PRECISION engineering firm Darchem have shaken off the economic downturn to produce record results for the second year running and bringing annual turnover to £76m.

The record sales saw turnover increase by 21 per cent in the year to October 31, up £63m on the previous period, with another 58 members of staff taken on at the plant in Stillington, near Stockton, which produces high-tech equipment for the oil and gas, defence, nuclear, aerospace and energy sectors.

Apprentices at Darchem, which is part of the American-owned multi-national manufacturing conglomerate Esterline, have increased 22 per cent to 56 in the past 12 months.

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The firm, which employs 700 people at its County Durham plant, has seen a 50 per cent increase in turnover in the last three years, and now exports half of what it makes.

Managing director Graham Payne said emerging defence markets in countries such as India had helped to fuel growth.

“That growth has really been driven from having a solid sales strategy and a focus on a number of market sectors. “We have seen record numbers of orders from the oil and gas sector and we have seen numbers coming in from the nuclear sector.

“Defence expansion plans in countries such as India and China have also seen orders generated.

“That is what has been underpinning our growth.

“The year we have just finished, 2012, was a record year; 2011 was a record year. Our budget for 2013 is set to exceed 2012 by 5 or 6 per cent, so we could have another record year.”

He said the secret to Darchem’s success was competitive pricing while maintaining a high standard of quality, and manufacturing for a wide range of markets to protect the firm when times became difficult economically for certain sectors.

“As a nation, the UK is getting a reputation for being more competitive than our European neighbours, and the quality in British engineering is still there - we execute contracts well and we are more attractive on that basis,” he said.

“The broad range of markets is a deliberate strategy in our expansion.”

The order book is so healthy Darchem is set to start construction on a new £8m factory, due to start next year, after Esterline invested £7m following a £1m grant from the Regional Growth Fund.

The 57,000sq ft factory, set to be built on brown field land next to the existing site, will create 86 jobs and secure a further 29 posts.

“We have seen some very strong sales and a very high level of orders this year,” said Mr Payne.

“Esterline are very pleased with the ongoing performance of Darchem, which has lead to this investment.”