Cummins engineer’s holiday is out of this world

The Purdue University team spent about two weeks in the Mars Society's Desert Research Center, which simulates what life would be like on Mars.
The Purdue University team spent about two weeks in the Mars Society's Desert Research Center, which simulates what life would be like on Mars.

Cummins Engineer Shefali Rana spent the holidays in Utah, not to ski or hike, but rather to work in the desert, living in extremely tight quarters and eating mostly freeze-dried food. And she couldn’t be more excited about it.

That’s because she went to the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) to study life on the red planet, or at least as close as you can get to it on Earth.

“I’m very interested in space and this may be my best chance to study and simulate the life and work of an astronaut for future manned expeditions in a Mars analog and to study the challenges associated with it,” said Rana, who was part of a six-person team made up of Purdue University students, alumni and faculty visiting the MDRS for a two-week stint.  

The Mars Society describes itself as “the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization” dedicated to the  exploration of Mars. It created the research station some 18 years ago to enable visitors to experience what life might be like on Mars, and to conduct research that might be helpful should mankind traverse the 140 million or so miles to the planet.

Cummins engineer Shefali Rana explores the area outside the research center.
Cummins Engineer Shefali Rana explores the area outside the research station.

The society maintains the Utah desert resembles Mars, from the barren landscape to the isolation researchers experience at the six-building compound, which seemingly rises out of the middle of nowhere.


Groups at the station, roughly four hours south of Salt Lake City, Utah, must follow a rigorous protocol, only venturing outside in space suits modeling what would be needed to protect them from Mars’ harsh environment. Mars has an average temperature of about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius), one-third the gravity of earth and the Mars solar day, referred to as sol, is 24 hours 39 minutes long. 

Most of the compound’s buildings, which include a science dome and solar observatory, are connected by covered walkways simulating the enclosed tunnels that would be necessary if teams really made the five- to 10-month trip to Mars.   

Rana, a New Product Reliability Engineer in Cummins Emission Solutions, was part of a team sponsored by the Purdue chapter of the Mars Society and the university’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She said she has always been interested in space, which was heightened after the space program in her native India began pursuing the landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

The Purdue team conducted a wide range of research, including a study of clay soils similar to those found on Mars, using radar to evaluate properties of the bedrock layers, the decision-making processes of astronauts when not in contact with the research station and the impact of environmental factors on the performance of astronauts.

Purdue’s Mars program strives to get a mix of students, including men and women as well as undergrads and post-grads. Dr. Cesare Guariniello, a research scientist in the School of Mechanical Engineering, made his third trip to the MDRS and served as commander of the mission. 

In addition to keeping the team on task while maintaining protocols, he saw his role as helping team members adjust to working in a small space and adjusting to the isolation. 

Shefali Rana explores the terrain outside the research station.
Team members going outside the research station are required to wear suits modeled after what would be required to survive in Mars' hostile environment.

“I know for me, the isolation is the biggest adjustment, and you don’t fully appreciate it until the work is over and you return home,” he said. “Just passing through the closest small towns feels like there are so many people.”

A heavy snow kept the team close to the research station for the first few days of the group's visit. Snow has been detected in Mars' upper atmosphere, but it would vaporize before ever reaching the planet's surface.

The snow at the research station perhaps detracted from any visual comparisons to the red planet, but it did likely make for a more authentic experience in at least one respect. Human visitors to Mars would likely stay close to home given the extreme temperatures, violent dust storms, radiation and other deadly hazards.


Both Rana and Dr. Guariniello, a native of Italy, would love the chance to travel into space someday and they hope this experience might help make their case a little stronger should they ever get close. But they know opportunities are extremely limited and the odds are against them.

“If the opportunity presented itself, I would gladly go,” Rana said. “I hope our work adds to the body of knowledge for sustainable exploration as we celebrate 50 years of Apollo 11 and prepare for the Artemis and Gaganyaan missions.”

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon in 1969 as part of Apollo 11. NASA’s Artemis mission is scheduled to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. Gaganyaan is the manned space mission planned by India’s space program in 2021.

The Purdue Team at the Desert Research Station
The Purdue Team poses at the Mars Society's Desert Research Station in Utah. Cummins' Shefali Rana is second from the left.


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]


Our role in furthering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy

Now, more than ever, we have to fight for Dr. King's dream of a society where justice is fully experienced by all, and where every person is treated with dignity and respect. 

