In breweries, dairies and pharma plants alike, the GEA Hilge HYGIA just keeps on going and going. This single-stage, hygienic centrifugal pump with a divine name and a reputation for robustness celebrates its 60th birthday in 2022. Also to mark the 160th anniversary of the company founded by Peter Hilge, we take a peek into the past – and the future.

Peter Hilge - the foundry owner of the Hilge pump company
Peter Hilge

The history of the Hilge pump company – part of the GEA Group since 2015 and now named GEA Hilge – reads like the archetypal Founder's period story, helped along by industrialization and featuring entrepreneurial leaders of exceptional tenacity and ingenuity. Industrialization spurred innovations that catered to the needs of the growing urban population. In 1862, brass foundry owner Peter Hilge set up a machining shop with a lathe. It was here that he invented the world’s first wine pump. This crank-driven “Rhenish Circular Pump” was capable of discharging both forward and backward. Pumps based on the same principle are in use to this day. As early as 1875, Hilge entered the brewing business with the first beer pressure regulator. An oval gate pump, this was mounted on a pressure vessel and could handle 20 hectoliters per hour.

Success story built on first-rate craftsmanship

Following in his father’s footsteps, Philipp Hilge took over the business in 1891 and, in 1892, patented his invention of a four-way valve for oscillating pumps. With the inlet side of the valve connected to the outlet side of the pump, the pump was able to operate in both directions. It was shown to international acclaim at both the 1900 Paris Exposition and the 1910 Brussels Exposition. By 1897, Hilge already had 40 employees. The boss himself stood at the lathe and demanded nothing less than first-rate craftsmanship. This has paved the way for the company’s prestigious reputation ever since.

Out of the ruins of the Second World War – and from the 1960s at the new site in Bodenheim near Mainz – the next era in the pump manufacturer’s history was ushered in by Philipp Hilge’s grandson, Philipp Berdelle-Hilge. An infinitely variable wine pump provided the inspiration for the basic design of the “Universa”, the patent for which held its own on the market uncontested for 18 years.

Pioneer in rolled stainless steel pumps

1962 was to be the most pivotal year in the company’s history, marking the start of volume production for the first in a new generation of rolled stainless steel pumps with variable nominal sizes and connections. This was the birth of the single-stage centrifugal pump known today as GEA Hilge HYGIA. With this pump, Berdelle-Hilge set a new trend in pumps for the food and beverage industry. To cast or not to cast? That was the question. In spite of initial skepticism, the creative inventor consciously decided against casting. Prevailing opinion at the time was that a sheet metal pump would soon “blow a gasket.” Six decades on, the success of the world’s first deep-drawn pump has confounded all critics. It has long become the star of the GEA Hilge pump range and a trusty companion for production lines in the beverage, food and pharma industries.

Philipp Berdelle-Hilge was keen to prove the quality and reliability of these pumps right from the outset. He had every single unit inspected on the test bench – something previously unheard of in the industry. The small black notebooks recording the tests in meticulous handwriting from 1964 onward are a piece of contemporary engineering history.

The notebooks recording the pump inspection tests, together with other documents, exhibits and collections relating to pump technology, can be seen at the German Pump Museum maintained in Bodenheim by the Berdelle-Hilge Foundation since 1994.
The notebooks recording the pump inspection tests, together with other documents, exhibits and collections relating to pump technology, can be seen at the German Pump Museum maintained in Bodenheim by the Berdelle-Hilge Foundation since 1994.

Chrome-nickel steel: “Best idea ever”

Designed for applications requiring top standards of hygiene and flexibility, the HYGIA premium pump series is Hilge’s flagship range. Not least because they can be used almost anywhere, making them the Swiss knife among pumps: adaptable, flexible and high-quality. “The best idea ever” is GEA’s verdict on the choice of Cr-Ni rolled steel for the housing. Other suppliers took many years to follow suit. Today, hygienic production is unthinkable without stainless steel pumps.

