100 years of Theben: 100 years of building automation Greater energy efficiency. Greater comfort.

(Haigerloch, 2021-02-22) In 2021, Theben celebrates its 100th anniversary. A lot has happened in the course of those 100 years. Since it invented the staircase light timer switch, the company has developed into a leading manufacturer of time, light and climate control technology as well as KNX, smart home and smart energy solutions. Its classic products – such as the practical theben-timer that simply plugs into a socket or the ELPA staircase light timer switch, which is still in production today (albeit in an optimised form) – have become legendary and not just among experts! But there's much more to Theben than that. Over the past 100 years, Theben has passed innumerable technological milestones, which we would now like to explore in a bit more detail here.

A success story: ELPA – a word synonymous with staircase light timer switches

The first ELPA staircase light timer switch arrived on the scene in 1927. The initial timers weighed up to 4 kg, in contrast to the latest models, which weigh no more than a few hundred grams. Even back then, the clock mechanisms were renowned for their sturdiness and durability. Take, for instance, the ELPA that Theben received from Belgium in 2020. This device had been doing its job reliably since 1950 and only had to be replaced after 70 whole years of uninterrupted service. In 1978, the size of the ELPA was successfully reduced to one division unit (= a width of 17.5 mm) so that it could be installed on a DIN-rail inside a distribution box. As part of this, an extremely small synchronous motor had to be developed to serve as a drive for the first ELPA 8. One side of the housing was made from transparent plastic so that customers could look inside and see the intricate mechanism and precious technology contained within this tiny device. Over the years, the ELPA 8 was repeatedly optimised, e.g. by introducing an environmentally friendly contact material. However, the basic principle behind this “good old friend” remains the same to this day.

The products from the ELPA series of staircase light timer switches are multi-functional electronic devices that come with a variety of selectable functions that can be easily configured on the front. They also feature zero-cross switching to protect the relay contact and extend the life of the lamp. That also makes the ELPA suitable for the high inrush currents associated with LEDs.


The evolution of lighting control over the years: Twilight switches, and presence and motion detectors

Theben motion and presence detectors switch the light on when someone approaches or when someone enters the room. They control the level of CO2 inside rooms to improve air quality and regulate the temperature according to whether anyone is present.

The LUNA twilight switch, which was unveiled in 1958, set new standards at the time because it functioned fully autonomously on the basis of preset brightness values – just as it does today. The first LUNA motion detector was presented in 1990 and was made available in different versions: with a 110° or 180° detection area and with a 2-wire or 3-wire connection. One particularly noteworthy feature was that the sensor head had a huge swivel range.  


In 2007, Theben took over the company High Technology Systems AG, Switzerland (HTS) – the inventors of the presence detector. As a result, Theben was able to expand its expertise in lighting control considerably. Today, the Detection & Lighting business area offers a wide range of presence and motion detectors for indoor and outdoor use as well as LED spotlights with or without motion detectors.


Contemporary efficiency: Digital time switches for energy conservation

Digital time switches from Theben ensure that interior and street lighting – to name but two examples – can be controlled reliably and in an energy-efficient manner. They are available with daily, weekly and Astro programs, and for flush or surface mounting.

The first Theben TERMINA 1000 digital time switch arrived in 1983. The 257 x 128 mm housing was packed with 2.2 kg of high-tech components. Just a few years later in 1989, the TR 610 model shrank the whole thing down to a width of just 35 mm (2 DU) but still offered seven buttons for maximum ease of use. In 1999, Theben introduced its text-based programming system for digital time switches. And since 2017, it has been possible to control Theben digital time switches using an app and via Bluetooth.


From the program dial concept to app-based control: Room and clock thermostats

Theben room thermostats enable room heating to be individually controlled on the basis of time and in an energy-efficient manner. For example, they can make bathrooms warm and cosy in the morning, and can reduce the temperature in the living room by a couple of degrees via temperature reduction at night. A room thermostat can be used to control underfloor heating, heat pumps or conventional radiators.

