with Others?

It can be tough to talk about tough things. Below are links that can help you figure out how to hold the conversations that need to be held.

Talking with Kids

The Center for Racial Justice in Education has over 50 articles available for you to browse through if you’re wondering how to talk with kids about the current unrest. I’ve linked more articles for you below, as well:

Talking with Colleagues

Even if you plan to refrain from talking with colleagues, you might very well end up having to do so. In preparation for that, here are some sources of information for you:

Talking with Family and Friends

Hopefully, you feel most comfortable with those closest to you. If you’re looking for a little help though, check out the following:

What Can I Do?

The best thing you can do is to inform yourself, if you aren’t already. Read the articles, listen to the podcasts, share positive posts on social media, volunteer your time or money, protest peacefully, etc. National Public Radio has provided an outline on What to Do Beyond Protesting while Forbes provided a great article on Listening then Learning. Also, below are more good resources for you:

 

About the Author

Picture of Kim Mooney

Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach

National Skyscraper Month

Lunch Atop the Skyscraper

lunch atop the skyscraper

We’ve all seen the photo. It’s iconic and, once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to un-see it. 11 men seated casually atop a steel beam, 40-50 stories in the air, above the hard ground of Manhattan while holding lunchboxes and staring at a camera. It’s easy to remember not only because of the mystery surrounding the photo, (who took it, who are they?) but also because it shows a stark contrast to the requirements and safety processes in place today for the iron workers and construction workers building the skyscrapers you see on a daily basis.

In recognition of June being National Skyscraper Month, here’s what you need to know about this iconic photo.

It was 1931 when construction of Rockefeller Center began. Rockefeller Center is a large composite of 19 commercial buildings and skyscrapers, spread out over 22 acres of land in Midtown Manhattan. As you can guess, the Rockefeller family commissioned the Rockefeller Center. The family dreamt it up during times of economic prosperity (the Roaring 20s). Even with the stock market crash in 1929, the vision for the project was maintained, with the first group of buildings opening in 1933 and the majority of the complex completed by 1939.

It is considered to be one of the greatest projects of the Depression Era (1929-1933) but, at the time of construction, the economy was in an awful state. One third of manufacturing firms were out of business and 65% of construction workers were out of work. Therefore, upon hearing (and seeing) the construction of Rockefeller Center, men lined up in the streets, at construction sites, and other areas of the city waiting to work on the building for the day. To illustrate and understand this more fully, check out Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building. A children’s book but, nonetheless, a great read for all ages. If you aren’t interested in buying it, at least listen to it online here.

Now, back to the photo. Although many were anxiously waiting to work on the buildings, there was skepticism. Was this the right time to build a city within a city?  Heck, there were 15 million people looking for work and the economy had crumbled. Could we use these buildings and this epicenter anytime soon? With questions like that, a publicity stunt was born. By taking photos that showed an expanding city as well as the workforce behind it, the general public could see a beacon of light in an otherwise dark time.

What am I saying then? Yes, these men posed for the photo and the photograph was staged, but that doesn’t make the photo any less powerful now than it was then. Because it was a staged effort, there are more photos of the same men. Find one photo of the men stretched out for a nap here  and another photo of the men with their hats in the air here. And, if that’s not enough, find some fun facts about Lunch Atop a Skyscraper here.

Take note: June is also National Safety Month. If the fact this photo was staged doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist like it does for some, you’ll take acute notice of the fact that the 11 men in the Lunch Atop a Skyscraper photo are missing critical Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as safety harnesses and fall protection, appropriate work clothing (and shoes! Just look at those shoes!), hard hats, etc. These men were just lucky to get an assignment for the week, or even the day, in building the Rockefeller Center buildings. But it’s far from that now. Those who are still curious can learn about more ways heavy industry has changed in our earlier blog post, Not Our Father’s Factories.

Performing the structural construction of buildings these days comes with high regulations and safety is a #1 priority. You also don’t get the job just for lining up. You have to train, put time in as an apprentice, and show a real commitment to the role (in addition to lacking a fear of heights!). If you like this photo, maybe you’ll like some of our recent PMG photo contest winners, too. Also, if you want to learn more about the trade of Ironworkers, check out the links below:

 

About the Author

Picture of Kim Mooney

Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach

How It’s Made – Springs

Spring has sprung!

The grass is green again, the birds are chirping and we’re looking around our homes and yards, deciding what project to tackle first. If you work up the energy to start a project, look around you. You’ll likely come in contact with another type of spring – those often little, sometimes big, metal objects that store and absorb mechanical energy in a multitude of assemblies and components.

Pull out your bottle of all-purpose cleaner and you’ll find a spring in the trigger sprayer. Crank up your lawn mower and consider the springs that are playing critical roles in just how fast you mow. Springs are around us all year and doing big things in every season. For this version of How It’s Made with PMG, we’re talking springs.

Types of Springs

There are technically two types of springs – a stretched spring and a coiled spring.