Philipp Berdelle-Hilge, pioneer in the field of hygienic pumps, attached great importance to easy-clean design right from the development stage and put great care into the selection of materials. All media-contact surfaces had to be free of cracks, grooves or scratches. To this day, the GEA Hilge HYGIA range is made exclusively from low-carbon steels, such as CrNiMo rolled steel 1.4404 and 1.4435. They have high surface quality, without pores or blowholes, and meet the most exacting hygiene standards worldwide. According to requirements, the pumps are provided to various sterility standards, with surface roughnesses ranging from Ra ≤ 3.2 µm to Ra ≤ 0.4 µm. Electropolishing improves corrosion resistance as well as durability. The non-stick surface properties facilitate cleaning.

Over the course of the 1970s, the unconventional pump prevailed over other makers’ cast pump philosophy and went on to become a veritable export hit. Major bottling plant manufacturers took it with them from Germany to all corners of the globe. The 100,000th unit came off the production line in 1993.

Putting on the pressure

So much for “blowing a gasket” – the company finally put paid to the last of the skeptics with the GEA Hilge HYGIA H high-pressure pump launched in 2018. It quickly became apparent that, with a few elements reinforced, the H variant was perfectly capable of withstanding pressures in excess of 25 bar. “That we were able to keep the hydraulics as they were sped up development considerably,” recalls GEA product manager Martin Zickler. This high-pressure pump (up to 64 bar) enabled GEA to plug the final gap in its hygienic pump portfolio. “Modern membrane processes call for pressures upward of 40 bar. The H series means that we can now provide dairies with complete, custom-tailored solutions. We will be extending the range with another size in the 2022 anniversary year,” Zickler reveals.

Fit and forget

Remarkably, HYGIA’s basic design has remained unchanged since its inception 60 years ago. It was upgraded in the 1990s and, on integration into the GEA Group, the pump engineers standardized components such as motor, lantern and shroud connections. A dream come true for every user is the fact that almost all wearing parts from past generations are still available today. Breweries love this, too. Some still have 50-year-old specimens in service. Inquiries brought to light HYGIAs from the years 1969 to 1976 in a wide variety of applications in dairies and breweries alike, as well as in the chemical industry. As customers report from the field, all that ever needs replacing is the mechanical seal. The virtually indestructible premium pumps rarely give cause for complaint. That’s true “fit and forget” quality. One reason for the low repair frequency is how the impeller is positioned in the housing, which significantly increases the operational life of seals, the impeller itself and the front cover. That in turn saves on spare parts and maintenance – as well as time. The high-quality components are designed for longevity. 

“This means sustainability has actually been part and parcel of our work at GEA Hilge for many years.” – Martin Zickler, Product Manager, GEA Hilge

The HYGIA single-stage centrifugal pump is designed for high standards of hygiene and flexibility. It bears the Latin name of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene. Today, HYGIA is the star of the GEA Hilge pump portfolio and also available as high-pressure version.
The HYGIA single-stage centrifugal pump is designed for high standards of hygiene and flexibility. It bears the Latin name of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene. Today, HYGIA is the star of the GEA Hilge pump portfolio and also available as high-pressure version.

Pumps go Lego

Philipp Berdelle-Hilge was also far ahead of his time with modular design, basing pump product development on building blocks of identical parts. This standardized approach facilitates tailored, customer-specific solutions and streamlines spare parts inventory. GEA and users are far faster and more efficient in product development and customization – also because the great variability in connections and mountings makes HYGIA easy to adapt to individual customer needs. The watchword here is flexibility. An optimum seal solution has been devised for each medium. With precise duty point configuration and a choice of impeller geometries, the pumps have good efficiency ratings. The semi-open impeller makes for particularly efficient and gentle product handling, even of fibrous, lumpy or solid-content media.

Built for 24/7 operation

Many food industry plants run around the clock. So how do GEA’s pump experts ensure that users can sleep soundly? Product manager Zickler sums it up under the headings of longevity, easy cleaning and flexibility in use, all three of which cut total cost of ownership (TCO):

