Ask the expert – Coltraco


Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics discusses exclusively the government-business relationship and the future of British fire safety 

What is ultrasonic safety technology?  

Ultrasound is sound beyond the human audible range. At Coltraco Ultrasonics we aim to “see the sounds that others cannot hear”. We do this in the air domain, much as bats navigate at night in the air by using ultrasound, we use airborne ultrasound to check the airtightness of a room or the watertightness of a ship. We do this in the liquid domain, much as dolphins use ultrasound by using ultrasound in the water to navigate and identify obstacles, we use ultrasound to monitor the contents of liquefied extinguishing gases contained in cylinders which otherwise would otherwise have to be shut-down, dismantled from their system, weighed and reinstalled. What might have taken a 2-person team 3-4 days to check the contents of 600 x 45kg CO2 cylinders, on a ship, can now be done in 8 hours. 

We design and manufacture ultrasonic safety technology for the measurement and monitoring of liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems, of leak-sites, airtightness and room integrity into which these gases discharge and “must be held” to extinguish the fire, the flow rate of sprinkler and water deluge systems, the corrosion of cylinders and pipework. Most recently we designed an instrument for the NHS to monitor infection contagion from negatively-pressurised ICU Wards and another to ensure that large commercial buildings are airtight and can efficiently and effectively generate pathogen-free ventilated air to create 2safe working” for their occupants. 

We export 89% of its output to 120 countries and hold the Queen’s Award for International Trade. We were recently named British Innovator of the Year. Our laboratory is co-located with the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation at Durham University’s Physics Department. We have created the Durham Institute of Research, Development & Invention (DIRDI) and the Centre for Underwater Acoustic Analysis (CUAA) to discover and commercialise research in Acoustics, Ultrasonics, Electro-magnetism and Information Engineering. 

We are at the heart of two principal reasons for loss of ships, marine structures and offshore oil and gas platforms at sea. The No 1 reason is sinking. We are the world’s leading manufacturer of ultrasonic safety technology to monitor the watertight integrity of all of them, able to identify potential leak sites that can lead to catastrophic loss and capsize, as small as 0.06mm, accurate to +/-0.02mm. The No 2 reason is fire. We are the world’s leading manufacturing in the monitoring of the gaseous extinguishing systems that are used to protect these assets. We monitor these to an accuracy of +/-1.5mm, which has never been done before, based on their invention, Portalevel. 

On land our principal focus is in the monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems that protect critical national infrastructure such as data centres. We monitor the gaseous systems and the compartments into which the gases actuate, at the time of a fire. 

Building on our experience of air flow dynamics and fluid dynamics today we are global leaders in technology for infection control in Portascanner COVID19 for hospitals, developed during COVID19 and in “safe working” by ensuring the airtightness of commercial buildings so that they can properly ventilate to create pathogen-free air in Portascanner Airtight 520. 

Across the wider industrial sector we utilise ultrasound in a unique ultrasonic tank liquid level indicator, Portatank, used in tanks from 0.5m diameter to 15m in diameter, including the oil levels in transformers across the power industry, critical for safety. As an example, one US Power Company required the Portatank to detect oil level within a transformer, after tragically losing three engineers in an accident, due to not having means to safely test them previously. We manufacture Portasonic ultrasonic flow meters, and are able to convert flow rate results into pressure rates with Portasonic CALCULATOR, and constant volumetric, mass and energy flow monitoring, in the Permaflow. 

Building on our range of ultrasonic safety technology we are now launching the Portagauge 5 multiple echo ultrasonic thickness gauge, Portalevel TOUCH, for highly pressurised liquefied Clean Agents and Portascanner Watertight TOUCH, to be the world’s most advanced watertight integrity monitoring capability for ships, with unique ability to quantify leak sizes and water flow rates for damage control and will launch the world’s first continuous weight monitoring system, Permalevel Featherweight, for the minute contents loss of highly-pressurised non-liquefied Inergen gaseous extinguishing systems, used in Critical Infrastructure, against the risk of loss of contents. 

How does the new planning gateway one and other British standards play a wider role for fire safety globally in relation to the Integrated Review? 

