Founded in 
1954 by Creigh

History overview

Appalachian Electronic Instruments, Inc. was founded in 1954 by
Mr. Creigh Nickell in the back room of his Radio and TV store in Ronceverte, WV. Mr. Nickell successfully filled an Air Force contract to temperature control a gallon of jet fuel to within 1° F. Only later did Creigh realize industry leaders considered the feat impossible.

Soon after the Air Force project, AEI introduced a traversing scanner, ASM 7, to detect defects on warp knitting machines. A vacuum tube design with an overheard traversing cable for power and signal, this scanner remained in the market until 1968.  However, the industry continued to use this early scanner well into the 1980s. The new scanner, ASM 8, was a transistor version that remained viable until it was replaced by the microprocessor controlled ASM 10 in 1985. The ASM 10 technology continues to be the standard for defect detection.

The warp knit scanner was the first of many innovations AEI has pioneered. 

Scannair Optical System

Using visible light to detect broken yarn as small as .0015 OD over 5 meters of knitted length on two to four sheets of yarn. Today this is a laser application and has been copied many times.

Yarn Inspectors

Detects defects on a warp yarn sheet moving as fast as 1000 meter/sec. Three generations later, this inspector uses Laser light and DSP technology for better detection with fewer components.

Tension System

AEI invented the first electronic control of yarn tension for warp preparation in the 1980s. The latest design (YTC 2000) is combined with a robust broken-yarn detector, real-time communications with up to 1500 yarn strands, and a comprehensive software interface which is the world standard for denim production, natural fibers, and fine filament man-made fibers as well. AEI has shipped more than 1 million electronic tensioners since the original design, with approximately 72,000 shipped in the past two years.  


Designed in the 1980s when the warp knitting industry was searching for a more accurate and reliable control of yarn feed into the knitting machine. AEI was the first to solve this problem. Since then, AEI electronic technology has spread all over the world. The latest version of the AutoWarp has been updated for modern components but offers the same tight control of yarn feed.​​

Digital Readout Methane Monitor

AEI designed the first digital readout methane monitor for coal mine machines. This monitor served the mining industry since the oil embargo of the 1970s until the recent market collapse. 

Electronic Belt Switch Monitor

AEI designed the first electronic rotation monitor for underground conveyor belts. With the ability to accurately detect very slow and very fast speeds, the AEI slip switch prevented potential mine fires.


AEI entered the tufting market with the Tuftight engineered to detect tight yarns in the tufting process. This has become the standard for tufting machines worldwide. 

CEPA System

AEI offered a data gathering system for knitting and tufting that was a precursor to the Internet of Things (IoT). The CEPA system, developed in the 1990s, monitored machine parameters, tracked stop causes, and reported back to the plant manager. Currently AEI is working on a system to capture machine data and upload it directly to the cloud. 


In the mid-2000s, AEI diversified its corporate scope with the acquisition of a colony picker for genetic research and the design of a low-cost and easily transportable gas chromatograph (GC).


The GC is widely used in a fuel fraud application in the UK. It is also used in diverse industries from wine production to pharmaceuticals.  ​​