The future is often discussed as if it is far away, but Cummins Inc. believes the future starts today. Cummins is creating the future by reimagining how to manufacture in a digital world, taking its manufacturing operations and processes to a higher digital level. The company has joined the fourth industrial revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0, by marrying physical production and operations with smart digital technology, machine learning, and big data to create a more holistic and better-connected ecosystem.

A cornerstone of Cummins’ Industry 4.0 strategy is advanced manufacturing technologies; and the company is developing and deploying many new manufacturing processes and technologies, including additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is a process of manufacturing that produces a physical 3D object by computer-controlled material addition from a digital design. The process deposits material, which can be plastic, metal, carbon fiber, etc., one layer at a time onto a previous layer, to manufacture an object.

The product and manufacturing engineering teams at Cummins have printed parts using polymer (plastic and resin) for years. The company has used polymer for several applications in many areas of business including tooling (the rollers used to pleat the filters the company manufacturers), molds (for end housing and other applications), fixtures (handles and extensions to improve ergonomics constraints and other equipment in Cummins plants), and to produce functional prototypes.

Cummins continues to make great progress in low-volume metal printing, as the company has invested in several laser 3D printers. There are three GE Additive Concept Laser M2 DMLM machines; one is installed at the Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, Indiana, and the other two are installed at the large Cummins Research and Development Center in San Luis Potosi (SLP), Mexico. This is a process that uses lasers to melt ultra-thin layers of metal powder to build a three-dimensional object, generated from a computer-aided design (CAD) file. Additionally, the SLP facility is used to make molds for certain Cummins components using sand printing technologies. The cost and cycle times of these machines make them well-suited for producing parts for Cummins’ aftermarket customers and those needed in low volumes.

Cummins sold its first metal 3D printed part in 2019, and has since approved 20-part numbers and shipped about 350 parts using its suite of low-volume additive technologies. In April 2019, Cummins entered a partnership with GE to be on the frontlines of the developing high-speed binder jet printer technology. Currently, Cummins has two second-generation binder jet printers, one at its Additive Manufacturing Lab in Columbus, Indiana, and one at GE Additive’s Disruptive Innovation Lab near Cincinnati, Ohio.

This is a technology where a print head moves across a bed of powdered metal and selectively deposits a liquid binding agent in the shape of the part cross section, bonding these areas together to form a solid part one layer at a time.

Adding the binder jet to the suite of 3D printers additive manufacturing technologies has been significant to Cummins. In May 2020, the company finalized its first production part using the high-precision 3D metal printing technology, a Cummins Emission Solution lance tip adapter used in high horsepower engines. This part is a critical emissions component in Cummins engines, atomizing and injecting diesel exhaust f luid into the engine exhaust stream to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted from the engine systems. Additionally, producing this part through additive manufacturing provided a number of benefits, including a lighter weight design, improved geometry for fluid and air flow, and the elimination of the added complexity of cross-drillings.

"A cornerstone of Cummins’ Industry 4.0 strategy is advanced manufacturing technologies; and the company is developing and deploying many new manufacturing processes and technologies"

The binder jet technology places Cummins on the cusp of being able to leverage a broad range of additive technologies to print the parts the company needs, using the right technology and at lower costs and increased speeds. In fact, depending on the complexity of the part, the technology can print 60 to 100 times faster than other laser-based printing processes, allowing high-volume production with the binder jet printers.

Along with the cost and production benefits of using the binder jet technology, the environmental impact aligns with the company’s PLANET 2050 strategy. Unlike traditional machining, the binder jet printer can take nearly 100 percent of the leftover powder from the printed part, recirculate it through the system and reuse it in the production of other parts.

In addition to actively working to design and print additional concept parts, Cummins is partnering with GE Additive to develop third-generation binder jet technology, which will support an industrialized solution with even higher throughput, improved quality and lower cost.

Additive manufacturing enables Cummins to implement new design thinking, as well as resolve supply continuity issues; and over the next several years, Cummins alongside its strategic partners, will continue to improve its capabilities, speed to market and productivity of its additive process.