Cummins manufactures air, fuel, and lube filtration products for diesel engines, and, like many U.S. manufacturers, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, wanted to do something to help support healthcare providers.

Not far away, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF) were working with Dr. Peter Tsai, inventor of N95 filter media, to produce face masks with equipment being used to produce precursor material for carbon fiber production.  Adding a device to the line that electrostatically charges the melt-blown material made of polypropylene or PP allows the filter to remove more than 95 percent of submicron particles and viruses like COVID-19.

“We reached our target goal in only a few weeks on pilot scale melt blowing capability at the CFTF and had the capability to produce filter media for 9,000 masks per hour when we connected with Cummins for potential technology transfer and scale up,” said ORNL’s Dr. Merlin Theodore, director of the CFTF. “Cummins was an ideal partner to scale what we had accomplished and helped us produce material that passed all required testing for filter media.”

Applying what they had learned, the CFTF’s research team designed and manufactured a custom electrostatic charging device for Cummins and assisted in the installation of the device on the company’s production line in nearby Cookeville, Tenn.

“Because of our expertise in the automotive filtration industry, we believed we could adapt to supply the filter media used in the face masks worn by healthcare providers, which are also in high demand across the nation,” explained Christopher Holm, director of filter media technology & IP at Cummins.

“We knew melt blowing, but we could not have gotten up-to-speed without the interactions with ORNL and Dr. Tsai.”

Beyond helping deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaboration of Cummins and ORNL meets another objective of the CFTF. Dr. Theodore added, “Our goal is to transfer our technology to industry partners to increase U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing. This in turn supplies a critical need for our country, creates job growth and stimulates the economy. We are the catalyst that help industry bring technology to the consumer.”