Belfast Firm Aims to Slash Truck Insurance with Help of Invest NI Design Programme

A Belfast company participating in Invest Northern Ireland’s Design Development Programme is set to help haulage operators prevent the loss of thousands of pounds worth of goods from their vehicles each year.

Founded last year by four final-year Queen’s University students, Niatruc is one of nine companies to have completed this year’s four month programme which assists local businesses responding to new market opportunities by helping them incorporate design in product development, manufacturing and marketing.

The company is working with Newtownabbey-based Campbell Engineering Design and specialist university research units to develop a prototype slash-proof armoured fabric to replace material currently used on curtain-sided lorries and trailers. The high tech material promises to make haulage vehicles much more secure from theft which currently costs UK insurance companies an estimated £1.6 billion per year.

Incorporating layers of woven metallic ‘armour’, the innovative curtaining has a five-year life span compared with the three years offered by existing materials and whilst slash-proof, remains fully flexible. A further potential benefit is that the company aims to do away with the buckles normally required to secure the curtain sides. This would leave a flawless advertising space, improve aerodynamics and allow the trailer to be opened and closed automatically, saving time and possible injury to drivers.

The revolutionary prototype material is being developed as a direct result of Niatruc’s participation in Invest NI’s Design Development Programme under which assistance – including design consultancy - has been provided to 90 companies over the past five years. Other projects completed this year include a hi-tech golf swing analyser based on sophisticated medical technology and specialist equipment for treating civilian casualties of nuclear, gas and chemical attacks.

Speaking at a recent exhibition and presentation ceremony for this year’s participants, Invest NI Chief Executive Leslie Morrison said it is vital for Northern Ireland companies to use design to differentiate their products and services, add value and develop their brands and reputation.

“Design is not limited to one particular sphere. It incorporates function, form, features and the user interface. Its diversity ranges from the technology of engineering to the pure aesthetics.

“The Design Development Programme which is delivered by our Design Group, provides a long term legacy and capability for design with Northern Ireland companies. The output from the programme gives participating companies the tools and techniques they require to plan and develop new products effectively, together with an appreciation of design.

“I am particularly pleased to see the holistic company support and collaboration that is evident on this programme within Invest NI. This, I believe, serves to illustrate the new co-ordinated and customer focused ethos of the organisation,” added Mr Morrison.

According to Niatruc director, Kevin Bradley, the programme has helped the company to focus on specific aspects of the prototyping process which are essential to bring the product to market as quickly and as economically as possible.

“Interest from potential customers is high so we need to maintain their enthusiasm by accelerating our research and development efforts. Another key issue we face is to secure intellectual property rights to allow us to licence manufacturing. The Design Development Programme has helped us do just that by giving us direct access to consultancy assistance from Campbell Engineering Design. It has also enabled us to make the best use of world-class research and development facilities at the two local universities.

“It has proved an excellent way of fast tracking our prototyping work and developing the strategies we need to convert smart design into commercial success.”