Ireland’s largest independent construction materials testing laboratory, BHP Laboratories, recently installed a brand-new, state-of-the-art concrete testing facility, which has been fully operational since September, 2019. Building Ireland met Materials Testing & Service Manager James Purcell to get an insight into this industry-leading, family-run laboratory, which provides world-class concrete quality assurance testing services to customers throughout Ireland and the UK.
BHP Laboratories have been at the cutting edge of concrete quality assurance testing since 1978. And, with the recent resurgence in the construction industry, the County Limerick based company has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of customers seeking concrete quality assurance and testing services.
They currently carry out approximately 300 concrete cube tests per day, but the potential for growth was becoming increasingly apparent. Thus, in order to continue providing an excellent service to the construction industry, BHP designed, developed and installed a new state-of-the-art testing facility, which will allow them to remain at the forefront of the concrete quality assurance testing market going forward into the foreseeable future.
This new facility and the automation of BHP’s handling process – along with investment in new testing machines – has increased capacity to 500 concrete cubes per day. As part of the investment, BHP introduced a new automated reporting system for their concrete cube testing service. While, traditionally, 99% of reports were finished within three days of tests taking place, the new facility and ongoing improvements have allowed them to improve efficiency levels so that 100% of reports can now be issued within 24 hours of tests taking place.
The new facility has been inspected and approved by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) and BHP’s experienced technicians have the capacity to perform concrete cube, aggregate masonry block, cylinder and concrete beam tests.
The long-established, customer-orientated testing provider operates a fleet of over 20 vehicles, which allows them to provide site testing and concrete collection services nationwide. All collections of samples from customers’ sites throughout Ireland are included free of charge and BHP are always on hand to ensure that samples are collected and tested within required / designated time periods.
“It’s a fully-automated, manual handling system which can cater for large quantities of product,” notes Materials Testing & Service Manager James Purcell. “We collect concrete cubes from sites all over Ireland on a weekly basis and test them to make sure the concrete meets all regulations and is fully up to spec.
Whereas previously the movement of cubes was very labour intensive, they are now lifted by overhead gantry crane into the curing tanks in a single move, with no manual lifting. Not only is this the fastest and most efficient way to do it, it’s also the safest way.”
As Ireland’s premier independent and multidisciplinary laboratory, BHP provides a wide range of testing services to numerous industries. For example, BHP Laboratories is the largest independent construction materials testing laboratory in Ireland, as part of this, they provide a comprehensive range of testing and monitoring solutions for the concrete sector. They have developed lasting relationships with the majority of concrete manufacturers throughout the country and are always on hand to provide technical assistance where necessary. We have seen a large number of concrete producers move from testing samples themselves to using a third-party laboratory such as BHP. The costs involved in maintaining equipment and skilled technicians means that it is not cost effective for concrete producers to test samples in house.
Along with providing testing services and technical assistance to concrete producers, BHP also provides on site concrete sampling and testing services to all of the major contractors throughout Ireland and the UK.
Some of the concrete testing services provided include: Concrete Pour Supervision; Concrete Slump Testing; Concrete Cube Testing; Concrete Core Testing; Concrete Cylinder Testing; Concrete Coring, Sawing and Drilling; Concrete Beam Testing; Concrete Block Testing; Water Absorption; Schmidt Rebound Hammer Testing to evaluate in situ concrete strength; Cement Content Chemical Testing; and Water for Concrete
Last year saw tremendous investment from the pioneering, progressive, Limerick-based, family-run laboratory, which also opened a new elemental impurities testing facility for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.
“The company operates in two key areas,” James continues. “The first of these is Material Testing Inspections (MTI), which focus on concrete quality control, the materials laboratory (for soil, aggregates, bitumen, etc.), Geotechnical site investigation, structural assessments and metal and plastic weld testing. Secondly, the Analytical Chemistry (AC) laboratory specialises in providing a whole range of services to the water, environmental, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing industries in Ireland.”
Generating direct employment for 55 people (with strong expertise in engineering and science disciplines) from their laboratory on the northside of Limerick city, BHP has 42 years’ experience in giving customers an uncompromising, personalised and prompt service, with measurements they can trust.
Their customers are drawn from the construction, pharmaceutical and medical device, food and manufacturing industries as well as government agencies and local authorities. BHP is an INAB 17025 accredited testing laboratory and is listed as an approved laboratory submitting data to the EPA. Their longstanding in-house culture of laboratory testing excellence brings rigorous inspection procedures and high standards of quality control to all operations, products and services.
The Materials Laboratory is fronted up by James Purcell (Service Manager) and Seamus O’Connell (Technical Manager). In 2002, BHP Laboratories became one of the first laboratories in Ireland to be awarded ISO 17025 accreditation by INAB. Since then, they have added to their scope of accreditations every year.
BHP Laboratories also provide a comprehensive suite of structural investigation and Geotechnical site investigation services, providing both on-site sampling & analysis and in-house testing in their laboratory. The testing provided by BHP may be required as part of a project’s specifications or conditional use permit or to establish compliance with local codes and ordinances. Using precision measurement equipment, all services can be provided on either a one-off or ongoing basis.
Furthermore, BHP can carry out the chemical analysis of concrete, including carbonation assessment and determining chloride & sulphur content; cement content, mix designation and High Alumina cement (HAC) content.
Tests – be they physical, chemical or mechanical – on concrete are vital in promoting and ensuring compliance / quality control and also for R&D purposes. “Regulations governing construction are such that all our customers’ products and by-products have to be made to a high standard,” adds James. “People want third-party testing from a quality control point of view and also for R&D so that they can check their products and tailor goods to suit a specific market.
“Our lab is in Limerick and all the testing takes place here, while we also have up to 15 technicians travelling around Ireland on a daily basis providing sampling, measuring, testing and collection services.
BHP is also the only INAB accredited laboratory for the testing of Electrofusion and Butt Fusion welded HDPE water main samples. This service has experienced rapid growth over the last 3 years with the large amount of water main replacement work currently being undertaken by Irish Water.
“The construction – civil, building and mechanical engineering – and extraction industries play a huge role in our overall business and we rely on continuing to attract repeat business in this area. So we have to keep our standards and service at the highest level and this is why we’ve invested so much in our facility. Today’s business is all about tomorrow and we will continue to reinvest into our business to preserve it and improve it. The new concrete testing facility will futureproof us for at least the next ten years.”
With a firm focus on providing quality service, James is confident that there is great scope for BHP Laboratories to grow further going forward: “There is a market there for growth but we also have competition so our key focus is to continue to provide the best service we can so that customers will keep coming back to us,” he concludes. “This is a high volume business and you really do need repeat custom to sustain the business model. So turnaround times, quality and customer service are all vital and those are the three areas where we excel. Obviously, the tests have to be accurate, but it’s also key to get the reports back as quickly as possible.
“We are constantly increasing our suite of tests. Inside the last twelve months alone, we introduced four new tests within the construction industry alone. We are in the process of adding pyrite screening of aggregate by ICP-OES to our INAB scope of accreditation and will be the only Irish laboratory to hold such accreditation once approved. The business is constantly moving and evolving, always with a view to giving the customer the most accurate information possible because they are relying on this information to make decisions that are critical to their businesses.”
Tel: 061 455399
Fax: 061 455447
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This article was published in Building Ireland Magazine, September/October 2020, Vol 6 No 5