It is a script that has been written countless times in sports -- a beloved player winning a championship and retiring a hero. It is one that rarely gets to play out in other businesses but Allan Knerr, an Essex Magnet Wire R&D Chemist, is embracing the fact that he is leaving his field with a career defining, walk-off victory.
Knerr, a 43-year veteran of polymer development with his last decade-plus at Essex, was the principal inventor of a product that is being hailed as revolutionary for traction motor insulation and corona resistance, EnduroTemp™ 260+. He saw the product go to market just before announcing his retirement to open July.
Where others point to the product as a literal breakthrough, he, humbly, looked back at the process as a logical movement with innovation.
"Now in a sense it's kind of a natural evolution with the push of higher and higher temperature requirements. We all stand on the shoulders of giants and basically what I did was translate a technology into a higher temperature product that had some unexpected properties that we would not have found had I not done that," he said. “There was like a, 'Wow this stuff is pretty cool,' type of a moment.
"I am just relishing the enjoyment that I see in everyone else's eyes when they look at this stuff and they test it and they go, 'Holy cow this thing won't die,' So that's pretty exciting.
"If you have to go out, you may as well go out on top. I feel like this is a really sweet point in my career to retire. I've got other things going on with the family and things like that, but for a plain old R&D Chemist to come out and have a career ending product to come out like this, it's pretty exciting. You know, to know that in the future every electrical vehicle on the road could possibly have my wire in it. That's exciting. Plus, the fact that this stuff can be on the next ship to Mars; who knows. That's really, really exciting."
EnduroTemp™ 260+ is a thin, film insulation that will extend the life of traction motors in critical transportation applications and has been specifically designed to withstand higher operating temperatures with an industry best 265℃ thermal endurance. The product will also provide protection to the motor against deterioration created by the modern power electronics controlling the motor.
The phenomenon of partial discharge and detrimental corona -- both long present problems at damaging the insulation on AC variable frequency motors -- prompted Knerr, his team, and their constituents at the MagForceX™ Innovation Center to make the effort to achieve the disruptive technology.
Matthew Leach, Vice President of Innovation and Head of the Essex MagForceX™ Innovation Center, said that Knerr lead the EnduroTemp™ 260+ project by example during the process and even after its success continued to be a mentor to others.
"The great thing about Allan's abilities is that he has all these years of gained experience and hands-on synthesis of polymers but he's always willing to try new things, even up until the last few weeks before his retirement," Leach said. "Having that open mind to try new things has been an excellent trait for him.
"He had this idea for EnduroTemp™ 260+ and he could see that there was a real want and need for it in the market. Then after discussions with others within the group -- like the electrical engineers and our motor experts -- they determined other properties that were definitely benefits of this technology, this development, which really caught my attention, and really put the emphasis on driving this research home and delivering a product.
"Now he's working with and mentoring other chemists in our organization. We have to really pass the baton on his research, so it doesn't stop, that there are further incremental improvements in this potential space."
The genesis of the product was a call between Baber Inayat, President of North America for Essex Magnet Wire, Knerr, and a leading member of a prominent oil and gas company in 2015. At that time, a client was looking for a moisture resistant polyimide, as well as one that would have corona resistance for deep hole oil well pump motors.
Leaving the meeting with nothing to offer, it became a mission to fill the void.
According to Knerr there were very few points of frustration as the product went through development.
"Thankfully Matt realized the potential of the idea and it came to be," he said. "From our original inverter duty material, which was dissolved in a polyamide imide, we converted that to the polyimide. So, it was a polyimide material. I changed some of the chemistry and we had experienced some really interesting results with those. Of course, all these variations on a theme were checked for the inverter duty life as well as the physical properties, the enamel stabilities and that type of thing dictated our decision on which way to proceed.
"We were just very fortunate to have the in-house technology to make our own polyimide and the ability to make modifications to it. If we were to buy this from a vendor, it would be nearly impossible today to duplicate this. As far as vendors doing to the polymer what we're doing, and with the turnaround time and everything in general, it would be extremely difficult."
EnduroTemp™ 260+ can redefine what traction motors utilized in hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, aerospace motors and actuators, as well as industrial applications like down hole pumping, oil exploration, or natural gas can do.
The product is most applicable for transportation, and not just cars as it can be off-road, heavy mining equipment. It is a perfect solution for demanding aerospace applications as well. High-temperature windings are going to be subject to a lot of different environments.
The current NEMA ratings does not have a class above 240℃, which means that once the new class is added, EnduroTemp™ 260+ and Knerr will be forever linked together in electrical insulation history.
For Knerr, he has simple hopes for the future.
"I hope they don't spell my name wrong," he said. "It's a group effort. It truly is, right down from me the formulator to the enameling operator who put it on wire, to the wire testers who gave me the data. It's a group effort. Just because I formulated it, the people in the plant still have to make it. If they can't make it, then you haven't really done your job.
"My appreciation goes out to everybody involved."