Vinny Altamirano Shares GHL's Company History, Explains What Sets Their Aquarium Controllers and Dosers Apart From Competitors, and Teases a New Product to Control Calcium
First we have to ask: what does GHL stand for?
We get that a lot!
GHL stands for Gross Hardware Lösungen.
The “G” stands for GROSS which is the last name of GHL owner, Matthias Gross.
The “H” stands for well…HARDWARE. :)
The “L” stands for Lösungen which is German for SOLUTIONS
Put it all together and you get: Gross Hardware Solutions (GHL).
GHL is a brand that may be new to our readers, but the company has been in business for a long time. Can you tell us about GHL's history? How long have you been with the company?
The story of GHL GmbH began in Germany, 1995. The company began as a developer and manufacturer of customized hardware and software for industrial needs. The owner of the company, Matthias Gross was the specialist who provided customized solutions for industries who looked for PC-based automation. He provided his clients with services ranging from software development to the creation of customized hardware products. To this day, GHL continues to provide these specialized services. Among these customers are some of the most well-known companies like Volkswagen, Maybach, and Recaro.
GHL’s involvement in the aquarium industry did not officially begin until the late 90’s when a side-hobby became an opportunity to turn a prototype into a full-on product. While GHL continued operating its core business, Matthias took on a side-hobby. With his background in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, he explored the aquarium industry and began building controllers on-the-side for select hobbyists. His inspiration to start and continue with this project came from wanting to improve the safety and convenience of fish keeping. At the time, these controllers were only made for a select few. It was the first aquarium controller of its kind to feature capabilities such as Light Dimming, Light Simulations, pH and temperature control as a standard feature.
After receiving positive feedback on his controller prototype, he realized that the benefits and convenience of this controller should not be limited to the select few, but rather be made into an official product sold by GHL. It was at this moment GHL began building and selling products under its own name.
In late 1998, the ProfiLux was born.
Not long after its release, word about the ProfiLux’s accuracy and reliability spread throughout Europe and caught the attention of aquatic research labs and universities. They tried the product for their research purposes and soon realized that the GHL ProfiLux perfectly met their needs for highly accurate and reliable products.
Through the years, the ProfiLux controller evolved, introduced new features, and earned various awards including one for 2010 Product of the Year award from Zoo Zajac, the largest pet shop in the world and one from 2013 which was an Innovation Award presented by the Palatine (one of the 18 German States) Minister for Economic Affairs.
Today, GHL manufactures its own aquarium controllers, dosing units, and LED lighting systems for hobbyists and professional establishments. Our products are used worldwide by hobbyists, professionals, and research laboratories for both freshwater and saltwater purposes.
We have an extensive list of research labs and universities that use our products for their applications. Here’s a short list of where our products are used:
ProfiLux controller and Dosing pumps are used here as part of a Zebra Fish breeding program. GHL products have helped monitor and control aquatic conditions so that researchers can study the genetics of musculoskeletal disease in Zebra Fish. The data provided by the ProfiLux has helped better understand the fish’s regenerative abilities, life cycle, and rapid embryonic development.
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute
ProfiLux controller is used here for benthic research; the research of biotopes in or around the seabed. Here, the controller system controls and manipulates several environmental conditions such as temperature, pH, Oxygen, and CO2. By using the ProfiLux’s special “dynamic value” feature, scientists can set varying conditions of values such as temperature to change through varying times of the day. Other features used include: monitoring over the internet, SMS notifications, and data logging.
University of Haifa Israel
In this recent setup, the laboratory leader and manger setup multiple GHL Mitras LX7 and a single ProfiLux 4 unit to study the basic mechanism responsible for the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals.
With various lighting conditions offered by the Mitras LX7 and vast features offered by the ProfiLux 4, this research lab trusts in our products to continuously monitor water parameters and provide data logging.
The list of aquatic research labs and universities that use our products extend beyond Europe and Asia. Our products are even used at US and Canadian universities such as Boston University, University of Toronto, University of Virginia, University of Kentucky, and many more.
All-in-all, GHL products are used by a wide-range of customers ranging from the aquarium enthusiast to breeders to professionals in the science and research industry.
In the past 20 years, we’ve accomplished quite a bit!
My involvement with GHL began in 2015 with the opening of the US-company, GHL USA. Our original US location was in West Haven, CT, but later moved to Fort Myers, FL after having outgrown the space in only 1 year. Quite the move…I know!
I stayed in CT while the warehouse opened in FL with a dedicated team to manage warehouse operations. My move was not necessary since my duties could be fulfilled by working remotely; product manual writing, how-to video production, marketing, sales and support.
