Cookeville Cummins investing $10 million in technology
Liz Engel Clark
Monday, Jun 4, 2012
The company, a division of Cummins Inc., is investing $10 million in equipment this year for new technologies at its Cookeville plant. That’s in addition to the $4 million invested in 2011, plant manager Arunkumar Iyer said.
The new equipment will help Cookeville workers produce new lines of higher efficiency filters. It’s a need being driven, first, by customers looking to improve their own processes, secondly, Cummins’ seeing and filling a gap in the marketplace and, thirdly, reaction to cost pressures that exist seemingly industry wide.
“In 2011 and also 2012, a lot of our focus has been adding higher technology products that we can manufacture at this particular facility,” Iyer said. “One of the advantages that we have, we have engineering, technology and research and development teams on site in Cookeville. Obviously, we’re able to bring in some better technology, newer technology products, and that’s part of the strategy to use this particular plant as the hub for new filtration products.”
The $10 million investment is “definitely higher” that what’s been spent in Cookeville in previous years, particularly around the recession, Iyer said. Cummins Cookeville still had high-volume numbers - shipping nearly 11 million filters in 2011 – but the stuff they’re doing now, “it’s a little bit more unique from a technology standpoint,” he said.
“It’s an advancement. We’re not only one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of filtration products, but we’re also technology leaders – we’re introducing some game-changing products to the marketplace.”
One of those game-changing products is a new filtration media that utilizes “nanonet” technology. The “nanonet” fuel filter stops harmful particles, like dust, debris or other impurities, before they can damage the fuel injection system, and overall, provides 13 times better protection.
Secondly, Cummins is ramping up other high-technology products, like a direct-flow high-filtration system. This new technology offers better engine protection and lower maintenance costs – along with a smaller profile to boot – than conventional air filtration systems, making it a “very different product,” Iyer said. It gives a “much higher level of filtration efficiency,” he added.
Overall, Iyer expects a two- to three-year return on the investment, which means Cummins could start to see the impact of its additional products beginning in 2013. There’s also the possibility, he said, that the company will hire in the future.
In 2009, a total of 138 jobs local jobs were moved from here to Mexico. Would those jobs ever come back?
“Needless to say, over a period of time, these technology improvements would also result in additional jobs within the plant,” Iyer said. “Not right away, because the (new program’s) volume is still small. (It takes time) to ramp up and get going. I expect that, by the end of 2012, we will have pretty much gotten back the entire workforce that was here before the downturn.”
But, like Iyer said, that’s not happened yet. In fact, Cummins Filtration Cookeville actually cut jobs in early May. Twenty-two employees were laid off, according to a Tennessee Department of Labor report. Iyer said they’re working to balance demand between Cookeville and another plant, which, again, is in Mexico.
He does expect the most recent laid-off group to be hired back around the first quarter of 2013.
“We want to stay focused in terms of building the new technology,” Iyer said of the layoffs. “When you have a plant in the U.S., and this is valid for every single manufacturer, there is a little bit of a disadvantage from a cost standpoint. But, the value U.S. plants bring is the ability to adapt to higher technology products. We still have a lot of opportunities to drive improvements to our current operations.”
He said they’re actively planning for a brighter future. A tough task considering the unease surrounding most companies still today, but one, he seems fairly confident in.
“I don’t think, for us, there’s any room for holding back,” Iyer said. “In 2011, (Cummins Inc.) was an $18 billion company – by 2015, we expect that we’re going to be a $30 billion company. We’ve made those statements publically. We have our own internal goals in terms of how we want to grow. Cummins Filtration is a global company, of course, but Cookeville’s got a big share in the process.
“I would say our key here is going to be the ability to execute, our ability to adapt to the new technologies,” he added. “Because even if you’re given this new technology, can I still run these products with my Baby Boomer aging workforce? I think we’ve demonstrated that so far, and we’re excited about where we find ourselves at today.”