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NDT.net Issue - 2007-12 - NEWS
NDT.net Issue: 2007-12
Publication: e-Journal of Nondestructive Testing (NDT) ISSN 1435-4934 (NDT.net Journal)

Phoenix founder Jim Quirk dies at 71

Phoenix Inspection Systems Ltd69, Warrington, United Kingdom

August 2007

Jim Quirk - who helped to pioneer the use of NDT techniques in the nuclear industry and went on to found Phoenix Inspection Systems - has died at the age of 71.

Jim, who retired in 2000, was known internationally for his work in the industry. Born in Edinburgh and raised in Sheffield and Liverpool, he studied Applied Maths and Physics at Liverpool College of Technology. In 1956 he joined UKAEA's Reactor Engineering Materials Laboratory in Culcheth, Warrington as a physicist, working on programmes to investigate the effects of radiation on metals.

In 1968 he transferred to the UKAEA Non Destructive Testing Centre - Northern Unit at nearby Risley, where he worked until 1974. This unit was responsible for the development and operation of automatic inspection systems for nuclear power stations both in the UK and Europe.

He was team leader for manual and automated inspections at Dounreay, Windscale, Chapel Cross and Winfrith stations in the UK, and also stations in Holland, Belgium and Spain. Jim was responsible for writing procedures, training and running inspections. Later in his career with the UKAEA in also acted as an advisor to the Safety and Reliability Directorate, based again at Culcheth.

Jim and three of his colleagues recognised the potential of their expertise outside the UKAEA and in 1974, Jim, Harry Jackson, Phil Osborne and Clive Brown left to form their own company, MatEval, to provide automated ultrasonic equipment and inspection services to clients worldwide. Jim was engineering director and deputy managing director.

The company's first major contract was inspection work on the new nuclear reactor at Borssele, Holland. It went on to build specialist equipment for power plants throughout Europe, the Middle East and Canada, and also systems for inspection in the oil, petrochemical and aerospace industries including a system to test the fuel tank of the US space shuttle.

MatEval grew rapidly and built a team of 60 highly qualified engineers. It developed the Micropulse, the first multichannel ultrasonic flaw detector, which, with 256 channels, revolutionised automated inspection and is still marketed today.

The company's expertise in automated NDT and its high-profile client base made it an attractive target for potential acquirers and in 1977, the four founders sold their shares in the business to the offshore inspection specialist BIX. The company was later to become part of Rolls-Royce, one of its regular clients.

Jim left Mateval in 1982 and the following year set up Phoenix Inspection Systems, initially specialising in the supply of ultrasonic probes and scanners. The company has since gained a strong reputation for the design and manufacture of ultrasonic systems for the power industry and has diversified into other sectors, including offshore, petrochemical, chemical, aerospace and rail.

Jim served on committees for European standards for ultrasonic probes and systems and the European Norm for Inspection Qualification (ENIQ). He was also a regular contributor at the UK and international NDT conferences.

In 1995 he handed over his position as managing director to his son Karl but continued to play an active role in the business until his retirement in 2000.

Outside of work Jim loved sailing, a hobby he enjoyed from his early thirties, along with tennis. He was also an excellent chef and would delight in providing his guests with the highest level of cuisine.

Jim died in hospital in Southport, Lancashire after a long illness. Apart from his son Karl, he leaves a wife Sue, daughters Angie, Lisa and Danielle and seven grandchildren.

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