IPHA Annual Conference 2024 – Newcastle, Northern Ireland

by | May 29, 2024 | Annual Conference, News | 0 comments

ipha, annual conference 2022, leuven

IPHA Annual Conference 2024

The 28th annual conference of the International Prestressed Hollowcore Association (IPHA) took place at the Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, from 23rd – 26th May.

IPHA is a diverse and global organization, which has been at the heart of the prestressed hollowcore industry since 1969. This year’s conference marked the 30th anniversary of the organization in its current form, and was jointly hosted by two companies with their roots in Ireland; Creagh Concrete and Combilift, full and associate members respectively.

The annual conference presents an opportunity for members to come together from around the world, welcoming new members, and provides a platform for a programme of activities around a chosen topic. These include factory and site visits, keynote speakers from inside and outside the industry, discussion and debate, within a friendly and collaborative atmosphere.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Leadership”, with a focus on the qualities that are instrumental in the continued success of the precast hollowcore industry.

In attendance at the conference were 78 delegates and 34 partners from 19 different countries. This included 46 representatives from full member companies, 32 from associate member companies, plus 1 honorary member.

Delegates were welcomed to the conference with a dinner on Thursday evening in the Grand Ballroom at Slieve Donard.

why hollowcore, IPHA

Friday 24th May

Friday’s itinerary began with a trip to Creagh Concrete’s hollowcore factory at Ardboe, and a welcome introduction was given on the bus by IPHA President and Creagh CEO, Seamus McKeague. At Ardboe, delegates were taken on a guided tour of the site, taking in the design office, production and stockyard, with members of each team talking through their phase of the hollowcore production process.

Following this, another bus journey took our delegates to Combilift’s global HQ in Monaghan, where a comprehensive tour of their impressive factory and global HQ, opened in 2018, was given to delegates in small groups. A highlight for many being a demonstration of specialist machinery for lifting and handling of hollowcore slabs, the tour finished with a presentation of the company’s products and their development history from Martin McVicar, Combilift’s CEO.

Friday ended with the host dinner, held in the Chandelier Room at Slieve Donard, where speeches were given by members of both host companies, and guests were entertained by a group of traditional Irish dancers.


Saturday 25th May

The conference commenced on Saturday with a welcome from Seamus McKeague and Kjell-Ole Gjestemoen, IPHA’s Executive Director. Kjell-Ole also introduced IPHA’s plan for the next 5 years, called IPHA Vision 2030, alongside Thomas Goosey, who supports the association with its marketing activities.

After this introduction, the delegates were introduced to the new members, including Betolar, presented by Senior Sales Manager, Mikko Marjalaakso; INHUS by CEO, Audrius Tulaba; and Shanghai Citi-Raise, by Wang Huajiong, CEO and Owner.

Then came the first of the day’s keynote speakers, in Martin McVicar, CEO of Combilift, whose presentation “Business Innovation” covered the importance of diversification and use of technology to adapt and optimize in more difficult times. He also emphasized the importance of Combilift’s training and apprenticeship schemes to the business and its continued growth.

Next up was Michael Keating, HSE Director for CRH Europe, with a presentation titled Safety as an organizational lever to help build high performing teams”. Michael explained how through effective leadership, safety could be used as a driver to increase performance. This can be done as part of a culture of continuous improvement, where safety is used to engage workers and help them to make their workplace better, along with celebration and recognition to reinforce a positive process and keep teams motivated.

Each year, the event’s sponsors are also given the opportunity to present, with the first slot going to Mallory Vervloet, Managing Director of Echo Precast Engineering. Mallory explained Echo’s place within the wider Progress Group and its ability to provide innovative automated solutions for hollowcore manufacture.

The next keynote speaker was Joan Belton, Marketing Manager of Creagh Concrete, with “Innovation in challenging times”. After a brief overview of Creagh’s history Joan explained how investment in R&D and new products enabled the business to push through the housing crash of the late 2000’s and go from strength to strength. This adaptation to current market conditions has continued with their offering for modular buildings and new products, all while maintaining a holistic approach and staying consistent with their company’s values.