Now that we know all about GHL, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I hold two degrees; Journalism/ Communication and Business Administration.
My original plan was to become a journalist, hence the degree. Soon after realizing that the requirements of such a career was not what I anticipated, I decided to go in another direction and pursue a degree in Business Administration. The decision was fueled by my general interest in business and operations. It did not take many classes for me to realize that I enjoyed working with numbers, conducting market research, and project planning.
It just so happened that while I worked towards my BA, the opportunity with GHL presented itself. I was already in the saltwater hobby at the time and had managed to network with the right people which eventually lead to Matthias contacting me. This was an opportunity to do exactly what I enjoyed doing…best of all, it was something that involved the hobby that I’ve come to love.
I’ve had fish tanks over 15 years and witnessed the transformation of the hobby in regards to technology, methodologies, and trends. All the technological advancements made in the hobby over the years is simply astounding!
10 years ago, I don’t think any reef hobbyist would have ever thought that we’d get to a point where we can now measure and control Alkalinity in our reef tanks or even light our tanks with LED lighting. The change is incredible.
My first tank was a 29 gallon freshwater. I had that tank for about one year before handing it down to a sibling and moving on to saltwater. The first saltwater tank for me was a 55 gallon acrylic tank. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just jumped head first into the hobby and picked up any reefing book I could find. With the help of those books and online resources, I learned the do’s and don’ts of the hobby. I joined local reef clubs, participated in events, and worked a few years at a couple local fish stores. One day, while browsing the forums, I started reading a thread about another hobbyist asking for aquarium controller recommendations. GHL came up. The topic piqued my interest and as a result I did some extensive searching and learned what I could about its capabilities and benefits. Eventually, I pulled the trigger on a ProfiLux Plus II. It was at that moment, my experience with GHL products began.
Fast forwarding several years, I stuck with GHL controllers because they have never let me down. It was a product that just kept on going. Eventually, I moved from the ProfiLux Plus II to the ProfiLux 3 and eventually to the current ProfiLux 4.
"I want all hobbyists to be successful with their aquariums. With GHL products, I believe I can help them get one step closer to success."
Although my role at GHL USA is Sales Manager, I am a hobbyist at heart.
When I get a call from someone interested in one of our products, I always start off by asking about their tank. Before we even get to talking about anything GHL, I ask questions that allow me to get to know the customer, their system, and their expectations. In these kind of calls, I usually cover topics ranging from maintenance routines to any issues they’ve encountered in the past.
With that information, I am not only able to paint a clear picture of what they’re looking for, but also identify which of our products can help address their needs.
Rather than throwing the typical sales pitch, I work to build lasting relationships with our customers because to me, it’s the honest business practices and support accessibility that create a solid foundation for a repeat customer. As a hobbyist, I want to be setup for success. Working for GHL USA, I work to do exactly that for potential and existing customers. I want all hobbyists to be successful with their aquariums. With GHL products, I believe I can help them get one step closer to success.
These practices are also used by the rest of our support and warehouse team. Together, we all work to provide a personal touch to all GHL product owners.
What would you say the top three differences are between GHL ProfiLux aquarium controllers and other controllers on the market?
When we designed the ProfiLux, we wanted to provide our consumers with a product that hit on 3 key points; expandability with space saving design, professional grade hardware for utmost reliability, and a custom ProfiLux operating system for controller function stability.
1. Expansion options and space saving design
The ProfiLux 4 is very adaptable to the varying needs of hobbyists and professionals. Right out of the box, users are provided with numerous ports for probes, 1-10V devices, flow sensors, leak sensors, legacy GHL devices (Gen 1 dosers and powerbars), power loss monitor, and more.
Inside the P4 is also 3 expansion card slots which are used for upgrading the ProfiLux beyond the existing on-board ports. With these expansion card slots, users can freely customize their controller to meet their specific needs. This includes adding additional probes, ports for 1-10V devices, level sensors, and more.
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Best of all, with these expansion card upgrades, when you expand on the features of the ProfiLux, you’re doing so without actually taking up any extra space!
Everything is nicely packed into the P4 housing itself. No extra modules required for these kind of upgrades.
ProfiLux also suits hobbyists and professionals who run multiple systems. Freshwater and Saltwater enthusiasts who run multiple systems can easily monitor additional tanks by either installing the necessary expansion card onto the ProfiLux 4 or by adding the GHL Expansion Box 2 to their P4 controller.
This EXB2 add-on gives reefers another base of ports and expansion cards slots which can be freely customized to meet your tank control needs.
