Since its founding in the late 1960s, Thermik Gerätebau GmbH has become a global leader in the development and manufacture of thermal protectors and thermistors. Its high-quality, equally inconspicuous products are widely used in household appliances, industrial plants and vehicles worldwide and ensure reliable temperature safety at all times. Although technology from Thermik can be found in almost every household, the company remains rather unknown outside the industry. Thermik is one of the typical “hidden champions” of the German SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector: a high-performance, family-run company that is conquering global markets with innovative strength and entrepreneurial skill. In 2023, Thermik received special recognition when it was included in the list of the most innovative and resilient German companies by a panel of experts. The honors are part of the “Best of German Industry” award, which is presented by the “German Standards” project of the ZEIT publishing group as part of its SME initiative.

Thermik is setting "German Standards": The success story of the world market leader in temperature safety

In his foreword to the current issue, Dr Florian Langenscheidt, publicist and publisher of “German Standards”, sees Germany’s key industries in dangerous waters. “Chinese competition, energy prices and strategic mistakes” are causing more and more medium-sized companies to falter. There is talk of an “energy policy without system and reason”, while at the same time “the economy is craving for labor, while the state is making it easier to settle down comfortably in transfer-financed islands.”

At the beginning of 2024, German SMEs and industrial companies in particular are not doing well. According to the Handwerksblatt, SMEs are particularly concerned about their earnings situation. Every third company is affected by a drop in turnover. Price increases for energy and fuel, a high level of uncertainty regarding the war in Ukraine and the continuing galloping inflation are also paralyzing business development in the new year 2024, which has just begun. While the persistently high costs of energy, materials and primary products are causing entrepreneurs’ earnings to dwindle, companies are also burdened with supply chain problems and an ever-increasing shortage of skilled labor. More than half (53.1 per cent) of managing directors are concerned about the stability of their company, primarily due to inflationary trends in Germany. According to a Creditreform survey, around a third of companies have an equity ratio of less than ten percent in relation to total assets.

Publicist Langenscheidt comments on the situation in Germany as follows: “Our competitiveness is slowly declining in many areas of life. If we don’t pay attention and counteract this with all our ideas and skills, we will fall from some of the top positions in the world. I love our country, but I am a little worried.”

Dr Langenscheidt’s concerns are not unjustified. For example, the Institute for Macroeconomics and Business Cycle Research (IMK) of the Hans Böckler Foundation comes to the sobering conclusion in its new economic forecast that gross domestic product will shrink again in 2024. Cuts in government spending, further increases in taxes and a high level of uncertainty regarding the funding of climate protection projects will come up against high interest rates and subdued global economic growth. Prof Dr Sebastian Dullien, Scientific Director of the IMK, criticises the traffic light government. For example, “the judgement of the Federal Constitutional Court and the government’s reaction to it have fuelled uncertainty among companies and private households”. According to Dullien, the budget freeze from November 2023, the cancellation of previously promised relief and the questioning of projects with investments that have already begun “calls into question the reliability of German politics.”

It would not be far-fetched if the industrial nation of Germany were to collectively fall into pessimism in the face of erratic politics, a war in its almost immediate neighborhood and ever-increasing competition from the Far East. With the “German Standards”, however, the publicist and self-confessed optimist Langenscheidt would like to suggest a different path. Because “if you constantly believe that everything will go wrong, everything will go wrong. If you approach big tasks with fear, you’ve already half lost. Positive thinking, on the other hand, attracts success and thus retroactively justifies itself.”

With the book and the subsequent “Best of German Industry” campaign, the publisher and the ZEIT publishing group want to build a stage for the “heroes of today” – because we need role models in times like these. So that Germany doesn’t decline but flourishes and becomes even stronger.” By role models, Langenscheidt means the “locomotive for growth, prosperity and innovation”, which in recent decades has generated the wealth that is “currently being so generously distributed”. This refers to industry, the private sector, and, above all, SMEs.

“German Standard” presents companies that occupy top positions in global competition, are often global market leaders and even more often hidden champions. Companies in which “it is not those who think twice who rule, but responsible, innovative and risk-taking entrepreneurs.” One of these medium-sized German companies that step onto the “Best of German Industry” stage with creativity, the courage to take entrepreneurial risks and an innovative spirit is Thermik Gerätebau GmbH. A company whose products are probably only known to very few people – and yet are used every day in almost every household and in countless industries.

