Company history -thuba celebrates 90 years

Nine decades are only possible with satisfied customers, a great team and committed suppliers. A big and well deserved thank you to all of you. What is more, it has been the privilege of the third generation to have contributed to the development of the company for more than five decades.

The turn of the year saw the start of a special year for the thuba group. This year we are celebrating our 90th company anniversary. In a world where short-term successes often enjoy a higher status, this is truly something special.

September 1932. In the midst of a worldwide economic crisis Albert Thurnherr decided to take over an electrical installation business in the Neubad district of Basel. Having previously been engaged in the manufacture of various electro-thermic appliances such as water boilers, hot plates and irons, he had some business experience. But times were hard, and the prevailing unemployment situation weighed heavily on the young business. Thanks to the installation department, Albert Thurnherr managed somehow to keep his head above water. In spite of the situation, he still tried to press ahead with the development of his own products. The installation of electric drives for church bells was one of the developments at this time. In addition, he continuously expanded the manufacturing programme for electrical heating appliances.

The crisis years had hardly been overcome, when new troubles loomed: the imminent threat of the Second World War. Thanks to the untiring efforts of his son, Paul Thurnherr, at the start of the war they had a sizeable manufacturing programme. When the authorities began rationing the supply of cooking gas, thuba hotplates, small boilers, cooking boxes (with an output of 50W) and dehydrators for conserving vegetables and fruit were in great demand. The thuba dehydrator, which was manufactured until the seventies, was a big seller for decades.

Towards the end of the forties the siblings Georg, Margrith and Albert joined their father’s company. The siblings ran the installation sector, while Paul Thurnherr was in charge of the manufacturing sector and developed new products. In 1948 the private company Albert Thurnherr was converted into the stock company Gebr. Thurnherr AG, still based in the Neubad district of Basel.

In 1955 a new manufacturing facility was built in the Binningerstrasse in Allschwil. In the course of the fifties first requirements arose for explosionproof equipment, for example, explosionproof lights for illuminating the inside of drums. These were the forerunners of our modern day hand and tube lights. The lights were followed by electric heaters. The electric heaters produced in the war years were now also available in an explosionproof version. At this time the area up to 1m above the floor of a garage was still classified as a hazardous area. In winter Ex heaters were pushed under vehicles in unheated garages. Electric heaters were also being used more and more in the chemical industry. These were made to order for the specific application. The product range at that time was rounded off by electric hot air curtains in shops, domestic clothes dryers, heaters for shop windows and church pews.

In the sixties collaboration with the Dätwyler AG in Altdorf led to interesting projects involving trace and panel heating systems in the northwest of Switzerland. For example, ramps leading to the casualty departments of hospitals or garage entrances were kept free of snow and ice by underfloor heating systems.

The manufacture was later moved to the Rufacherstrasse in Basel.

In April 1970 Paul Thurnherr was joined by his son, Peter Thurnherr. The installation department still existed alongside the manufacturing department. In the years 1973/1974, following the oil crisis and the car-free Sundays, there was a recession. This posed yet another challenge for the company. The five-storey building in the Rufacherstrasse did not provide any further development opportunities, so in 1975 the decision was made to acquire land under building rights in the Stockbrunnenrain in Allschwil. The new building was taken over in July 1976.

At this time the activities of the electrical installation department ceased and the shop on the Neuweilerplatz was sold. From now on the development of the manufacturing company had top priority.

The introduction of the European standards for explosionproof equipment saw the opening of new market opportunities beyond the borders of Switzerland. Focussing on the manufacture of equipment and diversification in new markets also helped to survive the recession at the end of the seventies relatively unscathed.

In addition to temperature monitors, suitable switch gear assemblies were also needed for the explosionproof heating systems. In the early eighties the company formed a partnership with what was then BBC (Brown Boveri Co.) to manufacture flameproof controls and connection boxes in the type of protection «Increased Safety».

The basis for explosionproof equipment are the international standards of the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization). thuba has been working actively in various committees since 1981, thus supporting the industry.

As a result of the experience gained in the sixties and the support of the chemical industry, at the beginning of the eighties it was possible to realise complete trace heating systems for pipeline systems and tanks from the planning and installation phases through to the commissioning. In 1992, after the takeover of the electrical heating division of the Christ AG in Aesch, it was possible to expand this business division further.

