“Electromagnetism controls everything in society”
Formulate research problems and create the preconditions for product development
Professor Roland Eriksson, retiring Head of the Electromagnetic Laboratory, explains what electromagnetism is and shares his experience of more than 40 years with electromagnetism - basic knowledge which has taken him a long way.
Have you ever asked yourself what electromagnetism is and how it is applied? Professor Roland Eriksson can give you the answer. He has helped to build up operations at the Electric Power Engineering Department and worked as Head of the Electromagnetic Engineering Laboratory for almost 20 years.
To Roland Eriksson, electromagnetism and Maxwell’s equations are the basis of everything in our society: computers, mobile telephony, air travel, cars, power plants, wind power, electricity distributions systems – everything that uses electricity for control and energy transfer.
“But of course, there are not many people who can use Maxwell’s equations every time they are trying to solve a problem, most people work with simplifications and analytical applications of his equations,” says Professor Roland Eriksson, and writes them in his hand to demonstrate how difficult it is to pull them out of your pocket every time you need them.
From research problem to products
Theory and practice have been a steady these throughout Roland Eriksson’s 12 years as a specialist in electrical engineering at Vattenfall where he learned “everything” about electrical plant and transmission facilities and five years at ABB’s Department of Market Communications which took him round the world several times. Knowledge on electrical plant and systems came in very useful when he was appointed as Head of the Department of Electric Power Engineering Systems 1990-2006. As research manager he applied the same principles as he did when he was in industry: identify research problems that can be solved and create the preconditions for product development.
Basic knowledge a must for development
Roland Eriksson’s division has developed from describing plant to understanding and identifying the basic connections and foundations of their construction.
“You need basic knowledge to be able to understand concepts, be innovative and communicate your ideas. Not least in my work as an engineer I realised how important it was to be familiar with the technical foundation in order to be able to participate in a company where innovations play a vital role,” observes Roland Eriksson.
Diagnostics for hundreds of users all over the world
Roland Eriksson thinks that all his projects have been interesting but would anyway like to name isolation diagnostics as the field that really caught his attention.
“Research in some of the first doctoral degree theses that began at the division has resulted in a product that currently has hundreds of users all over the world. A spin-off company was formed and development is run by one of the newly-graduated doctors at a company called Pax Diagnostics. The product measures capacitance and dielectric losses (complex ε) as a function of tension and frequency. Measurement signal, material and apparatus understanding are used to check the condition of the electrical isolation. The company has recently been absorbed by the Megger Group.
Chose a profession first
Having just left school and with a great interest in natural sciences, the young Roland Eriksson chose a profession – engineering is a profession – that combined theory and practical work. He studied on the Electrical Programme at KTH. His final choice of specialisation depended on the fact that it was such a good combination of theory and practice, he says.
“But chance plays a big part and you never know what will happen. It is like one of my grandchildren said once - at first I didn’t want to do this but then I did it and then it was fun”.
Roland Eriksson has, however, always had an idea about the way he wanted to go, but it has been like walking a tightrope and chance has helped him along many times. He has learned to make the most of opportunities that arise.
“Every doctoral student has been one of these chance encounters. One of them I met at a conference and said “You know, you should do a PhD!” Another I met in the corridor when he was thinking about how to relate Maxwell’s equations to technical problems, so I suggested that he should study here. A third one rang a wrong number and got me on the line and so he started his doctoral studies. It has been a bit of a tightrope. Can we succeed in recruitment? Can we get the funding? Are our research concepts good?” says Roland Eriksson and adds that it has been a very exciting journey.
What has happened in Electrical Power Engineering during your time at KTH?
“We see an increased interest in renewable energy sources now. The technical know-how has always been there but market conditions have meant that the implementation of this technology and been very slow over the last 20 years,” stated Roland.
Roland himself is specialised in high tension technology in electrical power engineering. In 1988 he followed Sune Rusk as Professor and was then the only supervisor in the division with one doctoral student. By 2008 the division hosted 22 doctoral students, a number which has remained stable since the end of the 1990s.
What have you worked with all these years?
“We have applied Maxwell’s equations. We have started from the equations and modelled their specific material properties in technical systems in order to understand problems and identify solutions.”
The specific material properties that the division has studied can be described by: ε (epsilon), μ (my) and σ (sigma). Frequency and tension dependency in dielectricity constancy ε has been used to diagnose the electrical isolation in cables and generators as they age. Knowledge on magnetic permeability μ of magnetic material is vital when constructing electric motors and actuators and the results of the division’s research has been used, for example, in actuators for steering the rotor blades of helicopters or in hydro-acoustic transmitters for mineral prospecting. The third important property of electrical material, conductivity σ, determines the losses that occur. Here the division has developed a new method of measuring and modelling losses in high temperature superconductors.