Conglomerates + Corporate style: Halma + Spectris

Two major UK groups, Halma plc and Spectris plc, have adopted a “hands-off” approach over the public image of their subsidiaries: these groups own some most interesting process industry suppliers.

There are interesting differences in the corporate style adopted by various of the conglomerates, ie large businesses that own or acquire multiple subsidiaries, in the process industry supply sector.

Many of these you will be aware of, where the multiple subsidiaries and factories are operating under one major company name, such as is the case maybe with ABB and Emerson Process Management.

There are then two other styles of operation adopted: the first is typified by two UK owned groups, Halma and Spectris, and the second is seen in two US company groupings, GE and Thermo Scientific.

The UK style is typified by the operating companies within the group continuing to operate independently, and using their own company names and identities, and outwardly at least retaining an appearance of being an independent company.

They retain their own sales engineers and sales responsibility, so that you might be unaware that they have any link to other companies in the industry.

They also possibly retain the drive and enthusiasm that comes from a small close knit company, and, maybe, gain more customer loyalty therefore: but these are just possible outcomes, no-one can prove it.

The US style is identified by strong corporate branding, and the virtual disappearance of the original or acquired company name.

The result is that sometimes the Exhibition stand seen under the new company name might be displaying products bearing no relation to those that you identify with the company.

The big company gains a corporate identity, with the possible benefits that arise from that.

Whether either style is the “Best” way to run an operation depends on the overall objectives, but the groups now formed in Halma and Spectris are very successful technologically, and apparently in business terms.

But possibly they are also both beginning to adopt a more prominent or corporately forceful role via their main websites, which is an interesting development of this corporate style.


The Halma listing of their major product lines includes the following process industry related companies:.

1) Fire detectors: each year Halma companies sell over 2 million detectors to customers in 60 countries.

The smoke and heat detectors are based on ionisation, thermistor and infrared sensors, under the company names of Apollo Fire Detectors, Fire Fighting Enterprises and Air Products and Controls.

2) Gas detectors are produced by Crowcon Detection Instruments, and include portable units to protect the lives of lone workers and fixed gas sensors to monitor entire industrial sites.

3) Water treatment systems: the main Halma treatment systems are non-chemical, based on UV technology, used for disinfecting drinking water, waste water, swimming pool water and also to create the high purity industrial water supplies used in food processing and electronics manufacture.

Various company names are used, possibly based on the geographical history of the operations: these include Hanovia, Berson Milieutechniek, and Aquionics.

4) Water leak locators: For the water distribution industry, Halma make the world’s most advanced instruments for detecting and locating leaks in underground drinking water pipes.

This technology allows water providers to detect any underground problems, and increase supplies in drought areas while cutting production and distribution costs.

Relevant company names are Palmer Environmental, Hydreka SAS and Fluid Conservation Systems.

5) Other water industry suppliers: In this area we have Halma Water Management, which seems to break the mould of typical Halma companies by using the Halma name! But Halma list this under the Halma Corporate offices, and their products include those produced by Radcom (Technologies).

Other water industry suppliers in the group include Perma Pure (Gas dryers and humidifiers for fuel cell, medical, scientific and industrial use) and Palintest (Instruments for analysing water and measuring environmental pollution).

6) Machine safety systems: Halma leads the world in machinery safety products called interlocks.

These electro-mechanical devices are fitted to hazardous machinery to protect workers from injury or death.

Many of these are reported, under the company names of Castell Safety International and Fortress Interlocks (plus also Netherlocks).

Klaxon Signals (Audio/visual warning signals for fire and industrial security) is also a member of the Halma Group.

7) Spectrometers: Halma also claim to be the world leader in miniature spectrometers, via Ocean Optics.

These are optical sensors and analysers which measure the quantity and spectrum of light to reveal what things are made of and to measure the amount of compounds present in a sample.

They can be used as sensors in atmospheric pollution monitoring systems.

8) Other Process industry suppliers in Halma.

From their corporate website there are several further process industry and water industry suppliers within the group: one of these is Smith Flow Control, manufacturing process safety systems for petrochemical and industrial applications, and Elfab, who produce pressure sensitive relief devices to protect process plant.


The Halma history is interesting: the company origins were in Asia in 1894.

As The Nahalma Tea Estate Company Limited, it operated in Ceylon (now named Sri Lanka): the company later switched to rubber production and in 1937 became the Nahalma Rubber Estate Company.

During the 1950s the Sri-Lankan government nationalised many of the island’s businesses, including the rubber industry.

In 1956 the Nahalma Rubber Estate Company became Halma Investments.

The company ended its connections with rubber and its role changed to an investment management and industrial holding company.

Starting in 1972, a series of acquisitions was made of mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering companies: successful management has generated strong organic growth.

2007 sales were around GBP355M.


Our second example of this UK style of business is Spectris.

This company was founded by Sir Richard Fairey in 1915 as the Fairey Aviation Company.

Initially manufacturing seaplanes, the company achieved renown during the 1930s and 1940s with its aircraft.

Following the rationalisation of the aviation industry in the 1950s, the company diversified and established its non-aviation engineering capabilities in areas such as marine, energy and filtration.

During the 1990s the company concentrated on building its electronics sector, making a number of acquisitions.

In 1997, the company acquired Burnfield, of which Malvern Instruments was the most significant company.

Then Servomex was acquired in 1999.

In July 2000, the acquisition of the four instrumentation and controls businesses of Spectris AG of Germany for GBP171m was the largest ever made by the company and marked an important strategic addition to their instrumentation and controls business.

The reshaping of the group was marked with the change in name to Spectris plc in May 2001.

This business was transformed from being in UK aviation and engineering to a provider of innovative technology for the improvement of customer performance worldwide.

The Spectris claim is that their products help customers to improve product quality and performance, increase productivity and yield, and reduce downtime and waste: sales in 2007 were around GBP668M.

A smaller group than Halma in terms of number of companies owned, there are 13 individual businesses in four segments, and many of these businesses will be well known to readers of the INSIDER, presenting interesting new products under their own names.

1) Materials Analysis.

Malvern Instruments: Analytical systems for materials characterisation, from bulk powders to nanomaterials and macromolecules.

Particle Measuring Systems: Microcontamination monitoring systems for ultraclean environments and manufacturing processes.

PANalytical: X-ray analytical equipment for industrial and scientific applications.

2) Test and Measurement.

Bruel and Kjaer Sound and Vibration: Transducers, sound level meters and analysers for sound and vibration measurement.

HBM: Load cells, transducers, strain gauges, signal conditioning and data acquisition systems, weighing electronics, test and measurement software and services, calibration laboratory and high-precision instruments.

3) In-line instrumentation.

Beta LaserMike: Non-contact, laser-based dimensional measuring and flaw detection; ultrasonic dimensional gauging.

Bruel and Kjaer Vibro: Machine condition monitoring systems and maintenance services.

BTG: Instrumentation, metering and doctoring technology for the pulp and paper industry.

Fusion UV Systems: Ultraviolet light processing technology for curing photosensitive inks, coatings, and adhesives.

NDC Infrared Engineering: Infrared, X-ray, Isotopic and microwave sensors for on-line measurement and control of moisture and composition of foods, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, building products and minerals and film thickness, coat weight and moisture in the converting, extrusion, paper, non-wovens and other web processing industries.

Servomex: Gas analysers, gas analysis systems and transducers.

4) Industrial Controls.

Microscan: High speed industrial barcode scanning and decoding instruments.

Red Lion Controls: Operator interfaces, signal conditioners, temperature controllers, counters, rate indicators and panel meters.

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