New Microsoft-Cummins Lab Could Impact More Than Datacenters

Cummins’ Executive Director of Power Systems Engineering Gary Johansen (left) tours the Advanced Energy Lab with Sean James (center) of Microsoft and Dan Ronco (right) of McKinstry.

Officials from Microsoft, Cummins, and McKinstry celebrated the start of operations Wednesday, October 25, at their new advanced energy lab in Seattle, Washington, maintaining it could deliver important insights not just on powering datacenters, but on a host of other energy-intensive activities.

“In the future, the research work done here will help us and our customers in really diverse applications and market segments,” said Gary Johansen, Executive Director of Power Systems Engineering at Cummins.

“…Our aim is to create solutions that are cleaner, greener and lower cost,” Johansen said at the celebration. “We know this mission critical work well and believe that in the future it may also reach our customers who need to power hospitals, grocery stores and other important locations.”

A FOCUS ON FUEL CELLS

The lab’s initial focus will be on powering datacenters with natural gas powered fuel cells. The 20-rack environment in the lab simulates datacenter conditions to evaluate whether the fuel cells have the potential to improve efficiency, reduce emissions and cut costs.

The partners in the lab marked the beginning of operations by cutting a symbolic electric cord. Microsoft has long had the goal of unplugging from the grid, maintaining it would improve energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve the reliability of the grid by removing some of the stress on it.

Datacenters use a lot of energy, consuming about 2 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A significant portion of that energy is lost in the transmission of electricity from a power plant through the grid and to the datacenter. The lab partners believe that the integration of fuel cells directly into a datacenter could nearly double energy efficiency.

“The lab is our latest step towards our ongoing work to eventually eliminate the energy and resource impact of our datacenters; in other words, making our datacenters disappear,” said Suresh Kumar, Corporate Vice President, Cloud Infrastructure and Operations, Microsoft.

The project was conceived of and funded by Microsoft, Cummins and McKinstry, with additional funding provided by Siemens and the Washington State Department of Commerce via its Clean Energy Fund. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was among the dignitaries at the celebration.

A RECORD OF INNOVATION

The three principal partners in the lab each bring a track record of innovation to the project.

Microsoft is a giant in its industry. The company’s cloud infrastructure includes more than 100 datacenters around the world. It hosts more than 200 cloud services including Bing, MSN, Office 365, Xbox Live and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

The company has made a commitment to use more clean energy to power its datacenters, maintaining 50 percent will come from wind, solar and hydropower sources by the end of 2018.

Cummins currently has over 7 gigawatts (GW) of primarily backup generator capacity in datacenters around the world, using a variety of technologies including diesel and combined heat and power/gas. That’s enough energy to power every household in New York City.

McKinstry is a full-service construction firm specializing in energy and facility services. It tested re-using waste heat from datacenters before designing the largest waste heat transfer system in America.

“We know the future means we won’t just provide one power system, but customized solutions tailored to customer needs,” said Cummins’ Johansen, who predicts the lab will have positive repercussions for clean energy generation in the power generation industry. “This lab is a place where we can test various combinations of energy storage and power systems, together.”

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Cummins named a Top-Scoring Company on the 2020 Disability Equality Index

Cummins has been named a Top-Scoring Company on the 2020 Disability Equality Index® (DEI), a national, transparent benchmarking tool that offers businesses an opportunity to self-report their disability inclusion policies and practices. Companies that score 80% or higher are recognized as “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” Cummins scored 80% on this year’s index.

Cummins has been named a Top-Scoring Company on the 2020 Disability Equality Index® (DEI)

“I’m so pleased to see Cummins’ progress on the DEI,” said Mark Smith, Vice President – CFO  and the Executive Sponsor of the company’s disability inclusion initiative.  “Last year, we participated in this survey for the first time and found that we had a good deal of work to do to ensure we’re creating an environment that enables people with disabilities.  I’m extremely proud of all that has been accomplished over the last several months.”

From 2019 to 2020, the Cummins Disability Inclusion initiative, led by Dennis Heathfield, made great strides in the following DEI survey categories:

  • Internal and external communications 
  • Leadership engagement
  • Employee Resource Group network and alignment
  • Recruiting practices
  • Facilities accessibility

Going forward, the work will be focused on improving technology and web accessibility, designing and implementing a global workplace adjustments system, and supporting site-specific disability inclusion efforts.

The Disability Equality Index is a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN. It was first launched in 2015 and is acknowledged today as the most comprehensive disability inclusion assessment tool designed and embraced by both business leaders and disability advocates. This year, 247 corporations used the DEI to benchmark their disability inclusion efforts.