The following was authored by Tom Linebarger, Chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc. in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

January 20th is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it’s a day that always has me reflecting on the state of social justice and fairness in the world. Those reflections are certainly not limited to this one day, however, and I find myself increasingly concerned about these issues, and thinking about ways I can impact and influence the conversation. 

Toward the end of last year, I addressed a large group of business, community and civic leaders, and I spoke about how business is a force for good. I framed my remarks around our stakeholder model, how serving the full spectrum of stakeholders has set Cummins up for long-term success and profitability, and that the goal of business and government leaders is to provide opportunities for all. 

As you may have heard me say before, what benefits one of us benefits all of us. Or, as Dr. King so eloquently said, “an injury to justice anywhere is an injury to justice everywhere.” 

Dr. King and our former Chairman and CEO, J.I. Miller, shared a dream of a society where justice is fully experienced by all. Where every person is treated with dignity and respect. Where everyone feels valued. Now more than ever, we have to fight for that dream and hold ourselves accountable for our role in bringing it to fruition. 

Cummins Mission Vision Values
Making people's lives better by powering a more prosperous world is the Cummins Mission, which is achieved only when our employees carry forward our Values such as Diversity & Inclusion and Caring. 

I want to challenge you to think about your own stakeholders – your family and friends, your communities, your country – and what you are doing to create a fair and inclusive environment. How can you take our values system and amplify that impact? How can you further Dr. King’s vision and legacy? 

As we enter 2020 and this exciting new decade, we have to recommit ourselves in fresh ways to actively seek inclusive justice for everyone in all walks of life locally and globally. It starts with you. It starts with me. We can be at the forefront of creating a caring, inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

Tom Linebarger Chairman and CEO

Tom Linebarger

Tom Linebarger became Chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc., the largest independent maker of diesel engines and related products in the world, on January 1, 2012.  Prior to becoming Chairman and CEO, he served as President and COO from 2008 to 2011, Executive Vice President and President, Power Generation Business from 2003 to 2008, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer from 2000 to 2003, and Vice President, Supply Chain Management from 1998 to 2000.

Clessie’s presence still felt 100 years after Cummins’ founding

 Michael Blanz (second from right) and his team gather around the lathe Clessie Cummins used to invent the Jake brake.
Michael Blanz (second from right) and his team gather around the lathe Clessie Cummins used to invent the Jake brake.

If Technical Advisor Michael Blanz ever needed any karmic confirmation he was headed down the right path, it came stepping off the elevator late last year at the Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.).

There, in the corner of the lobby of the Tech Center office building, amid the models of classic Cummins engines through the years, Blanz saw a small piece of equipment on a work bench that he hadn’t noticed before. The machine was just a little bit bigger than what you might see in a hobbyist’s home workshop today.

Company founder Clessie Cummins
Clessie Cummins

It was the lathe Cummins founder Clessie Cummins used at his California home to invent the engine compression brake, commonly known as the “Jake brake.” It has helped trucks safely traverse mountain roads for more than 50 years. 

“I walked over to check it out and I couldn’t believe it,” Blanz said of the lathe, which was on display in anticipation of the company’s 100th anniversary celebration this year. “For me and my team this was truly inspirational. I can’t tell you what an impact it had on us. “


Why did an old lathe mean so much to Blanz and his team? Sometimes an older innovation can inspire new ways of doing things.

While Blanz’ and his team’s project has nothing to do with slowing a vehicle down, it does use the same general concept of altering the engine’s exhaust valves to provide power for another purpose.

Clessie Cummins takes off on a barnstorming tour to promote Cummins
Clessie Cummins prepares to launch a barnstorming tour to promote the merits of the diesel engine.

Clessie Cummins, truly one of the great inventors of his time, used engine compression to slow the drivetrain so the vehicle would reduce speed without the driver having to put his or her foot on the brakes, thus preserving the brakes and avoiding a runaway truck. During his barnstorming days demonstrating the potential of the diesel engine across the United States, Cummins had personally experienced the terror of flying down a mountain road with little or no brakes.

Blanz and his team have been working to use a similar concept to prevent the degradation of the catalyst often used in diesel engines to remove pollutants from engine emissions that cause smog. 

The team calls its invention “CvC” (trademark pending), which stands for Clessie vs. Clessie. It essentially pits the founder’s pioneering work on diesel engine torque against his equally innovative break-throughs on engine compression to produce the heat necessary to protect the catalyst. Here’s how:    


In today’s engines, the effectiveness of the catalyst can be diminished over time if the accumulated gunk isn’t burned out occasionally. If the gunk isn’t removed, the catalyst might have to be replaced, which is a very expensive repair for the engine owner.

