Thun­der and light­ning go digital

When Rey­no Thor­mäh­len loo­ks up and sees thun­der­clouds, his face brigh­tens. Thun­der­storms are good. If things flash and thun­der pro­per­ly, his sys­tem can pro­ve its pro­tec­ti­ve func­tion. Becau­se Rey­no Thor­mäh­len is the boss of a light­ning pro­tec­tion company.

In the midd­le of the pro­vin­ce of Lower Sax­o­ny, in Gro­ßenmeer near Olden­burg, you will find one of the most inno­va­ti­ve craft enter­pri­ses in Ger­ma­ny. “We are the mar­ket lea­der in light­ning pro­tec­tion,” Thor­mäh­len says confidently.

120 employees are working at seven loca­ti­ons in the north of the Federal Repu­blic of Ger­ma­ny on sys­tems that make buil­dings safer. “North” is a broad term in this. “We’re acti­ve as far as Colo­gne and Leip­zig,” the gene­ral mana­ger exp­lains. “Appro­xi­mate­ly 80 per­cent of our cus­to­mers come from the indus­tri­al field, ten per­cent from the public sec­tor, and just as many from the pri­va­te sector.” 

Bar­racks, air­ports, indus­tri­al plants, wind farms – for Thormählen’s teams, things often get high up. No won­der Lower Sax­o­ny even has its own indus­tri­al clim­bers among its ranks. “We install light­ning pro­tec­tion at pla­ces like North Stream 1 and 2, or are invol­ved in the noi­se pro­tec­tion cover for the A7 motor­way near Ham­burg,” Thor­mäh­len says of his latest pro­jects. The gra­dua­te e‑technician is main­ly respon­si­ble for stra­te­gy and mar­ke­ting in the Gro­ßenmeer han­di­c­raft business.

Lazy instal­la­ti­ons

Thor­mäh­len is a model com­pa­ny when it comes to digi­ta­liz­a­ti­on in the craft tra­des. “We are always inte­res­ted in impro­ving our pro­ce­du­res, stream­li­ning pro­ces­ses, and avoiding the use of paper. We want to take advan­ta­ge of today’s pos­si­bi­li­ties and impro­ve our ser­vice by making our pro­ducts more intelligent.”

In addi­ti­on to lar­ge-sca­le pro­jects, the North Ger­mans also shi­ne with inno­va­tions such as the under-roof light­ning pro­tec­tion for that­ched roofs (“We were the first to deve­lop this”) and details such as using a spe­cial tor­que wrench to gene­ra­te the tigh­tening tor­que based on the mate­ri­al. “It’s man­da­to­ry in poten­ti­al­ly explo­si­ve sys­tems, but nobo­dy has used it. It’s cri­ti­cal in indus­tri­al plants.”

Rey­no Thor­mäh­len and Jens Barghorn 

What all light­ning pro­tec­tion sys­tems have in com­mon is that most of the time, they’re doing not­hing. And when they beco­me acti­ve, nobo­dy noti­ces. A hor­ror for any dis­tri­bu­tor. The only peop­le who know how a light­ning pro­tec­tion sys­tem works are the peop­le who don’t have one. In other words, they find out when it’s too late. Nevertheless, the order situa­ti­on is still loo­king good: “We have more than enough to do. The more plants are net­wor­ked and IoT enters the world of pro­duc­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, the more sen­si­ti­ve the­se fra­gi­le plants will react to the raw for­ces of natu­re,” exp­lains Jens Barg­horn, second Mana­ging Direc­tor and, as a trai­ned mas­ter electri­ci­an, a man of practice. 

The intel­li­gent dis­con­nect point

Light­ning units need main­ten­an­ce. This is becau­se sin­ce they are expo­sed to the wea­ther, their pro­tec­ti­ve func­tion can be impai­red by struc­tu­ral chan­ges or they can actual­ly beco­me struck by light­ning. In order for the tech­ni­ci­an on-site to quick­ly find out what the sta­tus of the sys­tem is, they must refer to the docu­men­ta­ti­on avail­ab­le at the time. Thor­mäh­len uses spe­cial RFID iden­ti­fiers from Phoe­nix Con­ta­ct at the dis­con­nect points for the light­ning pro­tec­tion sys­tem, i.e. whe­re the sta­tus is che­cked by taking mea­su­re­ments. They are housed in a wea­ther-resistant badge, which Thor­mäh­len hims­elf enri­ches with infor­ma­ti­on via NFC inter­face and with a spe­cial indus­tri­al prin­ter from Phoe­nix Contact.

Our cus­to­mer should get a tal­king mea­su­ring sta­ti­on that gives them direct infor­ma­ti­on about their light­ning pro­tec­tion sys­tem via smart­pho­ne and a sui­ta­ble app,” Rey­no Thor­mäh­len exp­lains is the rea­son for the intro­duc­tion of the “smart bad­ges”. “We’ve con­duc­ted the real basic rese­arch tog­e­ther with Phoe­nix Con­ta­ct. The first step was to test RFID chips and their anten­nas for their light­ning com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty. Nobo­dy knew, for examp­le, how the data sto­rage on the bad­ges would react if a light­ning strike cau­sed high-impul­se cur­r­ents to flow through the con­duc­tors. What mate­ri­al do we need to use?”

Light­ning pro­tec­tion with vision

A sepa­ra­te sys­tem main­ten­an­ce app has also been deve­lo­ped tog­e­ther with Phoe­nix Con­ta­ct which allows con­ta­ct­less rea­ding thanks to RFID tech­no­lo­gy. A gim­mick? “Abso­lute­ly not. With this tech­no­lo­gy, faci­li­ty manage­ment can inte­gra­te the sys­tem into their main­ten­an­ce con­cept, i.e., act on their own initia­ti­ve and not just fol­low our main­ten­an­ce rou­ti­ne,” says Jens Barg­horn, describ­ing the advan­ta­ges of dis­con­nec­tion point marking.

We are cur­r­ent­ly equip­ping every new order with indi­vi­du­al­ly prin­ted RFID bad­ges, which cur­r­ent­ly num­ber around 2,000 orders.” “For us, this is an invest­ment in the rela­ti­ons­hip with our cus­to­mers,” Rey­no Thor­mäh­len adds. “Light­ning pro­tec­tion is a long-term issue. We don’t want to sup­ply just light­ning pro­tec­tion sys­tems, we want to offer las­ting safety.”
Indus­tri­el­le Druck­sys­te­me von Phoe­nix Contact

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