Cummins, 3M team up on filters for high-tech protective gear

Engine maker Cummins is shifting some production capacity to make filters for a product 3M sells in the fight against the coronavirus.

Cummins said it had reached agreement with 3M to begin making high-efficiency particulate filters for a 3M product, Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs).

In its release announcing the partnership, Cummins described the PAPRs as a piece of equipment that “use(s) a battery-powered blower that sends filtered air into a hood or head top that covers the wearer’s head or face; and can provide increased levels of respiratory protection, especially for critical healthcare situations such as aerosol generating procedures.”

Cummins’ statement also noted that PAPRs “may be more comfortable to wear for those who need respiratory protection for long periods of time.

“In our manufacturing process, we make some air filter products for diesel engines similar in size and shape” to the filters needed in the PAPRs, Greg Hoverson, executive director for engineering at Cummins, told FreightWaves. The process to make them had similarities to the manufacturing systems at 3M, Hoverson said, “so that is what we were able to leverage.” 

Although the production of the filters will begin later this month, Hoverson said Cummins and 3M had been in discussion about it since March, brought together through what he called a “filtration consortium” that both companies participated in. Hoverson said the discussions involved the recently announced Cummins plan to make feedstock for N95 masks, “and the conversation kind of led to the opportunity.”

Cummins will make the filters at its Neillsville, Wisconsin, facility. Final testing will be done there and then shipped to Valley, Nebraska, where 3M makes PAPRs.

Hoverson said the entire plant in Neilllsville won’t be turned over to making the filters, but one full product line will be used for the process.

Cummins was in discussions early in the COVID-19 crisis with 3M about the partnership that was just announced. Hoverson said planning began about a month ago, with production set to start at the end of this month.

“Certainly it’s one of the fastest programs I’ve been involved with,” Hoverson said of the speed with which the arrangement was put together. “Once we saw the opportunity, we each recognized the similarities and the opportunity here.”

Hoverson said 3M previously had been making 100% of their filters for the PAPRs. The Cummins filters will supplement those, he said, and output will be “slightly more than doubled.”

The Wisconsin plant had not been shut down, Hoverson said. There have been changes in scheduling at the plant, as well as investment in additional capacity, he added.

There is no set length of time on the partnership, Hoverson said. “It’s a short-term deal to address the specific spike, and hopefully for both parties there could be opportunities,” he said.

In the Cummins statement, 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman said his company “continues to work around the clock to get personal protective equipment, including PAPRs, to the heroic healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight.”

“Our partnership with Cummins will help us produce more of this critical equipment in the coming months,” he added.