  1. A stretched spring can be shown by using the example of a bow and arrow. By pulling the string back, tension is created on the bow (the spring) and the energy of the spring is transferred to the arrow.
  2. A coil spring is the most common type of spring and has been around since the first patent was secured for it, in 1763.

How are springs made?

Regardless of the types of coil springs (you can find that information here), the process for manufacturing springs is basically the same. Let’s spring into it.

Materials

Springs come in various materials including stainless steel, non-ferrous alloys (Monel, for example), high-temp alloys (such as Inconel), high carbon steel, other alloy steels, and even plastic.

Designing

Springs may seem like simple instruments, but the design of a spring is precise in nature and utilizes many mathematical equations. Important factors include wire composition, size, diameter, number of coils, required force and end application.

Coiling

After designing and choosing a material, the next step is coiling. This is performed on coilers/coiling machines. These machines use cold winding operations to make most springs, but thicker wire or stock receives heat prior to winding operations. We call this hot winding.

Rather than trying to explain these machines in this article, I’ve found an excellent source online. Automated Industrial Motion (AIM) is a spring coiling and wire forming machine manufacturer who skillfully outlines how spring coiler machinery works.

Tempering

Depending upon the type of wire used and the coiling process, springs are also hardened and tempered to remove negative internal stresses within the spring and to ensure the spring’s strength and ability to deform in use without breaking. This happens at very high temperatures for a specific amount of time.

Finishing

The last steps in spring manufacturing is finishing. These steps include:

  1. Grinding: If the end of the spring wire requires flat ends, they go through an automated grinder
  2. Shot Peening: smooths the material and prepares the spring for coating operations
  3. Setting: fully compressing the spring to ensure length and stress load ability
  4. Coating: this step prevents corrosion and includes plating and coating
  5. Quality Control: inspection of the springs to ensure each meets quality control requirements and specifications

 

With all that said, spring forth and go see the process live and in action here!

 

About the Author

Picture of Kim Mooney

Kim Mooney, Technical Manager & Coach

Food Production – What’s to Come

What changes will we see in the US food production industry?

You can’t miss the current impact of COVID on US food production. We see them everywhere as we watch TV updates or wait for our package of bacon at the deli counter. But which of these impacts will American food production still feel the most of in the post-coronavirus future? Here are three food industry changes that will persist long after the pandemic has passed.

Increased Traceability

Traceability is the systematic ability to trace the path of food ingredients and/or finished products throughout their entire life-cycle. This is done by using previously captured and stored records. These records catalog key data elements at critical tracking events.

Bryan Hitchcock of the Global Food Traceability Center says the concepts of traceability benefit agriculture with better real-time decision making. “Traceability tools and systems enable food and agriculture stakeholders to further digitize their supply chains, gaining deeper insights into optimization opportunities, sustainability impacts, and chain of custody…We see the digitization of supply chains further accelerating as the pandemic subsides.”

Basically, traceability brings the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) from the factory to the farm. There’s already recent demand for increased scrutiny of food production, mostly because of previous food safety recalls, consumer demand, and sustainability efforts. COVID didn’t create demand so much as it has increased this scrutiny.

Changing Retailer Habits

From social distancing to drive through pickup, coronavirus impacts food production most at the point of purchase. Sometimes that impact isn’t just in how goods are purchased, but on WHAT goods are purchased.

A Forbes article said BlueYonder reported that 87% of customers found products were out of stock when shopping. However, a survey by Shopkick found that 69% of customers bought brands new to them when their favorites sold out. Mass experimentation like this means that big brands built sales during the pandemic, but others may have built a new customer base for the future.

Changing Consumer Habits

Restaurant closures are one of the most obvious results of efforts to limit the spread of COVID. Americans will continue to practice many of the habits they develop today, in the future. Delivery and curbside options have grown tremendously, but so have the eat-at-home and eat-local movements. Where and how we eat our food isn’t our only change either. Individual establishments are placing greater emphasis on health and safety measures too.

According to this restaurantbusinessonline.com article, more than half of Americans EXPECT permanent changes at restaurants. These include more hand sanitizer dispensers and employees visibly cleaning once we return to restaurants.

We may not have to worry about coronavirus contaminating our food, but COVID has already changed how, where, and when we get it. If you’re still worried about food safety, read more from the FDA here .

If you’re a producer currently affected by coronavirus, contact PMG here to learn how we can help.

 

About the Author

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Josh Erickson, ReTool & Technical Solutions Associate

National Photography Month

As the old adage states, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in honor of national photography month, we wanted to give photography a shout out.  In a world that has a constant stream of social external influences, I’d like to use this shout out as an opportunity to influence your individual creativity.

Over the last year (plus some), PMG employees have shared some of their favorite photos as part of a fun team challenge. Whose did we like the best?

Below you’ll see the top voted photo of each quarter, with no caption or context. That, my friend, is where you and your creativity come in!

Take 5, and spend one minute looking at each photo.  How does it make you feel?  What does the photo remind you of?  What story does it tell?

In the next five minutes, please take this opportunity and spend a little more time beneath the surface.  Ready. Set. Go.

 

About the Author

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Kelly Grohowski, Client Solutions Manager