Air Control Inc. gets machinery upgrade

CLINTON, Iowa – Sean Connell recently eyed the old plate roll machine at his family-owned business, Air Control Inc. (ACI).

The machine, used to roll flat sheet metals to create cylindrical items, was 35 years old, dirty, a bit beat up and driven by old-school technology. And its days were numbered. In fact, this spring, a new almost $200,000 plate roll machine took its place at the company at 80 14th Ave. North. 

“The guys are really looking forward to the new machine,” said Mr. Connell, vice president of ACI, ahead of the new machine’s arrival. “This is going to help us.”

The new Italian-made, four-cylinder plate roll is an important step forward for the Clinton company. The new machine, which arrived in April, could help attract new customers, better serve its existing customers and work much more efficiently to create products. (One of ACI’s big jobs is building massive metal tanks for companies in the region. Those tanks hold various liquids in the manufacturing process.)

When the new plate roll machine arrived, it was scheduled to take nearly a half day to unload, followed by a few days of employee training.

“After the training, our guys will soon be rolling out end product,” Mr. Connell said.

In late May, he added that the new plate roll machine has been a great addition to the company. “It has really streamlined our process,” he added.

The machinery upgrade, along with some software upgrades, are being helped through a state program called the Manufacturing 4.0 Technology Investment Grant. Early this year, ACI was selected to receive a $75,000  grant through the program.

“It (the grant) was just perfect timing for us. So, we jumped on it right away,” said Mary Connell, ACI president and CEO.

Ms. Connell added that she is confident the new plate roll machine will help the company grow. But ACI is much more than a plate roll. She added that a key to its success over the years comes down to the word “diversification.” 

The company, which has about 32 employees, continues to grow in challenging times by taking on numerous jobs and numerous clients. Its services include heating and cooling needs for residential and commercial customers. ACI also has fabrication and construction divisions that take on metal contracting and welding jobs.

“We have the expertise necessary to design, form, weld products made from stainless steel, carbon steel, galvanized steel and aluminum,” according to the company’s website.

Sean Connell said that growth has continued even through the tough times created by the pandemic, the ongoing supply chain issues and inflation. The cost of supplies have gone up by 15% to 25%, he added.

“That has been one of the really big challenges,” Mr. Connell said.

Another big challenge is getting and keeping employees. ACI has had as many as 50 employees. Currently, its “sweet spot” would be to employ between 35 to 40 workers, Mr. Connell said.

ACI has worked with Eastern Iowa Community Colleges programs and local high school job shadowing programs in hopes of attracting and training a new generation of employees. Currently, the big need is for more welders.

“That’s a craft that’s just tough to find,” he said.

ACI, a mainstay in the Clinton business community for decades, continues to be an important part of the community, said Andy Sokolovich, Grow Clinton’s president and CEO. 

“Air Control Inc. is one of those companies you love to visit. A third-generation family-owned operation, ACI continues to grow and deliver a high-quality service with unmatched customer support. … The greater Clinton region has experienced a tremendous amount of economic growth over the last several years, and it’s a result of continued investment from companies like ACI,” added Mr. Sokolovich.  

Air Control – at a glance

Air Control Inc. is a family-owned business in Clinton, Iowa, founded in 1957. Here are some quick facts about the company:

Products and services provided: Heating, ventilation and air conditioning, hydronics, geothermal systems, radiant floor heating, emergency service and Carrier Comfort Systems.

Markets: ACI has experience in industrial, institutional, commercial and government markets.

ACI Fabricators: A division of Air Control, it offers a full range of services including sheet metal fabrication, dust collection and HVAC systems as well as these services and products: tanks, spouting, blow pipe, hoppers, conveyor lines.

Size of the company facilities: North Shop – 23,000 square feet; South Shop – 7,500 square feet; Warehouse – 3,600 square feet.

Employment: About 32 workers.

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