WITH a century of proud innovation behind it, Cummins has built an unrivalled reputation for powering the world – with the North-East of England playing a key role. But there's no time for the company to rest on its laurels, and the foundations are being laid for the next 100 years of Cummins’ trademark ingenuity.

The past, the present and the future of Cummins are bound together by the same ethos: a determination to find bespoke technological solutions for customers, no matter how big or small.

The theme for Cummins’ centenary – Challenging The Impossible – is as relevant now as it was when Clessie Cummins founded the global engine manufacturer in Columbus, Indiana, in 1919.

Clessie, who started out as a humble chauffeur for a banker called William G. Irwin, was inspired by exciting new technology developed by Rudolph Diesel.

He managed to persuade his wealthy boss to invest the significant sum of $2,500 which was used to buy the licence for a design by engineer Rasmus Hvid, which became Cummins’ first engine. A small kerosene-burning engine used for farms, boats and factories, only 28 of the six horsepower units were sold in the first year, but the wheels of Cummins’ success story were turning.

When his new company was almost brought to its knees by long-term problems with the supply of the HVID, Clessie’s response was to design his own engine.

In 1924 he launched the Model F, with a capability of 12.5hp per cylinder in one, two, three, four, and six-cylinder configurations. With 25 per cent more power than comparable engines, the Model F was a winner, as was the Model U in 1928, the first US diesel to have all working parts enclosed.

The journey of ingenuity continued, with the NH Series being introduced in 1946 and going on to build the company’s reputation for durability in trucks and industrial applications for more than 50 years.

Clessie famously used the famous Indianapolis 500 to test his innovations.

The company designed the first car to complete the race without stopping in 1931 and introduced turbo-chargers in 1952 to achieve pole position.

Clessie's pressure time fuel system, also tested on the Indy car in 1952, was a forerunner of today’s high-pressure fuel systems. When he died in 1968, the former chauffeur had 33 patents relating to diesel engines and fuel systems to his name.

Cummins’ Darlington plant was opened three years before Clessie’s death and has gone on to play a key role in the company's global growth. It also played a key part in the record-breaking 1.5m engines which were sold by the company in 2018, with a record turnover of $24bn. The Darlington plant alone sold 67,000 engines last year – the second highest number in its history.

It is a source of great local pride that engines built in Darlington – the town with a reputation for innovation which stretches back to the birthplace of the railways – are used in buses, tractors, trucks, boats, excavators and other vehicles right around the world.

Cummins’ commitment to its North-East base is being underlined this year with a £10m investment in the Darlington operation which will improve operational efficiency and engine-testing capability as well as create more modern, attractive, flexible and ergonomic offices.

Staff running Cummins’ centralised administration, finance and human resources services will also be transferred from Stockton to Darlington, bringing the total number of employees on the Yarm Road campus to around 1,300 by the end of the year.

Marketing Director Steve Nendick, who is based in Darlington but travels worldwide, says: “These are really exciting times for Cummins, with our continuing strategy to acquire knowledge and capability in alternative power. On top of being a diesel expert for the past 100 years we are now ready to be a power expert for the next 100 years, and work with our customers to find the best solutions to fit their needs.”

The strategy to turn Cummins into a global power leader has included buying key technology companies over the past few years.

In October 2017, Cummins acquired Brammo, which specialised in designing and developing low-voltage battery packs for mobile and stationary applications.

That was followed in January 2018 by the acquisition of Johnson Matthey’s UK automotive battery systems business as part of its move into the electric and hybrid vehicle market. Cummins and Johnson Matthey also agreed to collaborate on the development of high energy battery materials for commercial heavy-duty applications.

In July 2018 Cummins bought Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. (EDI), which designed and produced hybrid and fully-electric power solutions for commercial markets, and at the end of June this year, the company announced it had reached an agreement to take over one of the world’s leading fuel cell and hydrogen generation equipment providers – Hydrogenics Corporation.

“There is a lot of interest in alternative power right now,” says Mr Nendick. “These solutions are more expensive than current ones and will need to be driven by industry regulations and government subsidies for businesses to adopt them. We do see that prices will improve longer term and Cummins’ experience and investment means we will be ready for this.

“Due to its cost, efficiency and power capability, diesel has got a long life yet. The latest engines are ultra-clean and provide dependable low emissions service for a wide range of uses.

"We are building on the vast experience and knowledge we have with 100 years of diesel to bring it to the alternative solutions when needed. Our technical centre in Darlington will play a major role in this, shaping the future of the business.”

Just as innovation is at the heart of Cummins, so is a commitment to its local communities – and that's certainly the case in Darlington. As well as employing STEM ambassadors to go into schools to inspire youngsters to consider careers in engineering, the company was a prominent exhibitor at the recent Festival of Ingenuity in the town.

“We are committed to creating a pool of engineers who are based in our region and get the opportunity to work on a global scale,” says Mr Nendick.

Exciting times indeed. A century after Cummins’ birth with the aid of a $2,500 investment in one man’s vision, the company is powering up for an electrifying future.