Project Manager Spotlight: Jack Hartner, TARDEC
September 23, 2016
In August 2016, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jack Hartner from US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Command (TARDEC). He is the NDCEE Project Manager for the Sulfur-Tolerant Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack (SOFC) project. This project objective is to develop SOFC stacks, without the need for a sulfur removal subsystem which is ready for testing, demonstration, and integration with a JP-8 reformer. The product will be integrated into a standalone generator, a vehicle auxiliary power unit, or provide propulsion for a manned/unmanned vehicle. Stakeholders/Beneficiaries include USSOCOM, Army Ground Vehicle Robotics, and Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). All applications will benefit from electrical power generation that is quieter, longer lasting, and more fuel efficient than traditional sources.
Because Jack and I are both Michiganders and trolls at that (slang for those that live below the Mackinac Bridge), our conversation quickly dove into old stomping grounds, favorite cars, and favorite places to go up north. Jack is an Electrical Engineer, hailed from Lawrence Technology University, enjoying life as a newlywed, and outdoor activities in Gladwin. He is full of get-up-and-go and well respected by the NDCEE leadership. I hope you enjoy reading Jack’s question and answer session, as much as I had fun conducting this interview. I hope you remember his name, you will probably hear it again in the future leading some incredible energy projects for our Warfighters.
How did you first learn about TARDEC?
I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. She was working as a civilian engineer at TARDEC. I did not know the Army employed so many civilians in R&D roles.
What is your role at TARDEC?
I’m an Electrical Engineer. I help run the Fuel Cell Laboratory in TARDEC’s new Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory. I also manage projects with some of our small business partners through the Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. We’re working on new technologies to get fuel cells running on diesel fuel. That’s how I got involved with NDCEE.
Before working at TARDEC, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
One summer, I ran a C&C machine at an auto parts factory. My job was to produce the exact same door panel piece over and over. We must have done thousands. It was a struggle to keep the machine producing at the target rate and within the target specifications. I learned a valuable lesson about designing components. You can’t just focus on the end user. You have to consider all the workers that are touching the part from start to finish.
How has TARDEC helped you in your career development?
TARDEC has been a great experience. I’m always getting pushed outside my comfort zone. One day I might need to put on my engineering hat and design a new circuit board for one of our prototype systems. The next day I might need to put on my project management hat and brief some high ranking officials. It’s made me a well-rounded engineer. I’ve learned to trust my ability and not be afraid to take on new responsibilities.
How would someone describe you?
Very easygoing and a bit absent minded. My heart is in the right place, but sometimes I go off on tangents and forget about my original focus… sorry, what was the question again?
What are 3 words to describe TARDEC?
I’m going to cheat on this one because it’s hard to bring TARDEC into just three words. It’s innovation, it’s mobility, it’s robotics, it’s research, it’s engineering, it’s technology, it’s science….all in one.
What drew you to TARDEC originally? And how has TARDEC changed since?
I was graduating from college and needed a job to pay the bills. I interviewed at TARDEC, and I was pretty intrigued about the idea of developing technologies to help our Soldiers. One of my best friends was deployed to Afghanistan at the time. I felt proud that I might be able to do something to make his job easier in the future. TARDEC has changed plenty since I joined. Our leadership has put a lot of effort into improving the workplace climate. They’ve developed a pretty comprehensive 30-year strategy that gives a vision for the future, and helps us understand why we’re doing the things we’re doing.
What is on your wish list for the next 10 years with TARDEC?
We excel at integrating fuel cells on vehicles. I want to get one of them transitioned to the battlefield. Industry already has fuel cell vehicles on the market and production is increasing. They are quiet, efficient, and environmentally friendly. I want the military to follow closely behind and make use of fuel cells wherever it is advantageous.
What is the favorite part about working for TARDEC?
If you are willing to put the hard work in, you have the ability to carve your own path. There are so many avenues available – NDCEE being a great example – where you can gain funding for projects that will address requirement gaps. If you have an innovative idea, you’re encouraged to go for it and submit a proposal.
What is your proudest moment at TARDEC?
About 3 years ago I took the lead on an ambitious new project. My team was going to convert a utility terrain vehicle to a fuel cell vehicle powered by hydrogen. We did it entirely in house at TARDEC. When we finished, the vehicle was accepted into the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Concepts Demonstration in 2015. Demonstrating a successful fuel cell vehicle, and having it evaluated by potential users – that was my proudest moment.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I’m big into outdoor adventures. I like camping, hiking, biking, golfing, and skiing.
What are you hoping to happen after your NDCEE project is complete?
I hope our transition partner, SOCOM, gets excited about the product, and decides to adopt fuel cells on their platforms. I’m also going to keep participating in the NDCEE focus group. I’ve been able to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about a lot of interesting technologies through NDCEE.