Thermik: World market, innovation and quality leader “Made in Germany”

Wherever electric current flows, heat is generated. Whether in heaters, coffee machines, electric motors or transformers: without temperature-regulating components, many electrical appliances would die a premature death from heat – or endanger human lives through fires. Thermal protectors can be used to reliably switch off electrical appliances if the temperature is too high. Thermal protectors interrupt the flow of electricity once a limit value has been reached. This switches off the appliance, prevents further heating and eliminates a dangerous fire trigger. The success story of Thermik began in 1968 with these small, inconspicuous technical components.

The Thermik company was founded in Pforzheim by Peter Hofsaess, a trained toolmaker. As an autodidact and gifted inventor, the young Hofsaess succeeded in solving a problem that remained unresolved until the early 1970s, known as “current self-heating”. In the early temperature monitors, the current flowed directly through the components and heated them up – false tripping was the rule rather than the exception at the time. The thermal protectors available at the time not only had to deal with the problem of current self-heating, but were also not optimally adapted to the limited installation space within electrical windings due to their design. Hofsaess drew on his own experience in the manufacture of fuses for the electrical industry – and was inspired by an insight from Archimedes: “As in nature, so in technology the ideal and most adaptable form is the round.” The founder of Thermik threw himself into the development process and invented the W1000 – the world’s first thermal protectors with an optimized round design and a 2-disc construction in which a spring pressure disc prevents the flow of current through the bimetallic discs used. This design enabled Hofsaess to ensure that its thermal protectors only react to the actual ambient temperatures and avoid self-heating of the current. This ingenious invention is the first patented product development by company founder Hofsaess and the direct predecessor of today’s best-selling thermal protectors for applications within electrical windings.

Peter Hofsaess made his breakthrough with the first patent – and since then, the inventor and company director has done everything in his power to build the best and most reliable thermal protectors in the world. Over the years, numerous other inventions followed, making Thermik the innovation driver of the entire industry in a very short space of time. Hofsaess led Thermik until his early, sudden death in 1992, leaving his family a renowned company with no capital backing and a mountain of private debt that many at the time thought could not be managed without outside capital. But the family took up the challenge. Marcel P. Hofsaess, one of the founder’s sons, took over the management of Thermik. Marcel P. Hofsaess is not only a creative visionary and passionate inventor, he is also even more unconventional and unconventional than his father. The second-generation managing director has now been continuing the success story of Thermik Gerätebau GmbH for over 30 years – and tops the inventor rankings in the thermal protectors sector. With more than 1000 patented inventions, Hofsaess holds more industrial property rights than the six following winners in total. This inventive spirit is directly reflected in Thermik Gerätebau GmbH, which has registered around 1600 national and international patents for thermal protectors and thermistors. That is more patents than the total number held by all competitors worldwide.

The small company has grown into a globally active family business that employs over 900 people in four plants on three continents. There are currently 4.5 billion Thermik products in use around the world, the availability of which is ensured by more than 30 international authorised stockists. In Germany, the market share of Thermik products is 70 %, in Europe, Asia and America it is still an impressive 50 % on In-winding applications. Thermik is regarded as one of the most successful medium-sized industrial companies in Europe – and it is certain that this will not change any time soon. On the contrary: the energy transition is giving the demand for thermal protectors and thermistors an extra boost. Fans, pumps, generators, electric motors, electric heaters, circuit boards and semiconductors or electric drive trains: virtually none of the modern electrical devices and components can do without high-quality temperature monitoring.  Thermik Gerätebau GmbH has been positioned in all relevant areas of green tech from the very beginning and will most certainly expand its pioneering role in the coming years.

It is personalities like Marcel P. Hofsaess and his father who optimistically believe in the success of their products – and thus found companies without which there would be no economy and therefore no jobs. Companies like Thermik keep the German economy running. Or to put it in the words of Dr Langenscheidt: “We just have to want the turnaround and feel like Team Germany. You are Germany!”.