In 1979, the series 3 RAMSES clock thermostats were the first products to feature a rotary dial offering 24/7 programming. The RAMSES 722 was released in 1982 and took the successful weekly/daily rotary dial concept to the next level with its modern housing design. In 1994, the first digital clock thermostat was launched in the form of the RAMSES 797. With its telephone remote control (very innovative for the time), it allowed users to switch on the heating over a telephone line so that they could save energy but still come home to a lovely warm house. Since 2021, it has also been possible to control the latest generation of Theben room thermostats via an app.


Clever and intelligent: From a plug-in time switch to a complete smart home system

Back in 1976, long before the “smart home” concept had gained currency as a description for intelligently networked components around the home, the plug-in theben-timer was already revolutionising the way appliances were controlled with its automatic time control. It ensured that floor lamps, coffee machines and radios (plus plenty more besides) got switched on and off at exactly the right time – essentially making it the precursor to a simple smart home component. The theben-timer is still being used today to control every conceivable device – from Alexa virtual assistants through to Christmas trees. With more than 33 million units having been sold worldwide to date, it is not just a success story but a slice of contemporary history.

LUXOR was introduced in 2003. Internally, we also refer to it fondly as the “mother of all smart home systems”. As well as saving energy, LUXOR – unlike previous solutions – also helped increase comfort and security. For example, LUXOR was capable of controlling functions like presence simulation or conjuring up different scenes (ambiences) in the house. Back then, the settings were made by adjusting the potentiometers of the actuators with a screwdriver. This made LUXOR incredibly easy to program. These same basic principles were prioritised when developing LUXORliving, its app-compatible successor. This smart home system – introduced in 2017 – can be quickly and easily programmed with the Windows-based software, which is available free of charge. Different elements can be linked together by dragging and dropping. LUXORliving offers all-round home comfort whilst omitting the things that are generally regarded as surplus to requirements. It controls everything that matters by switching lights on and off, dimming them, and turning the heating/moving the blinds up and down. At the same time, LUXORliving is so easy to fit, install and start up that – in many cases – you won't need a specialised fitter. KNX-based components are a very safe investment. Thanks to the VDE certification, maximum security is assured. What's more, LUXORliving can also be retrofitted in existing buildings using wireless components.


Helping to shape the energy transition: Through the integration of smart metering, smart home, smart grid and smart energy technology

In 1950, energy providers in Germany had to start operating day/night tariffs in accordance with the Federal Regulation on Electricity Tariffs. For this reason, Theben tariff time switches particularly took off in the area of street lighting. In the 1970s storage heaters became all the rage. Consequently, Theben tariff time switches mainly came to be used for activating storage heater top-up during the day. In 1999, Theben launched its TR 686/4 Termina tariff time switch. This had a non-volatile memory that could hold 324 switching times for triggering selected actions based on the day, week and date.

In 2009, the first CONEXA 1.0 smart meter gateway was introduced, heralding the advent of intelligent metering systems. By 2021, the CONEXA 3.0 Performance smart meter gateway was ready to be rolled out nationwide. This is an interoperable, multi-client capable smart meter gateway that has been certified by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Acting as a secure interface between energy suppliers and consumers, it allows energy consumption to be measured and billed precisely. When combined with KNX-based LUXORliving smart home solutions, it makes it possible to work out precisely who has consumed how much and to charge for it accordingly. In addition, the plug-in added-value module provides access to innovative added-value services that open up brand-new business models and revenue potential. The possibilities are endless – from local energy markets for prosumers, intelligent smart grid control systems, and energy management systems for energy providers right through to blockchain applications for peer-to-peer electricity trading.


Currently, Theben is the only German manufacturer of smart energy solutions that truly knows its way around buildings. And in the area of building automation, it is the only manufacturer with a smart meter gateway. Thus, Theben offers a wide portfolio of solutions to ensure a secure communications structure for everything from smart metering, smart grid, smart home and smart building technology right through to smart mobility and smart services. In this way, it is playing a key role in determining the complex trajectory that we must follow to achieve a successful energy turnaround.


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