Cummins, a century of progress

  • April 11, 2019
  • ReMaTec

Cummins has a thriving line in engine reman. As the US giant celebrates 100 years in business, Adam Hill visits the company’s Scottish remanufacturing plant to find out more.

It is not unknown to see soldiers with swords running across a field near Cummins’ remanufacturing operation in Scotland. This is not because Cumbernauld – a town which lies between the better-known cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh – is in a war zone. Rather, Cummins shares an industrial estate with Wardpark Studios, where Amazon Prime’s time-travel drama Outlander is filmed. The programme is set during the country’s bloody Jacobite rebellion in the 18th century – hence the scary men with swords. They are just actors. “It’s quite surreal,” says David Russell, operations leader at Cummins Diesel ReCon.

Cummins has a fair bit of history itself: the US-headquartered engine manufacturer is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. One of the bestknown names in the business, it is a global behemoth, with worldwide sales of $19 billion in 2017. What is perhaps less well known is that it also has a thriving international reman operation and Cummins Diesel ReCon in Scotland is at its vanguard.

There has been a Cummins UK operation for the last 60 years and Cumbernauld has been up and running since 1985. It supplies remanufactured engines to the company’s parts distribution centre in Rumst, Belgium – and therefore on to the world – and also has a line in new cylinder heads (manufacturing 50-70 each day) which go to Cummins’ operation in Daventry, England.

Urgent gap
The company – in common with just about every other original equipment manufacturer (OEM) – reports that customers are occasionally reticent about using reman parts. But typically, Cummins’ remanufactured products retail for 15-20% less than new ones. And they might fill an urgent gap for customers which have a vehicle out of action. A new engine – especially if it is not the latest model – might take 12 weeks to arrive; but a reman one can often be with the customer at 8am the next day.

“The reman business allows us to support customers for a long period,” says Colin Pettigrew, product engineering leader. “It also supports us from a parts point of view.” There is a perception that some OEMs might be less interested in customers who are not themselves interested in new after seven or eight years but Cummins is keen not to be seen as one of these. Therefore the Cumbernauld reman operation takes pressure off Cummins’ new build facilities. At the company’s Darlington site in England, for instance, the focus might naturally be on producing new Euro 6 engines, whereas a customer might simply want a Euro 5 – and this is where the Cumbernauld site comes into its own.

“New and recon parts is a big area for Cummins,” confirms Cumbernauld plant manager Jenae Johnson-Carr. “When the market goes down, reman is very stable. That’s a huge benefit to us, even when you’re seeing cyclical changes.” Seen in this light, Cummins is keen to balance the benefits of selling new (more revenue and the latest product for customers) with the benefits of offering remanufactured products (supporting the customer long term and providing a different price point).

“We’re getting the reman folks out there, selling reman,” she adds with a determined smile.

Local talent
Pettigrew, Russell (both Scottish) and Johnson-Carr (an American) make a sparky team with a nice line in dry
humour. They are informed, welcoming and clearly proud of their operation, which may go some way to explaining why Cummins is a popular employer in these parts. When it comes to recruitment, the company draws on its local area – but with a view to developing talent via internal training rather than hiring it fully formed. “Reman engineers don’t really exist,” smiles Pettigrew. “So we’re hiring to develop people in engineering, developing the skills we need at the plant. Recruitment is not difficult in this area.” Students routinely come into the plant for a few months in summer, and are paid to do so. “We give them real projects,” explains Johnson-Carr. “Trust me – they work for that money.”

Disassembly and cleaning are obvious places for newcomers to start in remanufacturing. “It is a fantastic place to
start learning,” says Russell. But Cummins is serious about pushing people through the business. There is an apprenticeship programme and a ‘technician’ grade is being introduced to give staff a sense of momentum. “So someone coming in can see a progression,” adds Johnson-Carr.

Diversity is also taken seriously by Cummins, not least with its Women in Engineering initiative. And all employees are given half a day off each year to involve themselves in some sort of community or charity project. “It’s encouraged strongly,” says Johnson-Carr.

Global view
Currently a single-shift operation, expansion in remanufacturing is possible at Cumbernauld. “We’re fairly maxed out, but if volume went up we can run a second shift,” says Pettigrew. “Reman tends to be quite stable. There is not huge expansion out there in terms of reman engines per se – probably more in terms of components.”
There are also opportunities for automation at Cumbernauld but more volume is probably required to make that viable, the team thinks. “There is a huge amount of variation from engine to engine,” says Pettigrew.

