150 years ago: Big bang for technical safety in Germany
Munich/Mannheim. Shortly after 1 pm on 28 January 1865, a steam boiler exploded in the Aktienbrauerei, a Mannheim brewery. The accident rocked the city, claiming one life and injuring four. Caused by insufficient water levels, excessive pressure and poor maintenance, it jolted local steam boiler operators into establishing an organisation aimed at increasing the safety of technical plants and systems. The “Association for Supervision and Insurance of Steam Boilers, domiciled in Mannheim”, the predecessor to today’s TÜV SÜD, was founded in 1866. In the 150 years since then, the concept of an independent and impartial testing organisation has become firmly anchored throughout the world. Today, TÜV SÜD has around 22,000 employees and a global network of operations – while remaining true to its roots. The company applies high-calibre expertise to test technologies and products and ensure they are reliable, safe and sustainable.
Although the Mannheim explosion served as the direct inspiration for the foundation of a steam boiler inspection association, the idea had already originated earlier. Industrialisation was progressing and the mid-19th century saw growing numbers of serious steam boiler explosions, causing numerous fatalities and resulting in severe damage to buildings and industrial plants. Harmonisation of technical progress with the desire for security, safety and protection became an urgent social need. Faced with the lack of appropriate regulations, steam boiler operators took responsibility into their own hands, and the Mannheim Steam Boiler Inspection Association was founded on 6 January 1866. This organisation had the purpose of protecting people, physical assets and the environment from the harmful effects of technology – the same mission that TÜV SÜD today pursues around the world.
An idea gains currency
After 1866, the new organisation quickly gained official recognition as a private-sector regulatory body. Initial successes in the field of safety rapidly followed; steam boilers that had undergone inspection were found to be twenty times safer than non-inspected boilers. As steam boiler installations flourished, so too did the membership figures of the associations and the numbers of experts commissioned to inspect the systems. Around twenty steam boiler inspection associations were founded throughout Germany within a decade. The association based in the Baden region soon expanded its expertise in steam boilers by adding pressure vessel inspection and expertise in aspects of materials and welding technology. The engineers even drew up a first environmental report on the topic of flue gas emissions – as early as 1870.
Expanding the scope of testing
After the turn of the century, the association moved into the broadly based field of electrical engineering and materials handling systems and rapidly added initial safety examinations on pipelines, storage tanks, places of assembly and cable cars to its areas of expertise. As a further milestone in TÜV’s history, on 15 October 1910 the Stuttgart Steam Boiler Inspection Association founded a special department for testing vehicles and their drivers. This was the birthplace of periodic vehicle inspections in Southern Germany. The extensive range of testing expertise was later marked by a change of name; the new organisation became officially known as Technischer Überwachungs-Verein (TÜV; Technical Inspection Association).
New topics, new countries
These Technical Inspection Associations or TÜVs played an active role in the economic recovery after the Second World War. They included TÜV Bayern of the time, which began to conduct inspections of full-scale refineries and entered the field of plastics technology. To increase the safety and security of every individual, TÜV engineers also began to establish type approvals of devices and appliances for home, leisure and office use. The range of testing services for computer and microprocessor technology, data protection and occupational health and safety grew from the 1970s and 1980s onwards. Its engineers also conducted research and supplied consultancy services in the fields of energy savings, use of alternative energy sources and environmental protection. Since those days, new fields such as eBusiness, food safety, medical engineering and vehicle development have been added to the company’s breadth of expertise. TÜV engineers increasingly began to support their clients in international destinations, initially focusing on USA and Asia.
The increasing liberalisation of markets, accompanied by mergers of various TÜV organisations, gave rise to today’s TÜV SÜD. The company is currently represented at 800 locations throughout the world. Over 50 per cent of its employees work outside Germany.
Trailblazers in new technologies
Today the experts at TÜV SÜD not only inspect, test and certify products, but also provide advice and consultancy services for individuals and organisations. In doing so, they must continuously respond to new developments and new trends – but also to new dangers, new safety requirements and new economic challenges. TÜV SÜD develops new products and services aimed at generating higher safety and better value for its customers. While inspections originally targeted steam boilers and engineering plants, today’s areas of focus are increasingly widening to span topics such as process safety, food safety, data protection, data security and complex IT infrastructures.
These activities demand high qualifications from their employees. Over 80 per cent of TÜV SÜD’s staff are academics – not only engineers, but also chemists, physics and computer science experts, food scientists and psychologists; and demand is increasing. TÜV SÜD has welcomed over 1,000 new employees to the company almost every year since 2005.