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

High tech tools enable Cummins to safely support customers amid pandemic

Cummins Sales and Service technicians can work collaboratively with experts many miles away using RemoteConnect.
Cummins Sales and Service technicians can work collaboratively with experts many miles away using RemoteConnect.

A suite of high-tech tools called RemoteConnect is enabling Cummins to support customers while maintaining social distancing and travel restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 crisis.

The tools, which allow experts to remotely see what technicians see in the field, were created by the Cummins Care team in 2017, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, to support customers in hard-to-reach locations. Now, with travel discouraged to prevent the spread of the virus, the use of RemoteConnect has increased dramatically, making the tools more important than ever. 

“RemoteConnect was created to be an alternative solution when a Cummins subject matter expert cannot be onsite,” said Cummins Care Manager Joe Brooks, who has been leading the initiative since 2017. “This has quickly turned into the only solution to service our customers in certain situations due to COVID-19. RemoteConnect has been a real game-changer during these unprecedented times.”

HOW THE TOOLS WORK

The suite of tools comes in a kit that looks something like a suitcase and includes safety glasses equipped with a tiny camera that technicians can use to work collaboratively with company experts known as “CFSEs” to diagnose and fix problems. CFSEs can literally see what the technician sees even if they are many miles away.

RemoteConnect quickly demonstrated its ability to improve repair quality while reducing misdiagnosis, un-recoverable labor expenses and most importantly, customer pain and suffering. The kits have been placed in more than 140 Cummins locations, primarily in the U.S. and Canada but Cummins Care is working to deploy them elsewhere, too.

Before COVID-19, CFSEs spent a significant time on the road, working with Cummins technicians at a particular Cummins Sales and Service location to collaborate on difficult service work. In addition, they would also collaborate with technicians via RemoteConnect. 

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, suddenly a simple flight, train, or even a car ride to service a customer was no longer a routine option. Many CFSEs discovered RemoteConnect was the next best thing to being there.

IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS

While the safety glasses equipped with cameras to live stream two-way audio and visual communication has perhaps the biggest wow factor, the kits also include:

•    LogMeIn Rescue: A tool providing the CFSE the ability to remotely collaborate with onsite technicians by taking control of their desktops.
•    Network Bridge: A tool allowing CFSEs working remotely to connect to an engine’s electronic control module (ECM), which is the command center on an engine controlling its operation.

As of April, over 5,402 remote support cases had been completed since November of 2018, including 621 that would have required travel, and 3,488 days of downtime were saved. The kit was used 166 times just between February and April.

Brooks and others at Cummins expect those numbers will go up in the days and months ahead. RemoteConnect is just another way Cummins puts technology and innovation to work for its customers. 
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Cummins CEO highlights employee safety, ingenuity at Annual Meeting

CEO Tom Linebarger speaks at a past event, before the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020 Annual Meeting was held virtually to protect against the spread of the virus.
CEO Tom Linebarger speaks at a past event, before the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020 Annual Meeting was held virtually to protect against the spread of the virus.

Cummins is taking numerous steps to protect employees from COVID-19, Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger said at the company’s Annual Meeting Tuesday.

The company has implemented health screenings and temperature checks for those entering plants, increased cleaning protocols and established a response center supported by medical personnel to answer employee questions 24 hours per day, seven days per week, Linebarger said.

He told shareholders the company has also established a leadership committee to respond to reported problems and a planning team focused on planning for future developments. Linebarger said the health and safety of employees and the communities where Cummins operates are the company’s first priority as it moves forward in these uncertain times.

“Most office employees around the world at Cummins are working from home as we comply with stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of the virus,” Linebarger said. “At the time of this meeting, several of our plants have gone through periods of shutdown or reduced capacity, and many locations are now resuming operations, though at a very reduced level. …Things look very different now than how we operated prior to COVID-19.”

A Seymour Engine Plant employee at work
A Seymour Engine Plant employee in Seymour, Indiana, working under the new plant rules since the pandemic. 

Linebarger said with most office employees staying at home, the company has been able to divert cleaning resources to facilities where employees are coming in to work every day, significantly increasing cleaning and disinfecting protocols. For those employees working in plants, in addition to the screenings and temperature checks, immediate care is available for anyone displaying symptoms for COVID-19.

 For employees whose work requires them to be in close proximity to others, the company has additional personal protective equipment for them to wear.

