Dawn of a new chapter for Darlington
Almost 200 years after George Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1, the first engine to pull a passenger train on a public railway, steamed through its green and pleasant countryside, the town of Darlington in the north-east of England is looking forward to a new era in the global industrial limelight.
Locomotion No. 1 conferred historic status on Darlington, which thrived as the hub of manufacturing for the modern railway age, becoming a magnet for the best engineering talent in the land.
Today, fresh history is being written as Darlington and the wider Tees Valley region takes centre stage in the quest to advance the green economy.
Cummins has been manufacturing in Darlington since 1965. Around 1,500 people work at the plant across engine assembly, exhaust aftertreatment manufacture, technical operations and business support functions.
Sixty-six thousand engines were produced in Darlington in 2021, and in January 2022 the factory celebrated a historic landmark: its 1.5 millionth mid-range engine.
Spanning a range of 75 to 430 hp, Cummins’ ultra-clean low emission engines power a wide range of truck, bus, construction, agriculture, material handling, military, marine and power generation applications around the world.
Cummins has always been at the leading edge of power solutions, determined to give its customers premium products thanks to the integrity of the design, engineering and their legendary reliability.
That zeal for innovation and quality is now being applied on the pathway to zero carbon, and Cummins announced that its European Technical Centre in Darlington will take a lead role in developing a hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine (H2-ICE).
The Government-backed Brunel Project, named after another pioneer of the modern industrial age Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has received funding of £14.6 million through the UK’s Advanced Propulsion Centre’s Collaborative R&D competition, which backs businesses developing green automotive technology.
Tests are already under way on a medium-duty Cummins 6.7-litre and a heavy-duty 15-litre engine to help decarbonise commercial vehicles and construction equipment.
The Brunel Project dovetails perfectly with plans to turn the Tees Valley into a Transport Hydrogen Hub, the first of its kind in the UK.
Around the world, Cummins is investing heavily across a range of technologies to support hydrogen-based transportation including the aforementioned hydrogen engines, fuel cells, electrolysers and storage tanks.
Trains, delivery trucks and ferries powered by Cummins-produced hydrogen fuel cells are already in commercial service.
The transformative work being done by Cummins was recognised during the COP26 summit in Glasgow as His Royal Highness Prince Charles announced the company was one of 45 inaugural recipients of the Terra Carta Seal, awarded for what the Prince said was a “serious commitment to putting nature, people and the planet at the heart of the economy”.
Cummins has been part of the fabric of life in Darlington and the north-east of England for almost 60 years, a ready and welcoming home for the skilled workforce that was at risk of being lost with the closure of the railyards. It has turned ‘Made in Darlington’ into a genuine seal of honour across its export markets.
As one of the highest profile businesses within the Tees Valley Combined Authority, an area which covers Darlington and four other boroughs (Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees), Cummins is happy to lend its considerable weight to the campaign to boost the fortunes of the region.
The Tees Valley strategic economic plan sets out plans to create 25,000 jobs and add £2.8bn to the local economy by 2026, helped by substantial high-profile investments that have already been made in Teesside International Airport at Darlington, Teesside Freeport at Redcar and at Teesworks, the UK’s largest industrial zone, focused on sustainable and low-carbon activity.
Darlington is also where you will find the UK Government’s new Northern Economic Campus, housing officials from the Treasury, Department for International Trade (DTI), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The term ‘levelling up’ has become embedded in U.K. political language since the General Election of 2019. It is an admission that certain areas, including the north-east of England, have been left behind in terms of investment compared to London and the south-east of the country, requiring action to redress the balance.
Taking up the mantle, The Northern Echo newspaper created its Level Up platform where businesses and other partners across northern England can come together to celebrate their achievements and promote the virtues of the region.
Steve Nendick, Cummins Marketing Communications Director, said Level Up would give the North East a louder voice, helping to pull in further investment.
There is certainly much to be gained by Cummins, which knows it needs to attract and retain high-calibre individuals if it is to fulfil its bold ambitions for a zero-carbon future as set out in its visionary Destination Zero and PLANET 2050 corporate strategy.
The strategy sets out an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, volatile organic compound emissions, water consumption and waste of all kinds.
Cummins is creating a ‘circular’ lifecycle plan for every part it manufactures to use less, use better and use again.
“Here in the North East, we want to be a strong contributor and bring value to the region in which we live and work,” said Steve. “We want to provide a great place to work with well-paid jobs and career development opportunities. We want to strengthen our communities by supporting local initiatives and charities, and we want to design and produce high quality products for our customers, reducing our overall impact on the environment in the process.
“The North East has some exciting long-term opportunities. This region already has lots going for it – just ask Nissan, which has been operating successfully here since the mid-1980s, and Britishvolt, which chose to build its giant Gigaplant for lithium-ion batteries at the old Blyth Power Station – but it’s going to get even better if we can keep the investment coming in.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Cummins is striking out with major investments of its own to ensure the right infrastructure is available to deliver on its ambitious plans for electric and hydrogen capabilities.
In Spain, Cummins partners with Iberdrola to lead the green hydrogen value chain and therefore has invested in opening a brand new facility in Castilla-La-Mancha to cater to the increasing demand for electrolyzers. While in Germany, Cummins has opened a new facility in Herten to support the production of fuel cell systems for the hundreds of hydrogen trains scheduled to enter service over the next few years across Europe. The trains, built by Alstom, run clean and quiet, emitting nothing more than water vapour.
Steve Nendick believes that with the right investment, England’s North East can be a hub for the design and deployment of world-leading sustainable technologies.
“There is a tremendous buzz around the place right now,” says Steve. “I’m positive that there are more glory days ahead for Darlington and the region. We were the cradle for the railways, and we could well be the cradle of the next big industrial revolution – and this one will be coloured green.”