Technology and Design Meet in a Place You Might Not Expect

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When Cummins improved the fuel economy and dependability of its heavy duty engines, it got help on a particularly vexing problem from the company’s Materials Science team, the Cummins equivalent of the crime scene investigators popular on American television.

Led mostly by employees with Ph.D. s, the Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.)-based team investigated unexplained failures with the camshafts in some older engines. With equipment capable of analyzing in the realm of individual atoms, it identified something in the engine oil corroding the bronze pins that the camshaft rollers spin on – even though a base additive to counteract acid was still in place.

Cummins Material Science Chemistry Lab
Employees working in the Material Science team’s Chemistry Lab are the Cummins’ equivalent to crime scene investigators popular on American TV. The lab is located in the Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.).


The team then used small angle neutron scattering available at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (U.S.A.), to determine that weak organic acids were co-existing in the oil with the base neutralizers and attacking the bronze pins. The Cummins metallurgy team helped select a new acid-tolerant material for the pins, enabling engines to go much longer between oil changes.

It’s one of many improvements in the X15 engines that Cummins unveiled earlier in 2016. The engines, expected to go into full production in January 2017, use a host of technical advances to improve fuel efficiency and performance as well as dependability and the time an engine remains in operation, known as “uptime.”

Cummins Material Science Lab


The X15 is perhaps the best example yet of how the diesel engine has gone high tech. In many ways it’s as complex as your favorite piece of consumer electronics, but asked to perform under extreme temperatures, high in the mountains or deep below the earth’s surface.

“The X15 engines are a sign of what is to come from Cummins,” said Srikanth Padmanabhan, Vice President and President of the company’s Engine Business.

“We are firmly focused on understanding the industry trends that are shaping our markets and anticipating the future to develop innovative products and solutions that maximize our customers’ success.”

Capable of receiving over-the-air programming and customization, equipped with features to predict the most efficient cruise control and meeting the most demanding emissions regulations in the world, the X15 reflects the work of not only the chemists on the Materials Science team, but computer scientists at the company, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, the backbone of engine design.

There’s more to this story, however. The engine actually has fewer components to help increase uptime, and its Single Module aftertreatment, critical to meeting the toughest emission standards, is 40 percent lighter and 60 percent smaller making service easier.

“We have cutting edge design and analysis tools that enable us to design products that meet and exceed our customers’ needs,” said Jennifer Rumsey, Vice President – Chief Technical Officer. “Manufacturing should not be seen as limiting design, but as an enabler to realize it when using advanced manufacturing techniques.”


The engine continues Cummins’ reputation for developing the cleanest, most fuel efficient products, exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards.

It communicates seamlessly with automated manual transmissions, providing a power train that adjusts to grade, vehicle weight and driver input to deliver industry leading fuel economy. The engine also comes with Predictive Cruise Control, which helps a driver anticipate the road ahead, taking advantage of the earth’s gravity to build momentum and use less fuel in rolling hills.

Cummins X15 Launch Party
Cummins employees celebrated the launch of the X15 at a “Launch Party” in August 2016 in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.).


But the technology extends far beyond that. The X15 is factory ready to enable over-the-air engine programming and customization when connected to Cummins’ telematics system. It can make some engine adjustments remotely, completely avoiding the necessity of a trip to a service bay.

For other work, the Connected Diagnostics system on the engine can diagnose a problem and schedule time at a garage when it’s most convenient for service.


While all the technical advances are exciting, sometimes great design means finding simpler, more efficient ways to get the job done.

The X15 minimizes parasitic loss, non-productive energy lost to engine components. It also minimizes friction loss throughout the engine, including the water pump, gear train, pistons and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), a key process to reduce nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.

A simple valve allows recirculation of fuel to combat waxing in extremely cold weather. Throw in the smaller, lighter aftertreatment and if it’s possible for something to be simpler and more efficient, and more complex at the same time, it’s the X15.

That’s sort of like Cummins’ future. North American emission regulations have been the primary driver of innovation for many years at the company. But as those regulations approach near zero levels, other factors are playing an increasingly important role.

“At the core, it’s simple. We win in the marketplace by seeing the future first and beating the competition to it,” Padmanabhan said. “At Cummins, this is what we mean by innovation you can depend on.”


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  • Johnny Tyson says:
    January 3, 2017 at 11:31 pm Reply

    Does the new engine still require DEF fluid? If so, when was the last year Cummins did not require the use of DEF fluid? I own a 2001 Ram with your 5.9 and love the engine. it does not require DEF. I’ve read a lot about DEF but still old and set in my ways and do not want the added cost and just something else to worry about keeping filled. I’m wanting to get a newer truck since I’m retiring in a couple months and would like a new truck but with NO Def.


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