  • Standardized parts simplify spare parts handling, stock-keeping and maintenance.
  • Simple motor connection design makes for quick and easy fitting of country-specific electric motors, and cuts cleaning cost and time. GEA has developed the patented Adapta bearing bracket for this purpose. With Adapta, the pump can be left where it is in the pipeline when replacing the motor and does not then need to be resterilized or cleaned – or for that matter revalidated. Zickler: “The more exacting the requirements, the more customers choose the Adapta motor connection. In the pharma sector, it’s 80 to 90%. But users are also becoming noticeably more discerning in the food industry.”
The patented Adapta motor connection facilitates motor changes.
The patented Adapta motor connection facilitates motor changes.
  • Hygienic design: Designing media-contact pump components and connections so they are easy to clean – meaning free of blowholes and dead spaces – prevents contamination in the system. Consistently designing a plant and its components in line with EHEDG guidelines ensures hygienic, reproducible quality – and reduces the need for cleaning. This is just as important for product safety as it is for reasons of economy. That is because cleaning uses water that has to be heated, together with the cleaning media. And lengthier cleaning cycles mean higher stoppage costs.
  • Energy-saving design: If the CIP circuit pump has to run for less time because cleaning is completed faster, it uses correspondingly less energy. In addition, efficient pump design means the same flow rate can be obtained with a much smaller motor, and that in turn cuts power consumption.

Proper configuration saves energy

To minimize operating costs, a plant has to be run as close to optimum as possible. Good pump configuration is key. This includes a duty point close to the pump’s optimum operating point, hydraulically correctly dimensioned piping, energy-efficient motors, frequency converters for speed control, efficiency-optimized hydraulics and loss reduction in coils and bearings.

Besides saving energy, variable-speed pumps also offer numerous process benefits, including excellence in terms of gentle product handling. Pharma producers in particular benefit here during partial-load and weekend operation. When frequency converters are used, significantly less heat is transferred to the medium, thus reducing the need for cooling. For one thing, this cuts energy costs; for another, it reduces energy transfer to the product, which may be detrimental to product quality. An electronically controlled pump motor facilitates infinitely variable adjustment of pump speed and output while making it possible to share parameter and process data for central monitoring, control and, where applicable, visualization and logging. Plus, frequency converters protect sensitive media, reduce material wear and lower energy costs. Regular maintenance of wearing parts decreases the risk of breakdown and increases their operational lifetime.

The GEA Hilge HYGIA family offers premium quality and flexibility for different markets, applications and customer needs.
The GEA Hilge HYGIA family offers premium quality and flexibility for different markets, applications and customer needs.

So much of the past in the pump of the future

The pump of the future is … sustainable and modular. In fact, HYGIA pumps have been exactly that ever since they were conceived by their inventor, Philipp Berdelle-Hilge. The long-lasting hygienic pumps with their modular design combined with energy-efficient, variable-speed motors open up huge scope for optimization. Put it this way: buy a premium centrifugal pump and you will probably stick with it for the rest of your working life.

In this anniversary year, GEA Hilge Managing Director Karsten Becker also has his sights set on the future: “The pace of demand and economic pressures are massively squeezing product development times for manufacturers. Their systems have to be more flexible than ever. This is where we offer customers peace of mind with our durable, reliable and above all versatile pumps. They are a plant efficiency factor, which is why we are very serious about exhaustive planning that also anticipates future needs.”

“This is where we offer customers peace of mind with our durable, reliable and above all versatile pumps.” – Karsten Becker, Managing Director, GEA Hilge

Service, too, is increasingly important here. When producers face reduced response time to product changeovers, digital tools such as the SalesPro ordering platform lend a helping hand. Globally available 24/7, this assists with configuring complete pumps in a guided process as well as with ordering spare parts – “helping users help themselves,” as Becker puts it. “We are optimizing our components business with sharp customer and service focus. And we are currently developing business models to match, with customer benefit as the top priority. The best solution in engineering terms is not always the best fit for the purpose. What makes most sense and what is practicable with this particular customer? How we answer that varies hugely from one case to another. This is something we are currently working on at GEA Hilge.”

The future will also see increased digital integration going hand in hand with resource conservation. GEA’s pump range is no exception here. A condition monitoring solution with diagnostics functionality will help customers make their processes safer, more efficient and – in native Industry 4.0 style – connective and responsive.

A popular birthday message is:

“Stay just the way you are”

In the truest sense, the same can be said of the HYGIA pump, as the GEA Pump Competence Center in Bodenheim continues development to support industry just as successfully going forward. That’s worth clinking glasses over: To GEA Hilge, and to the faithful GEA Hilge HYGIA.

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