The auto engine maker Cummins will begin making thousands of high-efficiency filters for 3M's powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR) as 3M ramps up production of its protective equipment for front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new partnership is expected to double 3M's current production of HEPA filters, which are used in 3M's hooded and battery-powered PAPRs.

The additional cartridge filters are needed as 3M's Valley, Neb., plant recently ramped up production of PAPRs to meet a surge in demand since the COVID-19 outbreak. The Nebraska plant, as well as one in South Dakota, also are increasing the number of N95 masks produced.

Cummins will make the new PAPR filters at its Neillsville, Wis., plant about 150 miles from Minneapolis on equipment typically used to manufacture diesel-engine filters.

The new Cummins partnership was announced on the same day Ford was to begin making up to 100,000 slightly different PAPR respirators in Michigan. Ford's new PAPR product was designed with 3M's help.

Rodney Hehenberger, 3M's respiratory global R&D leader, said his unit has never worked with Cummins. That changed during a University of Minnesota filtration conference last month when Hehenberger chatted with Cummins engineer Chris Holm about ways they might address COVID-19 together.

In three days, Hehenberger sent Holm 3M product drawings and 3M filter parts from Canada. By that Monday, Cummins was making filter prototypes in Wisconsin. The two firms now have a large team working together from Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Brockville, Ontario.

"It's been a bit of a whirlwind, and it hasn't really stopped," Hehenberger said.