Continuing a regular series of articles celebrating the centenary of Cummins, Peter Barron looks back at the history of the Darlington plant

DARLINGTON’S long association with Cummins Engines can be tracked back to the town’s reputation for ingenuity and its proud heritage as the birthplace of the railways.

In the 1950s, Cummins’ wordwide business was growing rapidly, with its American operations nearing capacity as demand for diesel power increased.

The company, therefore, decided to move out of North America and establish factories in Britain to support its European customers. The first was Shotts, in Scotland, and the second was Darlington.

The County Durham town was chosen because its unique industrial heritage had left it with a highly skilled workforce and, when the railway industry declined, Cummins saw what an asset those workers could be.

Work began on the Chrysler-Cummins factory in Yarm Road in 1963 and it officially opened on July 13, 1965 – fondly remembered as a proud day for Darlington.

Cummins was ahead of its time when it came to the importance of design, with architects and industrial psychologists believing that top quality engineers needed the best working environment in order to produce world-class products.

The move to Darlington represented an £8.5m investment, with £1.6m being spent on the building, which continues to look modern by today’s standards.

The plant first produced a range of Small Vee V6 and V8 diesel engines, named VAL AND VALE. They had a power capability from 100-210 hp and were used by key customers such as Dodge, Ford, Daimler and many others.

Capacity was set at 30,000 engines per year and the plant was extremely advanced, with 90 per cent of machinery British-made.

The Chrysler-Cummins joint venture was bought out by Cummins in 1968 and has been wholly owned by Cummins ever since.

After 20 years and 350,000 units, production switched to the B Series engine family following a major upgrade of the plant. These 3.9 and 5.9 litre products played a major part in the company’s growth and were the forerunners of the ultra-clean low-emission products manufactured today, powering a wide range of trucks, buses, construction equipment, boats and power generation units across the world.

The Darlington plant now builds around 60,000 engines a year for key European, Middle East, African and Asian customers and, since production started, more than 1.5 million units have been produced in the town.

The great news is that the importance of the Darlington factory continues to grow, with £10m being invested locally in 2019 to improve operational efficiency and engine-testing capability as well as creating more modern, attractive, flexible and ergonomic offices.

Staff running Cummins’ centralised administration, finance and human resources services will also be transferred from Stockton to Darlington, bringing the total number of employees on the Yarm Road campus to around 1,300 by the end of the year.

More than half a century after Cummins chose the town to be part of its global success story, the belief and investment in Darlington’s vital contribution continues apace.

The Northern Echo: