Green movement a boon for Cummins Emissions

March 6, 2012

Cummins Emissions Solutions, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary last week, began with 11 employees within the Indiana-based company's filtration business.

Today, the emissions group employs 1,400 people around the world, including 400 in Columbus. Last year, the emissions unit shipped 400,000 emissions-control systems, a 10-fold increase from 2006.

Sales by the group, which makes pollution-control devices for vehicles including pickup trucks, semitrailers and school buses, have gone from zero in 2002 to $1.2 billion in 2011. The unit's growth is expected to accelerate because the global emissions market, which last year was $7.5 billion, will more than triple by 2016 to about $24 billion.

In the early part of the last decade, Cummins began transforming its filtration business by changing the focus from sound dampening to emissions reduction, said Srikanth Padmanabhan, who has led Cummins Emissions Solutions since 2008.

Governments around the world have clamped down on the amount of pollution engines are allowed to emit. Because of those tighter standards, companies have been forced to clean up their products.

Cummins leaders hoped the company's technological leadership would work in its favor when the company decided to embrace — rather than continue to fight — tighter emissions standards.

Padmanabhan said the work requires top-notch engineers and innovative approaches.

"This is all about green jobs," he said. "We're trying to clean the environment."

He estimated that coming emissions standards will continue to require Cummins to hire more employees around the world, including in Seymour and Columbus.

Padmanabhan said higher emissions standards will continue to ripple though most industries and across the world.

Emissions standards for on-highway vehicles in China, India and Russia will take effect by 2015. Eventually, off-highway vehicles including dump trucks, mining equipment and even power generators and boats will be regulated, Padmanabhan said.

He said that ultimately even the recently unveiled 95-liter hedgehog engine in Seymour will get an emissions-control device. That beast, Padmanabhan estimated, likely will weigh 5,000 pounds.

Many of the emissions solutions unit's employees are expected to move by May to the Irwin Office Building on Washington Street. For now, most of them work in Plant 1 and Columbus Tech Center.

Their work has gotten significantly more complicated as emissions standards have tightened. Years ago, engineers could meet some of the standards by simply attaching a filter to the end of the exhaust system.

To meet today's standards, multiple devices are needed. Those devices often use electronic controls and sensors to actively monitor what happens in the engine and to properly inject doses of various substances to effect the proper chemical reactions that reduce emissions.

The engineers must achieve these results without compromising engine reliability and fuel economy — and without adding too much cost to the overall product, said Vivek Kulanthaivelpandian, leader of the group charged with product validation in the emissions solutions unit.

Kulanthaivelpandian and other employees in his group Thursday conducted an autopsy of sorts, inspecting parts of an emissions control system that had been taken apart after rigorous testing.

Eric L. Reeck, technical project leader of heavy-duty after-treatment, said that even if tests indicate that everything ran smoothly, engineers might find during the autopsy a small crack or a buildup or stain that might point to a potential problem that must be fixed — by using a different material, for example — before mass production.

Kulanthaivelpandian said testing in the lab occurs concurrently with real-world testing in vehicles in severe climates, ranging from Death Valley to the Arctic Circle. Even in the lab, the components are exposed to extreme temperatures. A tech center cold room, in which an engine might idle for 10 hours, can reach a bone-chilling 20 below.

The emissions solutions unit is working on future products. Cummins often needs years from conception to testing and mass production.

Kulanthaivelpandian said that at any point, the medium-duty and heavy-duty units will run more than 15 tests each.


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