A lifetime of Ex-perience

Interview with Prof Dr-Ing Thorsten Arnhold, IECEx Chair

In an interview with e-tech, IECEx Chair Prof Dr-Ing Thorsten Arnhold speaks about his lifelong involvement in the Ex sector and in IECEx.

Thorsten Arnhold and Shawn Paulsen at IEC Edison Award ceremony
Thorsten Arnhold (left) with CAB Chair Shawn Paulsen during IEC Thomas A. Edison Award ceremony

Early days

Thorsten Arnhold was born in Berlin, six months before the Berlin Wall was erected. “On the wrong side of it” he adds with a smile. His mother was working and often travelling at that time, so he moved to Dresden, also in East Germany, to stay with his grandparents. He studied at Dresden Technical University where he obtained his PhD in microelectronic technology.

After the fall of the Wall in November 1989, Arnhold moved to Braunschweig, in what had been West Germany, to work in quality management at Commodore International, an American/Canadian company that took part in the development of the home personal computer industry in the 1970s and 1980s, famous notably for the Amiga computer. He stayed there about three years, at a time when the first quality management systems (QMSs) emerged. Arnhold and his team developed the first QMS in Europe and in Hong Kong where Commodore had its main production facility.

Joining Stahl

In 1992, Arnhold joined R. STAHL as quality manager. In that capacity, he established the company’s first QMS for explosion protection (based on ISO 9001). At the time, Stahl had two different branches: large lifting devices such as cranes and hoists, and explosion-protected equipment such as interface products for process automation, HMIs, low voltage components and systems, and the whole range of light fittings, to name but a few. Since 1997, Stahl has concentrated its operations on the latter.

Over the years, Arnhold has had different positions within the company, from Head of the Design and Marketing Department to Vice President of Product Management and Marketing. His current position is Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

First steps in standardization

Very early on, Arnhold was involved in standardization. In 1995 he met Michel Brénon – a key player in IEC Conformity Assessment through the IEC Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) and three of the CA Systems (IECEE, IECEx and IECQ) – who was then at CENELEC, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization. They met in Brussels where CENELEC was working on a project to develop a European standard for QMS in explosion protection, needed for ATEX. It is worth noting that the standard is now an ISO/IEC International Standard, ISO/IEC 80079-34, Explosive atmospheres - Part 34: Application of quality management systems for Ex Product manufacture.

Brénon asked him whether he would like to become convenor of the project. A young engineer without experience in standardization, Arnhold decided to take the plunge and accepted the offer.

Because it attracted much interest in and outside the European Union (EU), the decision was made, under the Dresden Agreement (predecessor of the current Frankfurt Agreement) to increase harmonization between International and European standards, to move the standard to IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres. This is how Arnhold also became involved in IEC standardization work, as a member of the TC 31 maintenance team responsible for ISO/IEC 80079-34.

Logical move to IECEx

His work in standardization for Ex areas led to the next logical step: IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres. Arnhold was head of the German delegation to the IECEx annual meetings in Denver, Colorado, US in September 2007, a role he kept until 2014. At some point, the former IECEx Chair Uwe Klausmeyer suggested that he apply to become the System’s new Chair. Arnhold’s first reaction was: “This is a joke, isn’t it?” But then he realized it made sense.

While it was unusual, at that time, to have someone from industry in such a position, the IEC Masterplan issued in 2011 advocated a stronger representation and involvement from industry. This led to that and Arnhold became Chair in 2014.

Becoming Chair

Arnhold says he has really enjoyed working with people from many different countries and the international exposure the IECEx chairmanship has offered him. “We – the IECEx secretariat people and all who have a role in the System – form a close group. We have, most of the time, the same motivations, the same objectives and targets. For me it’s the best way of being global. To be global, you need solid foundations – sharing points of views, goals, friendship even – and that’s what we have in IECEx.” He adds that “chairing such a group is not always easy, but I have received great support from Chris Agius, the IECEx Executive Secretary, and his team.”

Benefits for all

Arnhold explains that his company, Stahl, has always been very supportive of his involvement with IECEx. An appendix was added to his contract, stating that he could spend a certain amount of time on IECEx business and he has a dedicated budget for these activities.

