One of the things we like to do regularly here on HARMAN Insights is to look at some of the brilliant engineers behind our industry-leading AVL products. In today’s innovator spotlight, we’re looking at Niels Rasmussen, Senior Principal Engineer, R&D Innovation, Lighting for HARMAN Professional Solutions. As a mechanical engineer working on Martin’s moving lighting heads, Niels has helped develop some of Martin’s most valuable intellectual property.

After graduating from Denmark’s University of Aarhus School of Engineering in 1997, Niels started work at Martin. This was his first job, and he joined Martin as a mechanical engineer. Martin was still a small company at the time, pioneering in the automated lighting business. At that point, Martin did not have project managers, so the mechanical engineer was also the de facto project manager and all mechanical prototype components were self-made in the tool shop.

After some years, Niels introduced the project manager role in Martin’s R&D department and became one of the first full time Project Managers. For a brief period, Niels transitioned into managing property rights, which gave him a fresh perspective that eventually helped him lead R&D innovation and strategy for Martin. Niels said, “Reading all those patents allowed me to see opportunities in both my own and my colleagues’ ideas.” Since 2008, Niels’ jobs has been focused on innovation, with Niels listing facilitation, education, strategy, technologies, video ethnography, and collaboration with universities among the subjects he has focused in his role. Niels Rasmussen is currently Senior Principal Engineer, R&D Innovation. In 2014, Niels finalized a Master’s degree in Leadership and Innovation in Complex Systems. Niels said, “I felt obliged to find the borders of Innovation. The term was tiring me and I needed to get a full overview of the innovation map—and I think I got it nailed.”

Animation Wheel (US Patent #7222997)

During his tenure, Niels has been either the author or co-author of 15 granted patent families filed so far, many of them offering seemingly-simple solutions that nevertheless revolutionized motorized lighting. “My inventions might not be radical but I often see potential for inventive step and novelty,” Niels explained.  One of the most influential of these first debuted in 1999 with the iconic moving head the Martin MAC 2000. Niels was the mechanical designer on this product, which set a new standard for features and compactness of these kinds of lights.

In fact, some of the inventions from the Martin MAC 2000 product family are still key selling features today. For example, the animation wheel Niels invented made it possible for lighting designers to create water and fire effects no matter the product’s orientation. The effect was known from theaters for decades, but when the lights became moving heads, there was suddenly added complexity that could only be solved if the effect could be rotated together with the orientation of the fixture. Niels said, “The motorized sled I designed to help create the effect was actually very simple, but the patented technology has set Martin fixtures apart for years.”

NielsOutside of work, Niels is married and has three boys. When asked about hobbies, Niels smiled and said, “I have tried almost all sports, but for some reason I never became the best in any of them.” This eclectic taste in sports tends to be seasonal for Niels: in the winter he skies in the Alpes and in the summer he Kite surfs and rides his Yamaha Virago motorcycle. As for music, Niels played drums in a band as a youth, and the group had their own PA and lights. “That’s where I first got the passion for this business,” Niels added.

As you might expect, Niels loves gadgets and DIY-projects in his garage. “I have always been good at repairing things and putting things together,” he said. Remembering when the movie Apollo 13 came out, Niels said he identified with the scene where the NASA engineers had to adapt a square air filter to fit in a round hole. Niels recalled, “I was born and raised on a farm, and when one of the machines broke down, we never had the spare part to fix it, but we could do magic with a welder and creativity.”

As someone who is a student of what innovation really “is”, we asked Niels for his insights into the concept. He had this to say:

I focus on harvesting and materializing others ideas, because the biggest challenge in innovation is to make it “happen” out of the laboratory or desktop. If you can’t capitalize on an idea, it is not innovation!  Capitalization is a prerequisite for innovation, and that is where most innovation fails. There are numerous reasons for that, but the willingness to take risks and bleed often stops ideas hitting the market. In my job, I incubate and make what I call “provo”-types, concepts that might be unrealistic, but provokes a discussion with a user and nudges different stakeholders to believe in new ideas. Some of those go on to become prototypes and eventually products, but you don’t know what works until they are “real.” Ultimately, that is more important than creating thousands of ideas for the shelf.

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