The metamorphosis of Uhde – from small engineering start-up to proud, globally-renowned centenarian

From humble beginnings as a small family-owned engineering firm, Uhde proudly celebrates 100 years as a global leader in chemical technology and plant EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) solutions. 

Uhde’s fascinating 100 history comprises an extraordinary tapestry of innovations, technology acquisitions and projects. It all started in 1921 when engineer and visionary, Friedrich Uhde, opened an engineering firm with only seven employees in Dortmund, Germany, where thyssenkrupp Uhde is still headquartered today.  The organisation has frequently broken new ground through collaboration with business partners and several acquisitions: Uhde GmbH became part of the Hoechst Group in 1952, and in 1990, was acquired by global multi-national, thyssenkrupp, becoming known as thyssenkrupp Uhde. 

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Present-day thyssenkrupp Uhde expertly combines decades of global experience with unique technological expertise and advanced chemical technologies. Through continual core product optimisation, portfolio expansion and technology evolution, the company offers globally leading technologies and solutions in Green Technologies (hydrogen, ammonia and urea (fertilizers), chemicals, SNG, carbon2chem, biomass); Electrolysis Technologies (thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers); Polymersincluding PET recycling and Biopolymers; and Enabling Technologies (refinery, scanning, modularisation and EPC). Uhde’s R&D facility in Neubeckum/Ennigerloh, Germany, is a centre for innovation where the company’s proprietary technologies are developed and refined.

To reach this 100 year milestone is a particularly exceptional achievement for a global and highly complex business like Uhde that operates within a dynamic international business and industrial environment. While many factors can be attributed to this accomplishment, people and intelligent innovations form the backbone of Uhde’s success. 

Generations of employees have helped to make the Uhde name synonymous with quality and reliability. Uhde’s relentless customer-centric approach continues to build strong relationships and secure solid trust in the company and its capabilities. Continuous research and development empower the business to keep in step with ever-changing and evolving markets and to sometimes even be the catalyst of change. The strong belief that ‘what will be state-of-the-art tomorrow must be developed today’, continues to sculpt the philosophy that constant technology innovation sustainably drives Uhde into the future.

This innovation mind-set extends to the company’s geographical presence. From very early on Uhde recognised that the systematic expansion of an international network and strong local and on-site presence close to the customer is a future-proof success recipe. The business has made its mark on the global industrial landscape with subsidiaries on every continent and major economic region. 

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The company’s African chapter was formalised when Uhde RSA, who had already been designing and constructing chemical and industrial plants for South African industry for four decades, commenced work on a contract-to-contract basis from 1954 onwards. The African footprint was extended when Uhde Germany opened a permanent branch office in South Africa in 1969 to build a team of engineers and related service personnel locally. This culminated in the establishment of the engineering company, Uhde (Pty) Ltd., in 1981 to more effectively use localised engineering skills and tailor-made engineering systems. Over the next 40 years, which came with structural as well as name changes, the local subsidiary continued to develop innovative approaches to project management, engineering and technologies, in close collaboration with its global counterparts. Today, thyssenkrupp Uhde’s global experience and local footprint positions the company to offer turnkey solutions to its African customers across all facets of chemical and industrial plant execution.

thyssenkrupp Uhde also continues to lead the global market in technologies. From the first ammonia plant constructed by Friedrich Uhde in 1927, thyssenkrupp Uhde remains a specialist in the development of 100% CO2-free green ammonia production solutions from 50 to 5 000 tons per day (tpd) plant capacities to smaller scale modularised plants.  In 1929 the company founder set up a new test laboratory for producing fuel by coal liquefaction in Bövinghausen. The present-day laboratory is based in Ennigerloh.  

With the oil and gas industry still in its infancy, Uhde was one of the first to turn its attention to coal liquefaction when tasked to develop this technology to commercial maturity to address a boom in demand for coal beneficiation technologies. Today there are 77 large-scale coal liquefaction plants based on the Uhde process around the globe producing ammonia, methanol, hydrogen and fuel. Another Uhde speciality is Coke plant technologies. The coke-oven by-products such as ammonia or sulfuric acid recovered from coke oven gas are used to produce fertilizers, etc. 

Friedrich Uhde also established “Hochdruck-Apparatebau GmbH” (High Pressure Equipment Manufacturing Co.) in 1933 which later becomes known as Uhde High Pressure Technologies GmbH. Research work based on high-pressure expertise for coal beneficiation planted Uhde’s roots in refining technology, with the business expanding into the refining sector in the early 1950s through its association with chemical giant Hoechst. The refining technology centre continues to be based near Frankfurt in Bad Soden, Germany. Uhde was involved in the construction of the world’s first methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) plant through a cooperation agreement with a leading oil corporation. Today MTG technology is important for the production of e-fuels. Green gasoline can be produced from methanol (Carbon2Chem®), in combination with green hydrogen and CO2 from industrial waste gases. 

In 1984 Uhde used the new membrane technology derived from the Hoechst electrochemical cell for the first time in a chlor-alkali electrolysis plant. thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers, still based in Dortmund today, continues to offer cutting-edge skid-mounted Chlor-Alkali technology and plant solutions for efficient and reliable on-site Chlorine production and leads the world market. 

Uhde has gained a competitive edge through its pioneering and innovative efforts in the plant contracting business. Uhde first used an EDP system as early as the 1960s, establishing a high-performance data centre using visual display terminals. One decade on, the company introduces networking between German and international locations. Firmly keeping its eye on the digital and automated future, Uhde introduced CAD systems, computer-assisted procurement and materials scheduling systems as one of the frontrunners.  

With a relentless focus on digital transformation, development and operation of cloud/web-based digital solutions thyssenkrupp Uhde continues to reinvent, transform and innovate, remaining one of the few companies to offer technology and project execution (EPC) from a single source. This, coupled with the right partners, a trusting relationship with customers and global team work, enables thyssenkrupp Uhde to continue building Friedrich Uhde’s legacy over the next 100 years ….

Uhde in South Africa enters a new era in 2022 with a new corporate identity and the first South African CEO.  Rajend Govender, newly appointed as CEO, says, “The customer centric focus and attention to quality continues.  Our mission is to be the ‘trusted partner pioneering sustainable and relevant solutions that enable and maintain reliable plants’ for our customers.  This mission enables the ‘creation of a livable planet for us and future generations’.  We thank our African customers for the trust over the last 60 years and look forward to celebrating our centenary in Africa.”

Email: info.tkissa@thyssenkrupp.com /thyssenkrupp blog: https://engineered.thyssenkrupp.com

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