For his employer, it is a win-win situation. “I know I have to be neutral. I cannot be actively publicizing Stahl when representing IECEx, that’s absolutely clear to me, but I also know that the contacts I make as IECEx Chair may be valuable for the company. My IECEx role has helped open doors for Stahl as well.”

Taking stock

The recognized training provider (RTP) programme, launched a few years ago, has met with great success. The programme was launched to assist applicants in their preparation for the certificate of personal competence (CoPC). The RTPs provide candidates with knowledge and understanding of the terminology and protection concepts for electrical and non-electrical equipment used in explosive atmospheres, based on the IEC 60079  and the ISO/IEC 80079 series of international standards prepared by TC 31 and its subcommittees. They cover theoretical and practical assessments and assist candidates in selecting and preparing for the relevant units of competence. “For industry, this was the right offer at the right time,” says Arnhold. “We have now more than 2 200 certified persons. Korea and Malaysia have the greatest number of CoPCs. They have recognized the value and the benefits of the programme. In Germany also, where we are proud of our own skilled-worker programmes, an increasing number of people active in Ex sectors are seeking obtainment of the CoPC.”

Recognition of the value of the programme has also come from regulators around the world.

The service facilities scheme is equally valued by regulators and industry. Arnhold remarks that “many companies outsource these auxiliary but important activities such as installation, inspection, repair, overhaul and maintenance to specialized outfits, knowing that these are IECEx-certified facilities and that their workers have the skills and competence to operate in Ex environments. This is a definite plus that adds value and brings confidence.”

Arnhold explains that the IECEx certified equipment scheme is so well established that “it runs by itself”. The addition of non-electrical equipment two years ago has given it a boost.

Country representation

Arnhold says that his only regret is that, under his chairmanship, the number of member countries in IECEx hasn’t increased significantly. “When I started, we had 30 countries, and today 33. I would have expected more. But I’m confident that this will change. IECEx is the only international CA System that offers a certificate of personnel competence and a certified service facilities scheme. Many countries may not have Ex industries, but they often have service providers. We need to convince them that participating in IECEx would be beneficial for them.”

As IECEx Chair, Arnhold has had the opportunity to actively promote the System at major regional and international events. He is regularly invited to speak at the annual HazardEx conference, for instance, and also writes a bimonthly column in HazardEx magazine.

It is worth noting that Arnhold received the IEC Thomas A. Edison Award last October at the General Meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea. (see article in this issue)

The future

Arnhold is now well into his second term as Chair – it will end on 31 December 2019 – but he says he would like to continue to participate actively in IEC CA work. “It depends on the German National Committee, but if there is an opportunity, I’ll seize it.”

He adds that, in the past, he tended to focus exclusively on IECEx, but for the past couple of years, he has taken a stronger interest in the other IEC CA Systems. “This has allowed me to meet and talk to new people and consequently broaden my perspective.”

Bringing young professionals onboard

Arnhold is wearing several hats. In addition to his activities at Stahl and IECEx, he also lectures at two German universities, in Jena and Heilbronn. In Jena, he teaches strategic management for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and in Heilbronn, basics of safety in explosion protection. “It is important for SMEs to be able to hire young professionals. I am proud to say that, through my lectures, two very good young engineers have joined Stahl.”

A personal note

The international component in Arnhold’s life also applies to his family. His wife comes from Estonia and his two daughters are working and studying abroad, the older one in strategic management at Etam in Paris, France, the younger one studying at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal, after a stint at ESSEC business school in France. The fifth member of the Arnhold family is their dog, an American collie.

Add to that a daily run to keep fit and you have a very busy man indeed!

More on IECEx

About R. STAHL

R. STAHL is a major supplier in the field of explosion protection products and solutions and the number one provider for systems in the international arena. They provide extremely reliable protection for both people and systems. R. STAHL’s electrical products and complex systems are used by customers from the oil and gas industry as well as the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. R. STAHL's focus on development has made them a leading provider of explosion protection technology designed and built to IECEx standards.