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Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Innovations: Inventor of the Year 2016 - Dr. Werner Hartmann

High-Voltage Thinker

An innovative power house: 383 patents demonstrate the extraordinary number of contributions made by Dr. Werner Hartmann, who worked for Corporate Technology, Erlangen.

Werner Hartmann († 2017) came up with one invention after another throughout his career. His inventions range from vacuum switching technology for the energy sector to new methods for mining and applications for the automotive and food industries. His guiding principle was to “always look as far as possible outside the box.” For his services, he has won an award as a Siemens Inventor of the Year 2016 in the Lifetime Achievement category.

Werner Hartmann was convinced that researchers need experience, patience and creativity as well as the willingness to share their ideas with as many people as possible. They also need the right working environment. And Hartmann found exactly what he needs at Siemens Corporate Technology in Erlangen, where he conducted research into vacuum switching technology and provides advice on it as a principal key expert.

This type of circuit engineering has become dominant since the 1970s, especially in the low and medium voltage areas. Practically all grid operators use it in over 80 percent of cases. But it is also expected to play an important role in tomorrow’s high voltage systems. “In our new power supply landscape, there will be far more high-voltage cables whose individual sections frequently need to be connected or disconnected,” said Hartmann confidently. In the event of a circuit failure in such a grid section, whole towns or industrial plants can suddenly be without electricity. Hartmann’s inventions help to ensure that such events will be less likely in the future.

“We need innovative technologies to ensure the energy transition.”

His research deals, in particular, with two metals (copper and chromium) from which the contact surfaces of interrupters are made. He tested new alloys and procedures for this. He also looked in depth at the insulation gas used in interrupters to prevent arcs when lightning strikes. To date, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) has been but it is one of the most aggressive greenhouse gases and should therefore be discontinued in the future. In view of this, Hartmann worked on solutions in which insulation is provided by the simplest of substances – air.

Together with his team, he came up with a design for a new high-voltage vacuum interrupter (which is named in his honour) “because it was important for us to work as compactly as possible.” The new vacuum interrupter was presented at Hannover Messe back in 2010. A version for 72,000 volts is currently undergoing trials in high-voltage grids at five locations.

Hartmann was very inquisitive as a child, he says, and has clearly retained this characteristic. Whenever he got an idea, which mostly happens unexpectedly, he could do nothing else but try to find out if it can be implemented. Surely there is no need to consume vast amounts of energy to press vehicle body panels into shape. Why not shape sheet metal by means of a magnetic field? A system he and his team developed does that elegantly and is far more economical than pressing in terms of electricity demand. Magnets can also be used to separate some metals from ore, and pulsed high-voltage systems can extract fine particulate matter from power plant emissions – ideas for which Hartmann has invented and developed technical solutions at Siemens over the years at least to the extent that he could prove their feasibility. Ultimately, not everything has been implemented “but that is part of a researcher’s life,” he said.

No Regrets

Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Hartmann moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s with his family to work in academia. He was subsequently offered posts at CALTEC and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – two institutes that a young researcher could hardly turn down. But Hartmann did. He and his family preferred to return to Germany – “a decision that we have not regretted for a single second,” he says.

Hartmann has found his work at Siemens very satisfying and has been successful at it, as shown by 218 invention disclosures and 383 individual patents in 194 patent families. “I have been able to develop my abilities to the full here, and have always received the necessary support,” he said.  

Katrin Nikolaus