A major export success came in 1991. A gas power station in the USA was operated with natural gas or propane, which could cause condensation during the changeover. For this reason all the gas-carrying pipes and fittings had to be heated. The scope of delivery not only included the heating systems and the connection boxes, but also supervision of the installation.

The announcement of new European directives at the beginning of the nineties presented new challenges throughout the processes, from purchasing through to final inspections. One more reason to promote the management system according to ISO 9001. Directive 94/9/EC, the first directive, came into force at the same time as our certification to ISO 9001. The new directive not only required detailed testing of Ex equipment, but also production monitoring with annual audits. Supplying explosionproof equipment was now only possible with an EU Type Examination Certificate and the certification of the module «Production Quality Assurance». Each individual step a challenge for an SME.

1996 our partnership with ABB (formerly BBC) was put to the test. The complete ABB manufacturing facility ABB in Eberbach was sold to Cooper Crouse-Hinds in Syracuse, New York, USA. At this point in time a substantial part of our revenue was generated using ABB components in our complete systems. In the first quarter of 1997 the new owners decided to entrust us with the role of their representative in Switzerland and, with this, the further development of our products.

At the turn of the century the CENELEC standards were gradually replaced by the globally valid IEC standards. At the same time we intensified our efforts with regard to globally valid standards for equipment in hazardous areas and, among things, took over the chair of IEC 60079-14 «Electrical installations design, selection and erection» in 2002.

New approval procedures such as the IECEx Equipment Certification Scheme allow easier access to the globalized markets. Even if national certification is essential in numerous countries, for the most part practical tests are no longer required if an IECEx «Certificate of Conformity» is available.

At the end of the nineties we were commissioned with the supply of trace heating systems and switchgear assemblies for a tank farm in Qingdao (China). Together with the associated approval of our Ex equipment, this laid the foundation for our activities in China. In 2009 we started our own company in China: Shanghai thuba Electric Co. Ltd.

Later, what started with explosionproof lights for inspecting the inside of drums was partially carried on by the EHB AG in Basel. This subsequently became part of the Tschudin & Heid group. When the group was restructured, the EHB AG was put up for sale. In 2003 it was taken over by thuba and integrated into the manufacturing plant in Allschwil.

In 2001, in collaboration with Shell Global Solutions, we developed a fibre optic lighting system for applications inside tanks in Zone 0. This then also led to a further collaboration and training sessions in Holland and Malaysia. As a result of the collaboration with Shell Global Solutions and the standardization activities, close contacts with the Malaysian industry developed and with it the establishment of the thuba SEA Sdn. Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur in 2006. Today the base in Malaysia provides services in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

In order to be able to assess installations and, above all, equipment and systems for our customers, in 2010 thuba obtained accreditation as an inspection agency (SIS 0145). Together with recognition by the IECEx Scheme as a training organisation, this acts as additional proof of our competence.

In the course of globalization our customers have transferred their production plants to China, Asian India or North and South America and expect a product that can be used everywhere: one prerequisite is that our explosionproof equipment has not only been approved for the various countries, but that it also has national approvals. Much of our explosionproof equipment can currently be used all over the world.

Our goals are focussing on the requirements of our customers and the further development of new markets. The establishment of a company foundation will ensure continuity for our longstanding customers and our well-trained employees.

Future secured!
In the past 10 years we have reviewed various options for ensuring the future of the company when the family is no longer part of it. During this process special attention was paid to one consideration in particular, the employees. thuba has a healthy mix of both well-trained young employees and long-serving employees with an outstanding expertise in the field of explosion protection.

Various scenarios would jeopardise the continued existence of the company. However, continuity is not only extremely important for the employees, but also for our long-standing customers. After careful consideration we have decided to set up the «thuba Company Foundation».

This is not a common practice; there are only six foundations in Switzerland under this title. The thuba AG and the thuba Company Foundation are legally separate. Whereas the thuba AG has an administrative board, the foundation has a foundation board. The statutes require that at least one member of the foundation board is actively employed in the thuba AG.

thuba Company Foundation, Objective:
The aim of the foundation is the long-term continuation and maintaining of the thuba AG based in Allschwil in the interest of its employees and corporate bodies.

Edition April 2022
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