Innovative products developed by Amphora Non-Destructive Testing, a Queen’s University spin-out company, with assistance from Invest Northern Ireland, are now being used by customers worldwide to assess the quality of concrete and other building materials, Graham Davis, Invest NI’s Local Office Network Director, said today.

Mr Davis said Amphora, backed by Invest NI under its Growth Start programme because of the export potential of its high-tech testing products, has developed three unique instruments that help ensure the durability of buildings.

Amphora is among 48 companies to receive Growth Start support from Invest NI in the agency’s first nine months. The agency has provided support totalling £1.4 million to the growth starts, support which has leveraged £3.5 million from the private sector.

The company has been formed by a research team from the university’s School of Civil Engineering and is led by Prof. Muhammed Basheer, the School’s Professor of Structural Materials. Additional equity funding for the venture has been provided by two bodies which fund the commercialisation of university research, QUBIS Ltd, the Queen’s University company which promotes spin-out businesses, and the wider University Challenge Fund.

Amphora has also benefited from the financial support of the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to carry out leading-edge research with subsequent development of innovative products.
Mr Davis said: “Invest NI’s support for Amphora is a good example of our commitment to work closely with the universities to strengthen the local economy and by initiatives that help to convert pioneering research into viable businesses.

“The universities have a pivotal role to play in R&D and innovation through start-up companies and in promoting technology transfer with other businesses. Amphora has identified a substantial global market opportunity for its expertise and is now seeking to build on its initial success in key markets through significant investment in marketing activities and in the development of further products.

Outlining the company’s plans, Prof Basheer said: “Our products make the testing of building materials for defects resulting from exposure to environmental influences such as air, water and chemicals faster and easier.

“Demand for non-destructive testing instruments has increased significantly because of the growing focus of governments worldwide on safety in buildings and machinery. The drive to promote the recycling of construction materials has also led to an increasing demand for devices which help in detecting defects, for example in masonry and other building products.

“The three products that we have developed are the result of extensive research over many years. Two enable users to assess the quality of building materials in terms of their resistance to air and water permeability. The third measures resistance to chlorides and sulphates, which can be detrimental to the performance of construction materials,” he added.

Formed last year by Prof Basheer and his colleagues, Prof Adrian Long, Alistair Thompson and Norman Harmon, Amphora currently employs two people and expects this to rise to six by the end of 2004. Prof Basheer is an internationally respected expert in concrete technology and testing.
Non-destructive testing (NDT) is used for on-site inspection and for monitoring the condition of buildings and operating plant. It is also used for the measurement of physical properties such as hardness and internal stress. The essential feature of NDT is that the test process itself produces no damaging effects on the material or structure under test.