As seen on screen

October 5, 2023

SJUK Editor Becci Knowles talks to Jason Wakefield, Sales Director at Todd Research about the need for highly accurate mail screening equipment, despite less being sent by post.

Todd Research is a global expert in threat detection X-ray equipment for safety and security. Founded in 1950 by Sir Arthur Todd, it initially focused on developing niche medical x-ray equipment. The company trajectory shifted in the 1970’s when it answered a government call to industry. The threat from the IRA was at its height and the government needed industry to come up with a product that could detect explosives and harmful devices being delivered via the postal system. Todd Research answered that call by inventing the first ever mailroom scanner, which went into production in 1973.

The company has since increased its product line substantially – opening “a whole range of new interesting and challenging vertical markets”, says Jason. With Todd Research’s expertise lying in the development, supply and maintenance of x-ray, metal detection and blast suppression equipment for public and private organisations of all sizes, Jason is keen to highlight some of its milestones.

In 2007 Todd Research launched its trademarked EPD (Enhanced Powder Detection) software. “We sell more machines based on this level of functionality than any other function on our machine”, says Jason, adding “when we talk about powders, we’re talking anthrax, we’re talking ricin or false positive stuff like caustic soda that could quite easily shut down a building.” The software can see down to 3g of powder that’s hidden inside a package and Jason says, “no one else can offer that level of detection”.

Another milestone came in 2018, when Todd Research developed the first integration with an emergency communication app. Prior to this if an operative had a suspect package, they would have to call someone over to the machine for a second opinion, “which meant potentially dragging them into a danger area, and you don’t really want to do that”, says Jason. Now, at the touch of a button, mailroom operatives can alert the company’s first responders who can make a judgement call on whether it’s safe or whether it’s suspect from a remote location. An image of what’s in the machine will appear on their phone or desktop enabling them start procedures from a remote location, which is a lot safer.

In 2019 there was a management buyout of the company. “I’m one of the owners of the business; we’ve got another director that works in the company on a day-to-day basis, and a board that that sits above us that helps us to grow,” says Jason. “We’ve got a good structure and that structure hasn’t changed since 2019.”

In 2022 Todd Research was honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation TR15 and TR40 cabinet X-ray scanners. This prestigious award recognised its ongoing mission to develop innovative threat detection solutions and services and cemented its position at the forefront of the security sector. Jason says, “Lots of companies have got the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, but it’s the innovation piece on the end that we’re particularly proud of and we’ve been shouting it from the rooftops ever since.”

Research and development

Todd Research re-invests a high percentage of its profits into research and development both into new and existing products so it can be confident to detect the very latest terrorist devices and weapons. It also manages a network of quality distributors from all over the world, keeping it well placed to measure market trends and to discover what other technologies have been developed and are being used globally.

“Our vision guides every aspect of our business,” says Jason, “for Todd Research, this is to continue being a global player in developing and manufacturing world class detection and screening technology solutions.

While less mail is being sent nowadays, mailroom screening is still a core part of the business and the market “is a lot bigger than you might think”, says Jason. “It’s not just government buildings, it’s corporate head offices, data centres, law firms, banking. Wherever there is a government embassy or a building, you need to be sure that the delivery to that building is safe. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into the software that we provide, software with enhancement tools that are designed to make it easy for the operator to identify something that is suspicious.”

In terms of Todd Research’s UK footprint, Jason says: “Todd Research currently supplies around 80% of the government buildings. The other 20% either goes to some of our competitors or it’s just a case they don’t have a need, or feel they have a need, for screening. Our biggest area is government, then banking, followed by media, for instance, we look after all the BBC sites.”

The BBC uses a wide range of metal detection systems and X-ray scanners from Todd Research, including many conveyor scanners and X-ray arches for screening audiences and visitors, as well as search poles and mail scanning systems.

Nigel Brown, Head of Corporate Security for the BBC says, “We have always found the Todd Research team to be very proactive and extremely helpful in all the work that we’ve undertaken with them. They do everything from start to finish, from providing advice about what equipment is needed for new buildings or in response to changes in threat level, to supplying and servicing our existing portfolio, as well as ongoing consultancy and support. The company also assists us with special events, moving existing equipment or supplying new solutions to meet these very specific and individual challenges.”

Mitigating risk by association

Todd Research looks after businesses of all sizes, from the one-man band right up to the large corporates. “We also supply small law firms,” says Jason. “They might be working with a client who is not particularly popular; someone might take exception to that by asking, “why would you defend them” and send something harmful. Things like razor blades are quite common, you would be surprised at what we see.

“Some businesses are at risk through association. Look at animal testing laboratories, back in the day the animal rights protestors back wouldn’t just target them, they would target the people that emptied the bins.”

A business’ location could make it a target too. “You could have a totally innocent business, but if you are in a multi tenancy building, still be at risk. For example, you could be making toy bricks, so there is no real reason for you to be a terrorist target, but there might be four or five floors in that building and a legitimate terrorist target is on one of them. They have measures in place to detect certain things, they have the x-ray scanners – you don’t because you make toy bricks. However, your office is directly above the legitimate terrorist target and the perpetrator knows they could get just as much impact by targeting you. So, when you are doing a risk assessment, it’s important to consider the environment you are in and what’s around you. Would I be a target just because I’m next door to a company that is?”

Product development

Mail rooms over time have diminished in size, with some being no bigger than a broom cupboard’. “X-ray machines started off huge, they were permanent installations, but they have got smaller and smaller and became more portable,” says Jason.

Weapons are smaller too. “Today explosive devices can be tiny and could easily be housed in a single envelope. They are just as effective, so you need to make sure that your x-ray machine can pick up the very latest devices. If you are operating in a small mailroom, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have room for an x-ray machine. Even our smallest cabinet scanners have huge levels of detection power. It is common for a lot of Government and commercial buildings to have a distinct lack of space for scanning and screening, however there is really no excuse for not having any levels of protection for the building and the staff within. Basically, if you have room for a filing cabinet, then you will have space for one of our cabinet scanners. These scanners are also on wheels and can be easily relocated to different areas of the building if required.”

Todd Research is currently working on “some world firsts” within its cabinet systems.  “Our software is called Colour Trace; its registered trademark is protected for Todd Research.  We are currently on version 4 of this award-winning software, and next year we are looking to launch Colour Trace 5, this will again bring some world first enhancements for the industry which will be simply mind-blowing.”

Emerging markets

Todd Research is currently dipping its toe into the aviation market. “This is this is an emerging market for us, and we’ve got a very niche product that we sell into aviation that no one else can offer,” says Jason. Intrigued, I ask Jason what it is.

“If you think back to the history of Todd Research -we launched the very first mail screening machine – now we’ve launched the very first X ray screener for the scanning of airline trolleys. The first four are being installed as we speak, and we’ve got trials going on in JFK in New York as well.

“After the management buyout, we were presented with an opportunity to expand our reach into areas where we previously lacked strength. Despite being known for selling more cabinet scanners than any other product and being recognised as the go-to company for mailroom screening, we are now making strides towards broadening our horizons. We are positioning ourselves as a company that offers much more than just those services.”

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