A DIFFERENT WAY TO WORK

Cummins has also redesigned certain processes and facility layouts to allow employees to operate safely and effectively, re-configuring assembly lines and entrances and exits to promote social distancing and ensuring common surfaces are cleaned regularly. In addition to answering questions, the response center is available to conduct contact tracing to determine people who might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

The company is using medical personnel from Cummins’ LiveWell health center in Columbus, Indiana, to support the COVID-19 response. center.

Linebarger said the company has benefitted from having dealt with the crisis since January when the virus was first discovered in China. Cummins has several facilities in Wuhan, China, considered the epicenter of the outbreak. All of Cummins’ plants in China are now back in operation and business has been brisk as the company’s customers have responded to pent-up demand.

An employee works in Seymour, Indiana.
In addition to masks, anyone entering the Seymour plant must pass through a health check where they get their temperature taken.

OPTIMISTIC SIGNS

That is only one hopeful sign. Linebarger said Cummins is also in a strong financial position. At the end of the first quarter of 2020, the company had cash and cash equivalents of $2 billion, strong credit ratings and Cummins’ pension plans are fully funded. Linebarger said aggressive action to cut costs such as reducing pay and hours for some employees, while painful, will serve the company well during this unprecedented downturn.

Even in the middle of the crisis, Cummins has maintained its investment in low- and no-carbon technologies like hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric power platforms that will position the company well for the future when more normal conditions and demand returns.

“During our 100-year history we have encountered several unforeseen crises and economic challenges,” Linebarger said during the virtual meeting, another first caused by the pandemic. “I am confident we will successfully navigate this one as we have done before and emerge stronger as a company.”

He said also true to the company’s history, Cummins employees have risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19, responding in new and creative ways to help the company and the communities where they live and work.

Employees have engaged in a host of activities, from helping day care centers and hospitals plan for COVID-19, to powering essential shipments of food and medicine, building and servicing the generators at emergency medical centers around-the-world, and partnering with other companies to increase the production of personal protective equipment.

“It will come as no surprise to you that our employees around the world have stepped up and responded to the needs of their communities in innovative ways,” Linebarger said. “…As always, our employees and our company are doing all that we can do to address this crisis in new and creative ways, and we remain committed to powering a more prosperous world.”
 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Team saves test using Cummins' ingenuity

The Cummins team had to figure out quickly how to keep testing going while practicing all the COVID-19 safeguards.
The Cummins team had to figure out quickly how to keep testing going while practicing all the COVID-19 safeguards.

On-Board Diagnostic Misfire Testing is as complex as its name would suggest. Keeping a recent test moving forward might have been even more complicated.

The labor-intensive test requires a driver and technician sit side by side to test an engine under “real life” circumstances to prove to regulators its onboard diagnostics are capable of detecting a misfire due to a component failure that produces excessive emissions. The testing is critical to keeping the regulatory process moving forward on the engine model for 2021.

The testing had been taking place at a college several hours away and was at a critical moment when the school suddenly had to shut the lab down as part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis. As the Cummins team quickly made plans to shift testing back to Columbus, Indiana, a feat in itself, plans were also being forged by the test team group leader Alex Marin Cruz to finish the critical testing at the Olympia Building (OLY) – this time while maintaining all the recommended COVID-19 safeguards, including the six-foot social distancing rule. 

FINDING THEIR INNER MACGYVER

In the midst of all the other personal and professional stresses caused by the fast-paced global pandemic, a team of engineers and technicians from both OLY and the Cummins Technical Center (CTC) quickly brainstormed a safe solution.

They pulled more than 50 feet of ethernet and specialized cables from rarely used storage closets in CTC and OLY. Two-way radios that hadn’t been used in some time were dusted off. The testing was slightly reconfigured, so the driver and technician no longer had to sit together but could still communicate using the radios. 

The team lost just under 48 hours, but testing was ready to continue.

A view of the testing.
The team  found cable and two-way radios that hadn't been used in some time to keep the testing going.

NEVER A DOUBT

“We never had any doubt,” Marin Cruz said when asked if he ever thought the testing would have to be postponed. “We were just focused on safety and keeping us six feet apart.”

They are now on track to submit data as part of the certification package to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) by the regulator’s deadline. Their extraordinary efforts to keep the engine testing on track will likely be critical to keeping the project moving forward.  

Team members in addition to Cruz include Shelley Knust, Curt Barnhart, Justin Owen, Ansh Sharma, Michael Tress, Shashank Sharma, Celso Gomez, David L Adams, Arun Shori D Sundaravel, Daniel Holle, and Robert S. Jones.

They demonstrated, once again, that both the company’s value of teamwork and its vision to innovate for its customers are alive and well at Cummins. Even in the midst of a global pandemic.
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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