Hail in the vineyard, cloud burst in the stadium
Lufft GmbH from Fellbach in the Stuttgart Region has been developing and producing professional components and systems for climate and environmental measuring technology for almost 150 years. All over the world, they are used to measure and register air pressure, temperature, relative humidity and other environmental factors. Whether for the next soccer world cup and the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil or in a vineyard in Fellbach – energy suppliers, meteorological services, wine growers, farmers and environmental bodies rely completely on the high-precision and long-lasting products from this SME from the Stuttgart Region.
When the 20th soccer world cup is held in Brazil in June and July 2014, not only the German national team but also the weather sensors from G. Lufft GmbH from Fellbach in the Stuttgart Region will be there – in all twelve match locations. They ensure that important climatological measurement data such as relative humidity, air pressure or global radiation are measured and recorded at the same time in the stadia. An external sensor can also be used to measure precipitation. “Brazil predominantly has a tropical climate with extreme humidity; because of the size of the country, there are even several climate zones.” This is how Klaus Hirzel, CEO of Lufft since 1989, explains the climatic peculiarities of the host country. “The precise weather information can be used to predict extreme heat, heavy rain showers or even storms, thus benefiting the spectators and the players alike.”
Blond hairs from females provide most precise measurements
Recording the weather is the core business of the company founded in 1881, and not just for professional sports. It was in that year that Gotthilf Lufft, a 33-year old optician from Stuttgart, started his professional career with the production of metal barometers. He advanced very quickly to become the global market leader for those products. Thanks to their precision, soon his altimeter and bimetallic thermometer had also become top sellers. The range was rounded off with hair hygrometers, which measured relative humidity with the help of a bundle of hairs that expanded with increasing humidity – blond hairs from females were particularly suitable because of their fine nature.
After the Second World War, the third generation with Erich Müller-Lufft at the helm of the company focused on the production of weather stations for private households and of meteorological measuring devices for industrial customers. But the compasses and altimeters from the Swabian company also proved their reliability under extreme conditions time and time again during expeditions – for example in 1953 on the 8,125-metre high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan or in 1954 on a discovery voyage into Greenland’s pack ice.
By the end of the 1950s the company had 300 employees and was flourishing. But in the late 1970s, the first home-grown problems emerged. Demand for mechanical sensors was in constant decline, with the new magic word – electronics – also taking over measuring technology. “Unfortunately, the management at the time completely failed to recognise this change in direction and did not react quickly enough to the dramatic changes,” explains Klaus Hirzel. “It was of course short-sighted to believe that because our measuring devices were precise, reliable and long-lasting there was no need for further development.”
Plants love the HP100
In 1989, Lufft’s pricelist included more than 1,200 items; around 80 percent of the products had been developed prior to 1979. After several staff cuts – the effect of which soon dissipated without any realignment of the products and processes – the owners ultimately sold the company to the industrial engineers Stefan Schöllhammer and Klaus Hirzel. Their first rescue manoeuvre was to move to smaller production halls in Fellbach-Schmiden. Admittedly, the larger challenge was to convert the products from mechanical to electronic products. In 1991, Lufft joined forces with two other companies to acquire the insolvent sauna manufacturer Klafs in Schwäbisch Hall. Lufft’s involvement in the market leader Klafs then also made it viable to produce electronic sauna control systems.
The company soon also became successful in the agricultural meteorology segment. For example, Lufft introduced the Herbarum Protector HP100 in 1990, a “plant protector” which was the first electronic measuring device to facilitate calculations for various leaf diseases and provide the results directly. To do this, a permanent recorder continuously records temperature, relative humidity, leaf wetness, brightness and precipitation. Instead of taking preventive action using potent chemicals, wine or fruit growers can now predict a threat of infestation from the harmful mildews. “We are really proud of the HP100; you can find it along the Neckar or along the Rhine just as readily as in the famous wine regions of California,” says Klaus Hirzel.
It was also in the 1990s that Lufft began to manufacture mobile and stationary high-precision measuring devices for industry that are a prerequisite for ensuring stable climatic conditions.
Passion for precision
Nowadays Lufft has 85 employees and sales of 20 million Euro – in 1989 that figure stood at four million German marks. More than 90 percent of sales are generated with electronic products, with tailored customer solutions playing an ever-increasing role. Everywhere where air pressure, temperature, relative humidity and other environmental factors have to be measured or registered, Lufft products are in demand. More than 60 percent of the measuring sensors are exported. Intelligent meteorological sensors form the basis for global measuring networks along roads, rail lines and at airports. “Information on the weather is hugely important for long-distance and air traffic and for shipping, especially for route planning and calculating journey times,” explains Klaus Hirzel. “Our sensors and systems help decision makers when clearing the roads in winter or when activating variable message traffic signs on the motorways in real time.” Meteorological services and environmental bodies, building equipment manufacturers and energy suppliers all appreciate the precise and long-lasting products from the Fellbach-based specialists. In order to emphasise the high quality standards, Lufft operates its own calibrating laboratory with a wind tunnel for testing wind sensors.
For many years now, Lufft has also been involved in the topic of weather recording for professional sports. The annual “Vierschanzentournee” or Four Hills Tournament in ski jumping benefits to a special extent from the mobile weather stations for exact forecasts. For the soccer world cup, the sensors will warn the soccer players in Brazil of any unusual weather events if necessary. For the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Lufft is delivering six compact weather stations.
By successfully combining tradition and innovation, the rather small company has set off on a course for future growth and ensured that the Lufft brand once again stands for top quality and precision worldwide.