The Government’s Integrated Review of 2021 places Trade & Finance at the heart of British foreign Policy for the first time in 200 years. The UK is a global leader in exporting: the 2nd largest in the export of services and 5th largest overall. Exporting comprises 30% of our GDP. National prosperity generates national stability and security. It finances our collective security which enables global security and stability and these are the prerequisites of global prosperity, a UK national interest. British Standards generate ISO Standards and contribute to the Rules-based International System which has generated the greatest levels of global prosperity since 1945. 

The principles of this were enshrined in the Atlantic Charter and this year renewed by President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson. The UK and USA created our world today, and this renewal places the Special Relationship at the helm of global stability once again. It has been reinforced by this month’s AUKUS Agreement between the UK, USA and Australia, and UAUK will be the UK’s second Special Relationship overall, aiming to stabilise the Indo-Pacific where 50% of global trade will shortly occur but which is now a highly contested region. 

People tend to forget that the UK is a global power. We are at the heart of 54 members of the Commonwealth, a P5 member of the UN Security Council, NATO’s 2nd largest military contributor, one of only 2 nations on earth with 5th Generation Carrier & Littoral Strike capabilities, a member of FIVE EYES and the Five Powers Defence Agreement in Asia. More Nobel Prizes for Science at 1 Cambridge College than the entire nation of a neighbouring EU country whose capital begins with “P”. The world’s 2nd largest Diplomatic network. One of only 6 nations on earth with nuclear submarines and one of only 5 with an independent submarine-based nuclear deterrent. The only country with a Special Relationship with the USA, and our countries together do more bilateral trade and finance with each other than any other countries on earth, doing GBP 220 billion per year in trade and over USD 1.5 trillion in finance. We are global leaders in sport, music, theatre and art whilst leading the world in cyber and security. We are a member of more Multilateral Organisations than any country outside the USA and created today’s world with the USA since 1945 when together we created the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, an equal member Commonwealth and NATO itself, whilst at home creating the NHS, the welfare State and Equality for Women under the law. All at a time of near bankruptcy, when GDP-to-Debt was 250% and when bread itself was rationed. And we are about to do it all again, since June 2021 when our countries renewed the Atlantic Charter and we are building further on that with the strategic AUKUS Agreement which is our second Special Relationship and extends it to the Indo-Pacific. 

This is a wonderful time to be British and the world will be a safer and more prosperous one, with the UK at its helm. 

What are the complexities and opportunities of government-business relationships? 

The Government is adopting a Whole of Government approach to energise a Whole of Society approach to national success. This makes the Government-Business relationship an essential instrument of national success. UK companies have a tremendous opportunity to succeed in global markets and as we are seeing companies that have grown accustomed to exporting to the Single Market are now learning that to continue in EU markets they have to become true export practitioners overall. This expertise will equip them to export more effectively to global markets. 

We are proud to be a part of the 8.8% of UK companies who export. We contribute to “Global Britain” by being an example of how UK business can be conducted in a spirit of national duty to enrich our economy through increased employment, greater application of science and engineering, increasing profitability and offering stability as part of a prosperity continuum overseas which is a UK national interest. UK Exporters are 20% more effective, sustainable and profitable than companies who do not. 

We believe the measures taken by our business can be a blueprint for others and aid the Government’s understanding to support other businesses in post-COVID-19 economic recovery and that the challenges faced by exporter-innovator businesses can be addressed by the Government if it is to meet its ambitions in support exports and innovation. But we in business have to play our part and work better with the Government ourselves. There are still too many UK companies who want to “shout” at the Government, and accept its help, without themselves “giving back” in a spirit of public service, which in our country is defined as “the common good, and the elevation of the condition of the people, at home and overseas”.  

Anything else to note? 

The United Kingdom has 8 distinguishing capabilities and 8 distinguishing values. The former are defence, diplomacy, development, security, trade, finance, the intellectual/educational and the cultural. The latter are democracy, rule of law, our institutions, the Union, history, public service, society and family and regulated free trade and free markets. Combined these are the foundations for our national success and for greater global stability, security and prosperity. They create the conditions for freedom itself. The UK fire industry has an opportunity to play its strategic part by successfully innovating and exporting. 


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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Fire Buyer

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922

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