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Exclusive Interview Milestone Safety Technology “Smart Is a State of Mind”

Author Anke Geipel-Kern

Always in tune with the times and just that little bit better than the others — that has been the motto of Hima ever since the company was first founded. Many years of safety experience and a huge passion for the topic of safety have driven the family-run business, which is now already in its fourth generation. Since the strategic repositioning in 2017, Managing Partner Steffen Philipp and VP R&D and Product Management, Dr. Alexander Horch, believe that they are well set up for the digital future.

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Managing Partner Steffen Philipp: “We have a huge passion for what we do.”
Managing Partner Steffen Philipp: “We have a huge passion for what we do.”
(Source: Hima)

PROCESS: Mr. Philipp, what do you think is really special about Hima?

Steffen Philipp: We have a huge passion for what we do and are able to combine this with impressive technical depth. Our employees share great curiosity and the intrinsic motivation to translate the safety requirements of our customers into perfect solutions. And, despite our global outlook, we still see ourselves as a family business and as a medium-sized company with core competence in the field of safety technology, where we operate as a premium supplier.

PROCESS: In 2017, Hima carried out a complete strategic realignment and created the Smart Safety claim. What was the reason for such a major step?

Philipp: Our new positioning based on the combination of decades of safety experience and the ability to innovate we have demonstrated over the years. The world around us is changing in giant steps, and we have to embrace this change. New technologies keep arriving in ever shorter cycles. In particular digitalization is driving developments, and we wanted to use our rebranding to ready ourselves for the challenges of the digital transformation so that we can actively engage with the changed requirements of our customers. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we could translate our brand essence into a claim and arrived at the conclusion that we should call it “smart.”

PROCESS: So what exactly does “smart” mean to you?

Philipp: In the future, we want to continue to be able to offer our customers the solutions they need in order to meet the challenges of digitalization — e.g. with regard to cyber security. This is what we mean by “smart.” The word “smart” links to everything we see at Hima. Our employees are smart, and they have smart ideas, with processes that have a smart layout and structure, and by following this “smart” approach we do the day-to-day things better than we used to. For us, “smart” is a state of mind.

Head of Development Dr. Alexander Horch: “Smart safety solutions should not only guarantee safety, but also convert data to business-relevant information.”
Head of Development Dr. Alexander Horch: “Smart safety solutions should not only guarantee safety, but also convert data to business-relevant information.”
(Source: Hima)

PROCESS: Mr. Horch, what does the digital transformation mean for safety technology in the process industry?

Dr. Alexander Horch: Industry 4.0 places an entirely new range of demands on plant operators. Today, it is about much more than just uninterrupted operation and emergency shut-down procedures. The increasing digitalization of industrial automation also demands greater networking of assets and systems. Smart safety solutions should not only guarantee safety, but also convert data to business-relevant information that helps boost the productivity and profitability of industrial plants. As a result, this networking demands control solutions for safety technology that not only protect assets, people and the environment in an emergency, but that can also effectively fight off cyber-attacks and improve the profitability of plants in the long run. This is the paradigm shift we have rung in with our new technology platform.

PROCESS: What exactly is behind this approach?

Horch: Our Smart Safety platform combines all Hima controllers and our software in a closed system. All components are uniformly tailored to one another. The controllers can communicate with each other via Safe Ethernet, and they have a standardized operating system and share the same programming environment. We thus provide plant operators with a scalable solution that allows them to run anything from small individual applications to the complex architectures of large-scale plants, covering their complete safety and security requirements in a needs-based manner in the process. They only need to purchase exactly what they need. Existing systems can also be incorporated in the platform.

PROCESS: How can safety and security be reconciled?

Horch: The approach we rigorously implement is to separate the process control system from the safety controller. And, by the way, this is also the approach recommended by the standards for Functional Safety and Automation Security (IEC 61511 and IEC 62443). Our safety controllers are absolutely self-sufficient and run 100 percent with their own dedicated operating system, which has been specially designed for safety-related applications. That makes us independent as a company.

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PROCESS: The issue of services is also becoming increasingly more important for Hima. Which business models are you following here?

Horch: In 2018, we opened an Innovation and Development Center in Kassel, which uses our safety-on-chip technology. This safety system-on-chip technology is used anywhere when space is limited. On this basis we specify and develop safety solutions on behalf of our clients in the areas of drive technology, logistics, medical technology, robotics and the energy sector, and we get these solutions certified by TÜV.

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PROCESS: What can we look forward to in the near future in terms of technology?

Horch: We are going to continue developing our existing product families and, of course, the Smart Safety platform. We are working intensively on new communication protocols like OPC-UA. And we are expanding the Smart Safety Platform into the field with the “HIJunctionBox.” This follows the trend toward decentralized solutions. Overall, we are positioning ourselves as a safety provider across the entire lifecycle of the plant and will also continue to expand the areas of security and services.

Thank you for talking to us.