In an unusual strategic move, Cummins Limited of Darlington is switching production of B-Series bus engines from China to its facility in the UK
The aim is to shorten lead times for the engine maker’s valuable UK customers. It will also aid the company in its bid to win business in Europe where it could be hampered by the long lead times associated with shipping engines by sea from China.
At this stage, annual volumes are modest with production set to begin in Octoberat the rate of 20 engines a day.
But Cummins executives are hoping the numbers will increase to justify the investment in tooling.
It is 50 years since production of engines started at Darlington and the plant has seem many changes. However, this is the first time the plant in Yarm Road that a new type of engine will be made at Cummins Darlington for more than 10 years.
Cummins have informed staff of the new the which will see about 1,000 Euro 6 four cylinder B series 4.5 litre bus engines made at the plant each year.
Up until now the engines have been assembled at the firm’s sister plant in Beijing, but Cummins executives took the decision to start to build the engines in Darlington in a bid to offer shorter lead times to its key bus manufacturers Alexander Dennis and Wright Bus.
Even so, Cummins has probably been under some pressure to improve its lead times to meet the changing fortunes of bus makers or risk losing business to other engine makers. But the Darlington plant manager adds a further clue.
Des McMenamin, Cummins Darlington plant manager, says: "This is the first time in many years that a new engine platform will be assembled in Darlington and it is positive news that we have invested in our assembly line to increase our capabilities.”
"It will be a welcome challenge for us all to continue to deliver world class levels of quality and delivery to the customers of this engine platform and hopefully grow our engine sales further in this market as a result of our performance,” he added.
To mark its fiftieth anniversary Cummins will stage a prestigious event at its site on July 11 when it will act as host to past and present workers to commemorate the factory’s opening 50 years ago.
The company, which has been a leading employer in the town ever since, has a workforce of about 800 people based at its engine plant and adjacent exhaust facility.
Cummins notably maintains a low public profile in the UK. In December 2013 the company announced that overall Cummins had enjoyed a strong year and was on target to make 46,000 engines that year after securing new customers.
The firm said then it was investing for the future with £1m-a-year being spent over the next three years to make the plant more efficient. The first stage would start in April 2014 when production lines will be turned off for a week to enable upgrading work.
In October 2013, the firm announced it had secured its first contract to make low-emission engines for Scania buses. The B-Series engines now being switched from China will now be able to take advantage of the investment and help to recoup the return on investement. Only then will Cummins officials be able to fully assess the real cost benefit differences between B-Series engine manufacture in China and in the UK, when taking logistics issues into account.
Cummins in UK
The first Cummins manufacturing facility outside the US was opened at Shotts in Scotland in 1956. It was known as Cummins Engine Company Ltd.
Cummins occupied the ‘Wrens Nest’ textile factory where diesel engines would be manufactured. Taking advantage of the presence of nearby earthmover plant maker Euclid, which depended on Cummins engines, the Shotts plant began building the NH series diesel engines.
The Scottish Cummins factory was largely successful but closed in March 1998 and in a cost-saving exercise its operations consolidated into the Cummins' manufacturing facility at Darlington.
The Darlington plant, built in partnership with Chrysler International, opened in 1964 specifically to build Small Vee V6/V8 ‘Vim-Vine-Vale’ engine series. While this engine flopped in the UK, exports (mainly to Mexico's DINA) kept the plant profitable.
Cummins Daventry plant came on line in 1972 to build the K-series and other B these engines enabled Cummins to forge partnerships with major equipment manufacturers, many of which continue today.
In the mid-1980’s Cummins switched production to the new B-Series Mid-Range engine with a factory upgrade costing £13.5 million.
This represented a significant new investment beyond the company’s traditional heavy duty truck engine business. The engine was developed with a flexible design making it suitable for a wide variety of applications including, truck, bus, material handling, construction, agriculture, marine, military and power generation.
Originally available in a six-cylinder 5.9-litre and four-cylinder 3.9-litre configurations it enabled Cummins to forge partnerships with major equipment manufacturers, many of which continue.
In 1989, its larger brother, the C-Series 8.3 litre Mid-Range engine was added to the range. This was targeted to the same types of application where higher power and torque were required.
In September 2011, Cummins Darlington celebrated the production of its one millionth Mid-Range engine.
The then plant manager Mike McCabe said, “This is a significant milestone for the plant. It took 22 years to get to 750,000 engines but only another four years to reach one million. Our employees should be proud of this achievement given the challenging economic conditions that we have faced over the last few years. This is as much a recognition of their efforts in improving productivity and quality to remain competitive in difficult circumstances, as well as the actual number of engines produced.”
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