AN X-RAY imaging specialist expects to grow into a multi-million pound business as a number of large projects bring its cutting-edge technology closer to market.

IBEX Innovations is expanding into bigger, custom-designed offices at NETPark, the Sedgefield-based science park, to accommodate huge growth over the next few years.

Dr Neil Loxley, chief executive, said: “We have had a great deal of input into the design and layout of the office and laboratory, which will take us through the next five years of growth comfortably and allow us to increase our workforce from 18 to about 30 or 35.

“The quality of the facilities at NETPark and the attitude of staff is first class. It has a really dynamic, innovative atmosphere.”

IBEX has developed and patented x-ray detector technology that can be retrofitted to existing x-ray machinery to significantly improve the detection of defects and impurities in materials being imaged.

The technology acts like a colour filter to bring out extra information on an x-ray image.

It can be used in many markets, including food inspection, bomb detection and medical radiography.

IBEX is working with a number of NHS trusts to demonstrate how it can help hospitals improve the detection rates and diagnosis of osteoporosis, a bone disease, which affects some three million people in the UK and is the highest cause of injury-related deaths.

By allowing an x-ray to safely and reliably give a measure of bone density and bone health – something a standard x-ray cannot currently do – Dr Loxley said IBEX’s technology would bring substantial cost savings to the NHS and massively streamline the referral process for patients.

He said: “This is a huge opportunity for us. We estimate 60,000 of these basic hospital x-ray systems are sold every year, so if we sell a licence to allow each of them to adopt our technology then it will transform IBEX into a multi-million pound business.”

The projected growth will see the number of scientists, engineers and business professionals it employs rise from 18 to 24 next year, and to between 30 and 35 by 2020.

Brian Archer, managing director of Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham, said: “IBEX Innovations is a prime example of an innovative, world-class technology company thriving on NETPark; making the most of the facilities available and employing a skilled workforce.”

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “It’s a real pleasure to see such an exciting company like IBEX innovations take root in County Durham, and I can’t wait to see them go from strength to strength.”

While IBEX’s primary focus is on the medical imaging market, its technology is also infiltrating the security, food inspection and electronics industries.

The firm is in the final stages of incorporating its technology into portable security scanners for police and bomb disposal specialists, which allow them to extract more information and differentiate between materials such as plastic and metal.

It is also working with a large food inspection company to integrate its technology into x-ray inspection systems used to spot contamination, such as bone in chicken or plastic in chocolate, which are difficult to distinguish in a standard x-ray.