In line with its international reach, Cummins spreads its net wide, remanufacturing engines for other companies, such as Komatsu (long blocks), Wirtgen (long and short blocks), JCB and various bus operators. But often the work is ‘white label’. “Sometimes we’re blind,” says Johnson-Carr. “We don’t know exactly where it’s going to end up.”

Cumbernauld is not the only Cummins site which offers new life to old equipment. There are reman operations in the US, China, Brazil and Mexico. The manufacturer also has 16 ‘master rebuild centres’ worldwide in far-flung countries such as South Africa, Peru and Mongolia. These are focused on engines above 19 litres capacity and tend to be close to where companies – such as those involved in mining operations – actually run their vehicles. It doesn’t make sense to ship from Brisbane to Cumbernauld when mining trucks might be rebuilt three or four times in their lifetime of 24/7 running. “From a business perspective, this makes a huge amount of sense,” says Russell.

The technical challenges of remanufacturing are one thing: but there are logistical issues too. “One of the big challenges is the identification of parts,” explains Russell. For some Cummins parts there might be, in effect, 10 actual part numbers - all of which are accurate. “Cummins do change numbers when there’s a small change in the part,” he goes on. “That makes things a little more difficult.”

That old bugbear of remanufacturers – getting enough core – is handled at the group’s substantial reverse logistics operation in Memphis, US.

Challenges ahead
There are still challenges ahead. For instance, Cummins globally is looking at electrification. “It’s about getting involved at the front end,” agrees Johnson-Carr. The company is talking about how it can remanufacture the battery packs. “But diesels will be around for a long time,” she insists.

As Pettigrew points out, not enough investment has been made into the charging network which would give people the confidence to purchase an electric vehicle – whatever governments and local authorities say about the benefits. A likely scenario is that longhaul trucks will be a hybrid diesel and electric engine – but either way, that seems to be something Cummins is relaxed about.

Electrification presents a technical challenge for remanufacturers – given enough time, you would back companies to find an answer to it. However, another major issue hovering over any business with operations in the UK requires a crystal ball and nerves of steel: Brexit.

Given the importance of its relationship with the Rumst site in Belgium, it makes sense for Cummins to seek ‘authorised economic operator’ status, which would allow the company to enjoy something close to frictionless trade throughout the European Union – even after the UK leaves (whether that happens in March, as planned, or a later date).

Either way, Cummins feels that when Brexit actually hits, there will be a shortterm problem as companies scramble to satisfy customers – but that then things will even out. The readiness is all and holding extra inventory might be one way round the problem. “So long as we’re protecting customers in that time period, it will be okay,” Johnson-Carr says. “What’s beneficial to us is that we can direct ship to UK customers if necessary.”

In the US, the talk at Cummins is not of Brexit – but of tariffs. Cummins chief executive Tom Linebarger has already criticised the Trump administration’s trade war with China. As ReMaTecNews went to press, it was not clear whether new Sino-US talks would solve this – or, indeed, whether Brexit would take place as scheduled on 29 March.

However uncertain the world economic situation might be, remanufacturers can take steps to control some important parts of their day job, such as futureproofing. Cummins is in pole position to be able to standardise some of the specifics when it comes to reman processes. “If we’re adding material, we know we can dip into our engineering standard work,” says Russell. “For instance, we can add material onto a cylinder head but would need to run a 20,000-hour test. The process we need to follow is there.”

There are conundrums when it comes to Design4Reman, of course: make it too easy and everyone can do it; make it too difficult and the process ceases to be attractive. As an OEM, Cummins has the advantage of knowing – at least with its own products - exactly what it is remanufacturing. “I can pick up any component on the shop floor, go to the database and all the drawings are there,” says Pettigrew. “But if you’re reverse engineering, you’ve got to come up with your own specifications, and validate them.”

Does it annoy Cummins that some companies are doing something less intensive than genuine reman? “There are companies out there just doing a rebuild engine which is a good product,” muses Pettigrew. “It’s a competitive market.” He does not seem ruffled by this. “As an OEM, we’re in a good place,” he concludes. “We can see what’s coming over the horizon.”