Cummins (NYSE:CMI) is making material for millions of face masks out of its Cookeville, Tenn., filtration plant — thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory nearby.
“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,” Christopher Holm, director of filter media technology and IP at Cummins, said in a news release posted yesterday.
Oak Ridge’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility meanwhile worked with Peter Tsai, the inventor of N95 filter media, to develop a novel in-line charging device that could be placed on the precursor production line to electrostatically charge melt-blown material made of polypropylene or PP. Electrostatically charging the material with millions of microfibers layered on top of each other creates a filter material able to remove more than 95% of submicron particles and viruses such as the one that causes 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 Merlin Theodore, director of the CFTF at Oak Ridge. “Cummins was an ideal partner to scale what we had accomplished and helped us produce material that passed all required testing for filter media.”
ORNL’s research team designed and manufactured a custom electrostatic charging device for Cummins, assisting in the installation of the device on the company’s Cookeville facility production line.
“Their research has made it possible to be where we are today,” Holm said. “We can manufacture material that has passed all the required testing for N95 filter media.”
Two months ago, Cummins had never produced filter media for face masks. Today, it’s already shipped material to multiple customers across the country for the production of millions of masks.