The system developed by Blanz and his team obtains the heat necessary to regenerate the catalyst through engine compression. But instead of using the engine brake compression to slow a vehicle, the brake is engaged on only half the cylinders while the remaining cylinders are still fueling against the retarding load of the braking cylinders. The net result is a dramatic increase in exhaust heat, which the catalyst requires to remove the gunk.

Work on CvC is ongoing, but if all goes according to plan, the innovation should be especially helpful to the owners of off-highway engines solely using Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to address emissions. The SCR process occurs when a liquid agent (urea) is injected into a special catalyst. The urea reacts with the engine’s exhaust inside the catalyst to reduce various regulated engine emissions.

Like Clessie Cummins, Blanz loves to innovate and he and his team are excited to continue working on CvC.  They are especially excited after what they see as encouraging sign from the company’s founder.


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. blai[email protected]


Cummins Continues Partnership with NSBE

Last summer, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Cummins Inc. teamed up to launch the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program in the Greater Twin Cities area of Minnesota. The program was a success, as the inaugural summer helped students realize significant gains in math and science when analyzing data from pre to post-test. The students' scores increased by 10% in mathematics, 4% in science and problem solving, and 30% in curriculum knowledge. 

This year, Cummins and NSBE continued the success in the Twin Cities, reaching more than 120 elementary school students for the 2019 SEEK program. During this summer's three-week program, the students learned about key engineering disciplines such as civil engineering by working on the gravity cruiser, computer science engineering through the lens of cybersecurity, and mechanical engineering by learning about the trebuchet. The students also learned more about the engineering process, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. 

Gravity cruiser prototypes created by students at SEEK
Gravity cruiser prototypes created by students at SEEK

The SEEK program is designed to expose the underrepresented populations to STEM and is a major cornerstone in NSBE's 10-year strategy. SEEK's goal is to increase primarily 3rd to 5th-grade students' aptitude in math and science subject matter, as well as their interest in pursuing STEM as a career by having them engage in interactive, team-based engineering projects and competitions. 

Twenty-one Cummins employees volunteered to serve as judges of the engineering competitions, contributing 110 hours to the program. On the last day of each week, students presented their engineering prototypes and showcased what they learned throughout that week. They competed before their peers, parents, and staff. Cummins volunteers judged each team in three categories - physical competition, prototype design, and oral presentation/quiz bowl, with the winner of each age group announced at the end of the week's ceremony. 

Cummins Executive Director of Worldwide Engineering (Power Systems) and SEEK sponsor for the Greater Twin Cities, Gary Johansen states, "We believe an effective pipeline engages students at an early age with STEM learning experiences and sets them on a trajectory to pursue a STEM-based career." Johansen added, "the SEEK program truly reflects our company's values, as well as builds the groundwork for the future potential for innovation in our local communities."

Lauren Cole

Lauren is the Global Employer Brand Digital Communications Specialist for Cummins Inc, where she focuses on social media, employer branding, and digital media. Lauren joined the company in early 2017 and has a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Indiana University. She currently resides in Columbus, IN.

Employee Highlight - Keegan T.


Meet Keegan, a Parts Interpreter at our Campbellfield branch (Victoria, Australia). 

Name:  Keegan T.

Job Title/Branch: Parts Interpreter at Campbellfield (Victoria)

Length of Service: 3 Years


What do you like most about working at Cummins?

There are several things I like about working at Cummins. First off is the team at Campbellfield, who are great supportive, workmates. I enjoy the questions and challenges we get asked daily, as well as seeing the innovation and updates that come with new products at Cummins. 


What do you think has changed the most at Cummins over the time you have been here? 

Keegan T.
Keegan T., Parts Interpreter

The team and the opportunities that allow me and my colleges to be successful within our roles.

It is great to work with such a knowledgeable group of people, which allows me to continually learn and grow within my role. Learning something new each day keeps my job interesting. It's exciting for me to think about how this knowledge will help me progress to future roles at Cummins. 


What achievement are you most proud of?

Completing my Parts Interpreter apprenticeship early was a big accomplishment for me. Also, I was proud to receive the HVIA Apprentice of the Year (Southern Region) recognition and the Automotive Apprentice of the Year in Automotive Parts Interpreting through Kangan Institute. 


What would you say to someone interested in working at the Campbellfield branch?

It’s a great environment to work in, with an awesome and supportive team. Cummins also has a large range of engine models in the industry, which gives technicians the opportunity to work on a diverse range of technology and products, while continually building industry knowledge and career skills.


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