Critical need: Cummins partners with 3M to make filters for protective equipment

For The Tribune

Cummins Inc. has reached an agreement to supply 3M with high-energy particulate filters to make protective equipment for frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The filters will be used by 3M to manufacture powered air-purifying respirators, or PAPRs, Cummins officials said.

PAPRs are a form of highly specialized protective equipment using a battery-powered blower strapped to the worker’s waist that sends filtered air into a hood or head top covering the head or face that can provide increased levels of respiratory protection.

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Cummins officials believe the Columbus-based company has the capacity to roughly double the current production of filters for 3M’s PAPRs. 3M officials declined to provide specifics on its current production capacity but said the company has increased its capacity “several folds” over the past month.

Amy Davis, vice president of Cummins Filtration, said Cummins is currently preparing to ramp up production of the filters and expects to start production by the end of this month at its Neillsville, Wisconsin, facility.

“It has been really exciting,” she said. “To be able launch something so quickly has really just been a positive in the middle of this crisis.”

The demand for PAPRs and other personal protective equipment has surged due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and manufacturers have been scrambling to support production.

Last month, 3M said it sought to increase production of PAPRs “sixfold within the next 60 to 90 days” and announced a separate collaboration with Ford to increase production of PAPRs.

“There’s no precedence for any of the things that we are doing,” Rodney Hehenberger, global research and development director at 3M, said. “We have one mission pretty much every day from morning to night, which is to provide as much effective respiratory protection to as many people as soon as possible.”

3M will provide Cummins with the material needed to produce TR-3712N filters for 3M, which will “almost entirely” be distributed within the United States, Hehenberger said.

Cummins will use existing equipment and manpower at its Neillsville facility to pleat the material for the filters, assemble them into cartridge housings and do final testing before shipping the filters to a 3M facility in Nebraska, Cummins said.

“It became clear to me that the way they make air filters for cars is similar to the way that we construct our PAPR filters,” Hehenberger said. “It was pretty quick from first contact to, ‘Hey, this is something we can all do to help people.’”

Cummins, for its part, announced last week that it had teamed up with DuPont to repurpose engine-filtration material to help supply N95 respirator masks with the capacity to produce enough material for mask manufacturers to make “several million masks per month,” company officials said.

Currently, Cummins has sent samples to manufacturers and testing material to attempt to “leverage as much of our capacity as we can to get masks into the places they’re needed,” Davis said.

“We are talking with over 40 different manufacturers who have either reached out to us or we’ve been in conversations with trying to get samples in their hands,” Davis said.

“We have so many daily meetings with negative news and frightening news and to be able to roll our sleeves up and participate in helping the situation is just a real positive for Cummins right now,” she said.

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