The final keynote speaker before lunch was Martin Tierney, Director of Seating Matters, who gave an inspiring presentation titled “Lean made simple”. Martin told the story of his business, its early growth and success, but also the huge challenges they faced. A discovery of a book on lean, followed by his own trip to Japan, then inspired his own company’s journey of continuous improvement.

The second sponsor presentation followed from i-Theses, with a change in format. This took the shape of an interview with leaders of Creagh Concrete’s design and IT teams, conducted by Quentin Antlitz, International Business Development, following the successful recent implementation of i-Theses’ PreCastOffice software for Creagh’s hollowcore design, production planning, logistical and administrative processes.

The day’s final keynote speaker was Hilde Fløgstad, Industrial Director Mortars for Nordic and Baltics at Saint-Gobain. Through her previous experience as a production director in the hollowcore industry, Hilde spoke on “Leadership and team performance”. The focus was on the importance of leadership and what makes an effective leader in a hollowcore production environment.

Next on the itinerary was a panel discussion on Change Leadership. Facilitated by Sabine Erspamer, Dare & Heart Academy, the panel consisted of Ulrick Staudal (Combilift), Stefan van Buggenhout (CRH), Melissa Cochrane (BSO NI), Top Paananen (Peikko), Kathrine Lyngstad (Spenncon AS). Conversation centered on the challenges of leadership through times of crisis and change, including managing the needs of individuals, people of different generations, and what attributes successful leaders of the future will need.

A final sponsor presentation came from Richard Siemes, Technical Sales Consultant, of Ecoratio. Richard introduced the company’s release agents with no hazardous labels, including the company’s production, research and development capabilities. He also emphasized the sustainability of their solutions as part of collective social responsibility to limit harm.

The last presentation of the day came from Mikko Marjalaakso, Senior Sales Manager of Betolar. In their first year as members, the company had entered the annual Terry Treanor Award with “Geoprime® – the World’s Lowest CO2 Emission Slab”. Terry Treanor was chairman of IPHA from its inauguration in 1994, until he sadly died, unexpectedly, in 2003. It was in his honour and memory that the award was devised, with the first one awarded at the annual conference in Prague, 2005.

To close the conference, the board of IPHA held the General Assembly, with Seamus McKeague giving an overview of the last year, before Kjell-Ole Gjestemoen went through the financial report and budget for 2025. A report from Wim Jansze, President of IPHA’s Technical Committee, included the 2023 Technical Seminar and an update on the ongoing Holcolodis project. Ian Treanor, President of the Marketing Committee gave an update on the Sales and Marketing Seminar, whilst reiterating a commitment towards investing in IPHA’s Vision 2030.

Wim Jansze and Topi Paananen both completed a three-year term as Board Members. Wim Jansze and Topi Paananen were prepared to be re-elected as Board Members, and this was confirmed. Following the resignation of Hilde Fløgstad from the board, it was confirmed that Henrik Holm Pedersen would replace Hilde during her election period, until the General Assembly 2025.

It was also announced by Kjell-Ole Gjestemoen that the 2025 annual conference would be held in Warsaw, Poland, with Pekabex the host company.

On Saturday evening, the IPHA dinner was held in the stunning Chandelier Room, with a closing speech given by Seamus McKeague, thanking all the delegates and speakers for their contribution to a fantastic event in Ireland. Betolar were confirmed as winners of the Terry Treanor Award, and Terry’s son Ian Treanor presented it to Mikko Marjalaakso. Gifts were presented to Joan Belton of Creagh Concrete, alongside Ulrick Staudal and Annette Schumann of Combilift, to thank them for their individual efforts in organizing the conference. Ulrick Staudal also went on to bring the team from Slieve Donard in, so the delegates could show their appreciation for the fantastic service provided over the course of the event.

Annual Conference 2023, IPHA

IPHA’s President and CEO of Creagh Concrete, Seamus McKeague, welcomes the delegates to the 28th IPHA Annual Conference.

Annual Conference – Gallery

Join the IPHA Family