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Profile on QSA Global

QSA Global is the largest manufacturer of radiography gamma projectors and sources in the world. I believe this was true when I first learned about them, and it is even truer today. QSA Global is the reason IR is here today.

In a previous life I owned an NDT service company, and due to supply and projector uncertainty we wanted to diversify our fleet of exposure devices. Enter Robert, my future business partner who insisted that the Sentinel 880s, were the safest, least problematic device on the market. This then lead me to Bob Kelly, who we all know as QSA’s retrieval guru, technical orator and sales legend in his own time. It was Bob who convinced me to look at Sentinel products from a business perspective. This set up a meeting with Larry Swift, VP of QSA Global, and the rest is history. Rob was easily convinced, with limited use of Jedi mind tricks, to become an equal partner…and we were off to the races.

When we started IR there was virtually zero QSA market share in Western Canada but it didn’t take long and we were selling both exposure devices and sources, and growing like there was no tomorrow. You would think that this would be great, but there was a problem. Anyone who has experienced fast growth in a business knows that two things are critically important: cash flow and supply. IR had cash flow problems and QSA had supply issues.

But everyone had supply issues. We learned early on that there is a limited supply of source material in the world due to the fact that there is a limited number of reactors to produce material. If a reactor goes down unexpectedly, as one did, you better hope your next shipment is coming from one of the other reactors. This happened just as we were in full growth mode, and it was pretty much a disaster.  But every source manufacturer was roughly in the same boat, or was about to be since everyone in the marketplace would be looking for material.

It all eventually worked out. IR survived its start-up cash flow issues, with some help from our friends at QSA, and QSA vowed never to get caught in a similar source material shortage situation again. I believe it was Larry Swift, who undertook the job of securing source material in a way that ensured QSA Global would never have a supply issue experience like the one we had just suffered through. What QSA did was develop relationships with most, if not all, material suppliers, and began purchasing an oversupply of materials. QSA now buys more material than they use to ensure they maintain the best supply channels. If a reactor goes offline now there may be a short delay, but there is always material to be had. Competitors of QSA, depending on where they are in line at any particular reactor, may just not have access to the material they need.

One of the things you do in times like these is put your heads together and come up with solutions in hopes of eliminating or reducing the effects of any future supply issues, and that is what we did. IR began to forecast our source sales and order months out.  In doing so we ensured we always had a minimum supply, allowing better forecasting for QSA that would hopefully soften any shortages from reactor outages. This actually gave IR, “sources in stock”. I think we were the first distributor and possibly still the only distributor to try this. It wasn’t long before all of this was put to the test as Nordion and a Russian reactor went down and source material was at a premium once more. Our combined efforts worked well with IR being able, at times, to supply QSA clients with sources from our pre-ordered supply. Together we have continued to weather reactor outages with little or no disruptions of supply.  Most of our clients never know that reactors have gone down, like the one this summer where we had our minimum of stock sources but orders were never backlogged more than a few days.

When it comes to devices, the 880 exposure device is where the rubber meets the road.  It’s as simple as you can get in design with incredible reliability and longevity. The number of moving parts is small, reducing and limiting mechanical wear, and in tandem, the number of things that can go wrong. This is important in our harsh climates and severe working conditions.  You need a device that is rugged and durable. A radioactive source is not something you need to struggle with. If you follow a few simple rules there is no other device in the market with the proven track record of the 880 series of devices that I’m aware of.

Accessories like guide tubes and controls from QSA are all tested to the most stringent requirements under ISO 9000 standards. This makes them top of the line but well worth the peace of mind you get from knowing that your sources are secured using time-tested original manufacturer’s equipment. If you ever visit QSA Burlington where they manufacture your products, and they would welcome you, you will be able to see how impressive their facility is.  This is due to the very high standards that they hold themselves accountable to. It is done for two big reasons: 1) to make the most reliable products in the world, and 2) to ensure they fulfill their regulatory commitments so that they never have an interruption in their business.

QSA and its Sentinel products are a premium brand.  They are the only North American manufacturer that is ISO certified.  They also support their products with training courses that includes live source retrieval training that IR offers at our Edmonton location.

One of the main selling points of any piece of equipment is the ability to get the service it needs locally and conveniently. IR provides this when selling Sentinel brand products, as the only facility outside of QSA’s premier repair depot in Baton Rouge to do so.

Even though QSA is a very large international business, IR has forged a relationship that gives us access to the highest levels of management. We are often asked our opinions about prototype equipment and we freely offer our opinions on other subjects when we see a need to. We always feel we are a part of this big machine even if the wheels do seem to turn slowly at times–our perspective as a smaller, more nimble business. It is the high quality standard that can frustrate us but it is precisely this high quality standard that gives us the superlative Sentinel products we use today.

QSA did wander out of their wheelhouse into digital acquisition–CR and DR–for a time, branding a few products under Sentinel.  They have since gotten back to focusing on their core products and recently presented a new Cobalt 60 device, the Sentry, and a great Selenium 75, Tungsten shielded projector aptly named the 1075 SCARPro. They have also been working with JME to add the 880 and 1075 as gamma heads to their recently revamped crawler systems.

It is important to remember that radiography is in real-world terms a niche market. There are not a lot of players in the gamma end of the business and in just the short time IR has been around we have seen several major players fail or leave the industry worldwide. We have positioned ourselves with the largest shareholder of this market because they have what we have determined to be the most reliable equipment, the best sources, with the most secure supply of source material, all backed with training and the highest quality standards in the industry. Our vetting process gives high marks to ISO certified companies and it is this quality that sets QSA apart from all the others. In our opinion they are the best.  They have premium products and when dealing with radioactive materials that makes all our lives just a little bit easier and less stressful.

I hope I have given you some insight into our relationship with QSA, and why we think so highly of their core products. They are top of the line–no exceptions–and we are proud to offer their core gamma products to you. You have choices but when it comes to radioactive materials.  We think you’ll want the best. When it comes to safety, quality and security we honestly feel, in our vetted opinion, there is none better than Sentinel by QSA Global.


It’s part of the reason that…for the unknown there’s NDT, for NDT there’s IR.

Brian Sargent
IR Supplies and Services