Milestone Safety Technology Smart Safety — Then Chemistry Is Right

Author Anke Geipel-Kern

Hima keeps redefining the benchmark for safety technology with its safety solutions — ever since the company developed its first safety controller in 1970, “Safety without compromise” has been the motto that Hima from Brühl/Germany has always followed. Since then, the company has defined Smart Safety as its core competence and has helped shape the industry with pioneering innovations. Despite now having a global presence, Hima has preserved its status as a medium-size company and is still family-run, now in the fourth generation.

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Hima has specialized in the development of smart safety solutions for 50 years.
Hima has specialized in the development of smart safety solutions for 50 years.
(Source: ©DifferR -

Sometimes it can be the smaller, less conspicuous things in the process industry that end up doing great things. And safety controllers definitely belong in this category. These boxes of varying sizes are a type of life insurance for operators, as they keep plants safe. If a safety controller trips somewhere in the world on a plant, i.e. if an emergency shut-down is triggered, then it is highly likely that a system from Hima has prevented an accident.

With around 40,000 systems in the field, the company from Brühl/Germany has installed more safety systems worldwide in the process industry than any other company — and Hima is continuing to extend its lead. When it comes to safety, all the biggest companies in oil and gas and in the chemical/petrochemical industries trust the experts at Hima. Thanks to the rigorous internationalization strategy of Managing Partner Steffen Philipp, the safety expert has now established branch offices and subsidiaries in over 50 countries.

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And Hima has long established itself as a safety and security company that addresses networked production in the era of Industry 4.0, delivering Smart Safety solutions for the process industry and the rail industry. Whether microprocessor technology, programmable controllers, Ethernet, embedded solutions or digitalization — the safety perfectionists are always one step ahead when it comes to implementing innovative technology in their controllers.

Early Days in Marine Technology

To start with, the family-run company never set out to become a safety specialist. When Johannes Hildebrandt, a young marine technology engineer from Kiel, founds his trading office in 1908 in Mannheim, his original plans are quite different. His intentions are to supply equipment to the booming shipping industry on the river Rhine. At this point, the port in Mannheim with its industrial settlements is one of Europe’s biggest freight handling centres. Carl Benz runs a Mercedes production plant here, BASF is situated nearby in the neighbouring town of Ludwigshafen, and their presence attracts plenty of power stations and heavy industry. Looking back at the town’s history, Steffen Philipp explains that “at the time, Mannheim was one of the most vibrant industrial locations in Germany.”

His grandfather Paul Hildebrandt steps into the shoes of Paul’s father Johannes in 1929 and reinvents the company for the first time in its history, making him the initiator of a change process that continues to this day, into the fourth generation. The young company grows from being a trading firm and evolves into a manufacturing company.

Early Focus on the Chemical Industry

At the company's facilities in the Neckarau district of Mannheim, the workers then start to build switch panels, pressure and temperature switches, as well as control and monitoring systems — including first products for the chemical industry.

The mercury relays that are used at the time are robust and resistant to failure even at high temperatures and in corrosive atmospheres, and this makes them perfect for use in the chemical plants. 1936 is the birth year of the brand “HIMA,” derived from the first letters of Hildebrandt and Mannheim, which Paul Hildebrandt registers in Mannheim’s company register.

Transistor Technology Sets the Course for the First TÜV-certified Safety Controller

Another transformation and the key shift towards the world of safety technology is then initiated in 1960 by son-in-law Bernhard Philipp, the father of the current Managing Partner.

Fascinated by the new transistors, the qualified mechanical engineer converts the relay technology in use at the time to the new technology and starts using hard-wired electrotechnical systems for the first time. This resets the company’s compass — with far-reaching consequences.

But it is an accident in a nearby chemical plant that triggers the development of the first TÜV-certified safety system in the world when a valve fails as a result of failure of an electronic component, which causes an explosion. “Hima was given the order to investigate the cause of the incident and to develop a circuit that would switch off automatically in the event of a fault,” explains Steffen Philipp.