Ultimately, reefers can connect up to a total of 32 probes, 16 level sensors, 32 illumination channels, control up to 64 controllable sockets, and much more. With the ProfiLux, you have room to expand it to meet your needs.
2. Professional grade hardware reliability
ProfiLux controllers utilize the latest in microprocessor controlled technology. Because we build and assemble our own boards in-house, we get to closely monitor the entire process from start to finish. We solder our own chips, microprocessors, and transformers to make sure each ProfiLux board is properly assembled and ready for the ProfiLux.
By having a properly assembled controller board, we are able to ensure that our product lasts more than just a few years. There are still ProfiLux controller owners out there who are to-this-day using the ProfiLux 2 because it just keeps on going. We stopped making the ProfiLux 2 about 15 years ago. Now that’s a long product life cycle for a controller!
3. No coding knowledge required
All ProfiLux controllers run on our ProfiLux Operating System. This detail is important because it is this custom OS that makes it possible to setup the ProfiLux without needing to have prior experience with coding.
Setting up functions can be done in two parts and in minutes. For example, setting up heater control is as straightforward as going to the temperature probe settings and setting the desired temperature, then assigning the temperature probe to the outlet that has the heater connected to it.
No If, Then, < , > , statements are ever used with the ProfiLux. The custom OS eliminates this coding and instead provides you with easy to use drop-down boxes shown in our PC software GHL Control Center or android/iOS app GHL Connect.
If you want to see what this setup looks like, feel free to check out an example of heater control setup by watching our How-To video:
On a similar note, this no coding required statement also extends to our dedicated mobile app (GHL Connect), web interface, and myGHL cloud service.
GHL products have a reputation for dependability and expandability. Are attributes like these always kept in mind when you are designing and developing products?
Always. GHL is a vertically integrated company. We are meticulous when it comes to product design and development. We feel that true reliability can be achieved and maintained when we oversee not only the design process, but also hardware and assembly.
The German headquarters is equipped with all the necessary hardware and equipment to successfully plan out, design, build, test and assemble a product from start to finish.
We do our own CAD drawings, cut and mill plastic and aluminum with our CNC machines, build our own boards, assemble our products, and test them ourselves, one-by-one.
Why do we do it?
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We do it because we want to make sure that each and every product that leaves GHL HQ is tried and tested to perform reliably. While our competition may outsource these tasks, we do it all ourselves. That way, we can improve existing products and innovate new ideas and bring them to life without waiting on others to deliver.
Sure, it may take us longer to prepare a single product. But when we oversee these important processes and individually sign off on each product, we are able to maintain our strict quality control standards. These are the practices that have earned us our reputation for building products that are reliable and accurate.
I'm a reef hobbyist. What are some ways I can use a ProfiLux controller to reduce maintenance and improve the stability of my system?
To start, the ProfiLux can take a decent amount of weight off your shoulders. With standard features such as temperature, pH, redox, and conductivity monitoring and control, you can pick and choose what aspects of your system you want the ProfiLux to automate and control.
For example, reefers can set up the ProfiLux to automatically add fresh or saltwater back into their tanks. If you no longer wanted to do water changes yourself, no problem. With a couple pumps and the correct setup, the ProfiLux can also do the water changes for you!
Want to trigger a feed pause, AWC, turn-off/on certain lights, manually activate sockets? You can do that too! All with the touch of a button. As for maintaining tank stability, the ProfiLux can do that very well!
Here are a few key points that I feel are most important in the grand scheme of stability:
Temperature stability can make or break a tank. Frequent swings throughout the daytime, especially on those hot summer days, can take a toll on the reef. With the ProfiLux, you have various options for exactly how you want to control your temperature. Aside from the normal on/off control for heating and cooling that all controllers have, the ProfiLux includes the standard on/off control as well as additional temperature controller feature which gradually increases or decreases the ON/OFF times of heaters and chillers. You can freely set the controller to turn a heater ON for 20 minutes at a time. As the tank temperature begins to get closer to your desired value, the ProfiLux can automatically adjust the heater’s ON-time and decide for you how long it should stay ON the closer it gets to the desired temperature.
Automated dosing support
The ProfiLux can have different kinds of dosing pumps connected to it. This includes our Doser 2.1, Doser Maxi, and traditional dosing pumps that simply turn ON/OFF. With these kind of pumps, you can automate your dosing and achieve stability with parameters such as Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium. You can also use the built-in fluid monitoring system which automatically calculates the amount of days remaining before the dosing container goes dry. When one or more dosing container runs low or empty, you can set the ProfiLux to send you a notification in the form of an email or text.
ProfiLux notification system
The ProfiLux 4 controller can keep you in-the-know at all times. You can set the P4 to send scheduled or triggered email or text message alerts. If at any time, one of your probe values swings outside of the accepted range, the P4 can send you an email and/or text message the moment it happens. A feature like this give you time to react and handle the possible issue before it becomes a bigger one. This same notification system will tell you when any alarm is triggered; ATO / AWC / Dosing container fluid levels, etc.
Multiple points of access
One of the unique features that ProfiLux offers is the freedom to choose the way you want to access your controller.
You can access and control devices like the ProfiLux 4 by using our PC-Software (GHL Control Center), dedicated app (GHL Connect), web interface, and myGHL cloud service. With our product, you have options!
You are not restricted to accessing the controller through just a web interface or the cloud.
How might a freshwater enthusiast incorporate a ProfiLux controller to grow healthier plants?
Much like what was mentioned earlier for ProfiLux and Reef tanks, it also applies to Freshwater tanks.
Features like email / text message notification, temperature / pH monitoring and control, control of lighting and filters are all aspects that can make it easier to maintain a freshwater tank. Especially for planted tanks, where CO2 control is a must, the ProfiLux can monitor and control the pH so that just the right amount of CO2 is added; no more or no less.
Dosing pumps are also widely used by planted tank owners. By using a doser, you can automatically have your Iron, Potassium, and Carbon-source supplements added to your tank. With continuous monitoring and automated dosing, aquarium stability is well within reach.
The automatic dosing pump category has become more competitive in recent years. What sets GHL dosers apart from others in the marketplace? Do I need a ProfiLux to use your doser?
There are quite a bit of details which have set our dosing pumps apart from the rest. To start, both dosing pump options (Doser 2.1 / Doser Maxi) are more than just dosers.
We offer two doser types, Standalone and Slave.
The standalone units do not require you to have a ProfiLux to use it. Instead, this unit has its own built-in controller and Wi-Fi so you can use it as its own separate device. Slave dosers on the other hand, do require you to have either a Standalone doser or ProfiLux.
The Standalone GHL dosers offer more than meets the eye. For example, these units include built-in Wi-Fi and cloud support so you can access and control your doser from home or when away. Behind the doser, you can connect float / optical sensors and use them for Auto Top Off and Automatic Water change purposes. Furthermore, you also have a built-in temperature port for monitoring your tank temperature.
One of the most unique features we have for the Standalone unit is the ability to convert a Standalone doser into a Slave doser. With just a push of a button, you can convert a Standalone unit into a Slave doser and connect it to an existing Standalone Doser or ProfiLux 4 controller.
Generally speaking, our dosing pumps are expandable in the sense that you can buy a 2-pump or 3-pump unit and easily upgrade to a total of 4 pumps on a single unit. We offer upgrade kits and all the parts needed to make the upgrade quick and easy. Should you need more than 4 dosers, the standalone dosing unit or ProfiLux controller can support up to 16 total dosing pumps. Magnetic stirrers can be connected to our dosers too!
Lastly, our dosing units can be updated. Reefers can benefit from improvements and new features we release by updating their doser’s firmware.
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GHL probably knows more than most about what’s going on inside our aquariums. Does the company aggregate and analyze all that data? Are there things you could tell us about an average ProfiLux user that might be helpful to other hobbyists? Like how many hours a day they run their lights, average pH or temperature, etc.?
GHL works closely with research labs and hobbyists to bring consumers new and innovative products that further improve the quality of fish keeping. We welcome all kinds of feedback and suggestions from our user-base. ProfiLux would not be what it is today had it not been for our research and user-base feedback.
As for what the average ProfiLux user does…
I’d say ProfiLux users look to tie as many parts into their ProfiLux. After all, it can do many things, why not take advantage and let the ProfiLux do the work for you?
I’ve found that most ProfiLux users typically control temperature within 77-78°F, maintain pH between 8.1-8.3, and maintain Conductivity at 33.5ppt which is equivalent to 1.025 SG. Those who have 1-10V compatible pumps have even gone and connected their pumps to the ProfiLux’s 1-10V interface. Doing so allows them to control the flow behavior of their pumps without having to actually plug it into one of the Powerbar outlets. I think in the end, the ProfiLux can do as much or as little as you want it to….the rest is up to you!
What’s next for GHL? Tell us all your secrets!
Well, we’re always looking to bring out that next special product. We like to keep our ear close to the ground to see what the hobbyists AND professionals are looking for. With that said, there are quite a bit of products in the pipeline.
The next one has something to do with Calcium control…stay tuned. :)