28th IPHA Annual Conference – Newcastle, Northern Ireland

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


Factory visits at Creagh Concrete and Combilift

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 the delegates in small groups. 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.

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, presented by CEO Audrius Tulaba, and Shanghai Citi-Raise, presented by Wang Huajiong, CEO and owner.

Then came the first of the day’s keynote speakers, 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.

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”.

Keynote speakers and panel discussion

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”. The final keynote speaker before lunch was Martin Tierney, Director of Seating Matters, who gave an inspiring presentation titled “Lean made simple”.

The second sponsor presentation followed from i-Theses, with a change in format, by Quinten Antlitz, International Business Development, following the successful recent implementation of iTheses’ 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, on “Leadership and team performance”.

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), Topi 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 GmbH. Richard introduced the company’s release agents with no hazardous labels.

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 honor and memory that the award was devised, with the first one awarded at the annual conference in Prague, 2005.


Overview of the last year and financial report

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 and Topi 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.



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