Cummins Inc. is investing millions in its labs at the Cummins Technical Center, where engineers and scientists are creating, testing and evaluating processes and devices for the future.

The company has invested about $5 million in the Materials Laboratories at the Technical Center in the past 18 months.

That investment has provided new equipment ranging from 3-D printers, which build three-dimensional objects layer by layer, to a tomagraphy system that can take thousands of X-ray images at different angles to make an extremely precise 3-D representation, said Roger D. England, director of Materials Science & Technology.

The upgrades have been accompanied with ongoing renovation work in the labs to remove cubicles and move various departments closer to facilitate more collaboration and communication. Where once there were cubicles dividing the researchers and technicians, now there are open work stations.

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“It was a major overhaul to do this,” England said of the new configuration. “Everyone was divided into different segments, but now we are connected. We’ve gained a lot of useful interaction from it.”

Entering the work area from the hallway, visitors see a long line of plaques honoring those who have received patents for innovations in Cummins’ products over the decades.

Inside the labs, many Columbus residents might be surprised to learn that the research is down to the tiniest of minute particles.

“When we optimize a diesel engine, we’re working in the realm of atoms,” England said of the research. “That’s kind of where we have to be — the market is that demanding.”

To do that, Cummins has invested in a high-resolution optical microscope, which works with the Chemical Composition Analysis System, which can determine elements in materials down to a 100th of a percentage point.

The equipment can detail nano features to learn how metals and other material interact, particularly inside a diesel engine.

For example, researchers are trying to find a new alloy system that will better bond cast iron to aluminum parts — making those atoms that make up the metal want to stitch together instead of repelling each other. The researchers use the high-resolution microscope to learn how the atoms are interacting and how the alloy affects the bonding.

As for the power of the microscope, England said it is equivalent to having the microscope make it possible to lay a newspaper on the moon and read it from Earth.

Another microscope, the new Microscope Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, uses infrared radiant energy to identify unknown substances, allowing identification of deposits and other substances on a micron level.

In a new lab that has just opened at the technical center, the MJP 5500X printer builds three-dimensional objects layer by layer using plastic or rubber-like material. Cummins has also obtained an EOS SLS P395 printer that uses more durable plastics.

The printers are capable of quickly making models of parts with little or no waste that can be shared with a supplier to construct a real part, England said. Sometimes, the 3-D printers have made parts that could be used in an actual engine.

The advantage of using 3-D printing in developing new parts is that it speeds the prototype process and as England explains it, “details are free, custom design is free.”

The capability to change something quickly and revamp a design happens much more quickly using the 3-D printing process, he said.

In somewhat related equipment, the company has also invested in tomagraphy equipment that takes thousands of images to make an extremely precise 3-D representation of a part or piece of equipment.

Cummins employees are using the Star Imaging X-5000 Computer Tomography system to create extremely precise 3-D images of parts that can be manipulated and examined inside and out on a computer screen.

England described it as the imaging system you might find in a hospital, but this system is on steroids, he said.

The images from the tomography system allow researchers to reverse-engineer a part without having to destroy it in the process, he said.

And in the Analytical Chemistry Lab, researchers are working on new processes that more precisely detail when a customer needs to change the oil in their vehicle, depending on their driving habits and the type of oil they are using.

Although all this high-tech equipment represents Cummins’ steps into the future of diesel engines and products, there are still a few nods to Cummins’ past.

Along a wall outside the technical center’s machine shop, Cummins is working with T. Kelly Wilson, director of Indiana University’s Center for Art and Design in Columbus, who is creating artwork for the space — bringing a bit of Cummins architectural influence inside the building.

And outside the building is a souped-up Dodge Ram pickup that Cummins engineers have retrofitted with a Cummins engine, which will be Valvoline’s entry in the Baja 1000 race in Mexico this fall.

This year’s Baja race is a loop covering 800 to 1,000 miles, starting and ending in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Cummins and Valvoline will be competing in two main trucks and two chase trucks, with several drivers and navigators to compete in the race.

England, who is a driver, said the Valvoline truck parked outside the Technical Center entrance has attracted a lot of attention. It is one of two that will be competing Nov. 16 to 20 and represents Valvoline’s first foray into racing ownership.

Cummins has had a long-time relationship with Valvoline. The Cummins logo appears on Valvoline packaging, and the race offers a chance to celebrate that relationship, England said.

Many of the enhancements made to the Valvoline vehicle have come out of the labs and researchers in the tech center, England said, and could give the team an advantage in the grueling 1,000-mile endurance race.

“We did work our magic with a few things to give us more jump,” England said. “It’s old-school research combining with new-school research,” he said.

About the Cummins Technical Center

What: Cummins Technical Center

Address: 1900 McKinley Ave., Columbus

What it is: The Cummins Technical Center is responsible for the creation and application of technologies for component, subsystem, engine and total system product development to meet future emissions and energy efficiency demands.

Building design: Harry Wees Associates of Chicago, designed in 1968.

Size: 360,000 square feet of floor space, including 88 test cells for testing power units up to 2,000 hp under a complete range of environmental and special test conditions.

Number of employees: An estimated 600 engineers and support personnel work in the building.

— Source: Cummins

Seymour Technical Center

Besides the technical center Cummins has in Columbus, the company opened its Seymour Technical Center in 2015. That operation is co-located with the Seymour Engine Plant in close proximity to 22 test cells dedicated to engine research and development work for mining, rail, oil and gas, marine, power generation and industrial applications.

Location: 800 block of East Fourth Street Road. The two complexes serve as the world headquarters for Cummins’ high horsepower division.

Size: 89,350 square feet

Number of employees: About 600

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.