2022 FELLOW AWARD

Wanner proves the future of electrification is in the details

If you’re not excited about the potential and promise of electrification at John Deere – especially in a diesel engine world – there is a simple remedy: spend 30 minutes with Kent Wanner.

Kent Wanner
Kent Wanner

Wanner has a compelling message to share. It’s one rooted in details, fed by customer demands, personal expectations, and technical know-how. Because if you need someone to connect the increasing importance of electrification to John Deere’s higher purpose, there may be no better spokesman. And if you need a reminder as to why Deere is the ideal place to make that connection, he’s got that covered, too.

He’s built a career on paying attention, seeing the possibilities, and creating solutions. And it nearly always starts with the details.

For the past 15 years, Wanner helped align electrification with agriculture and construction engineering. His work on Deere’s 644K and 944K hybrid loaders are shining examples of what the innovation can do. By creating an electric drivetrain, the project hit the key trifecta of significant fuel savings, ease of use for the operator, and proven durability with well over 2 million operational hours. The benefits were enabled by first-in-the-market technology for this loader classification.

And now, Wanner will tell you, John Deere is primed to capitalize further on its carefully orchestrated mission.

“The reality is,” Wanner said, “you need to crawl before you can walk, before you can run. Well, we’re in that position where now we’ve got a portfolio that took 15 years of development, and it’s ready to really deliver. We’re ready to run. And you know what? Deere should be better at this than anybody else in the world.”

Confidence. Passion. Belief. But why?

“Because we know the details of everything by being so vertically integrated. We know the details of the strengths and weakness of electrification technology. We similarly know those details for engines and transmissions, as well as what the vehicles need to do. And since we have the expertise in-house to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of every one of those things, we can execute implementing a vehicle solution in a way that very few others will be able to,” Wanner, a 2022 John Deere Electrification Engineering Fellow, said.

A steady climb

As senior staff electrification application engineer at ISG-Fargo, Wanner has worked his entire 25-year career in electronic design. Today, he and his team help solve how Deere electrification components and technology can be used to help improve a new vehicle, “bridging the gap” between the technical aspects of electrification and getting products through to the final production stage.

Today, Deere is in a position where the company can point to successes like ExactEmerge™ electric drive planters and hybrid loaders – examples that demonstrate value and allow future ideas to flourish. But Wanner is quick to point out, electrification is not only about fewer gallons consumed. With ExactEmerge it was increased productivity that got customers’ attention.

“Those customers wanted a way to go faster, get more done in a day,” he said. “That’s a huge deal, and it’s not one built on fuel savings. Electrification affords the combination of efficiency, power, and controllability that is unmatched by other technologies. The winner is the end user because they get productivity like they’ve never seen before.”

The path ahead

The other message often linked to electrification is its impact on the environment. Wanner said from the very beginning it was easy to see the benefits for Mother Nature – smaller engines, leading to reduced emissions and less fuel and fluids, leading to decreased leaking, as examples. “I think what’s changed over time is the value or the priority of that element,” he said.

As the advantages build, so do the opportunities.

“As an electrification engineer, you can name where you want to work. That’s the reality. This industry is exploding. And as an engineer at Deere,” Wanner said, “we get to not just use the technology, we get to play in the technology and develop it. And that’s really a differentiator. That’s probably been the biggest thing for me, getting the ability to learn and then to effectively apply it broadly. Our challenge moving forward will be, can we go fast enough for the marketplace?”

With all that opportunity ahead, Wanner shares a story with recruits, student interns, and new hires. Something that hits close to home.

“I’ve been on a lot of recruiting teams, and I consider myself kind of a spokesman for Deere and the thing about that for me is that our work and mission is real. That’s not just a company mantra. Right now, there are a million opportunities for electrical engineers,” he said.

But opportunity may not equate to purpose, Wanner said. He points out there is a satisfaction and, yes, realness to it all. He even has a way of proving it.

“I have taken many colleagues and their families from all over the world to my home farm in North Dakota, and I show them where I grew up and why our work matters. My uncles farm. My brother farms. The hard work, dedication, challenges, and the expectations for our products to perform are all very real. And I think that’s part of the culture of the whole Deere workforce as well. Everybody at Deere has connections to why this matters and, in the end, it should matter to you, too. Because what we’re doing,” Wanner said, “is not phony.”

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