A COUNTY Durham firm's expansion plans could see its workforce grow by more than a quarter in the next 12 months.

Manufacture and assembly of Aquafilter water filters designed to help communities in developing countries at O F Bell Injection Moulding's factory in Etherley, near Bishop Auckland, has reached record levels.

Established in Willington in the 1970s, O F Bell moved from its most recent base in Consett to the former Stephenson Gobin factory at High Etherley, near Bishop Auckland, last August.

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Director Mark Beard, who bought the firm in 2002, said the move offered the potential to double the factory's size to over 10,000sq ft.

Aquafilters are made for the Safe Water Trust, based in Sunderland, and are designed for use in countries where people have no access to clean water.

Mr Beard said O F Bell has manufactured parts used in the filters for the past three years.

“What has changed in the last 12 months is that we are now assembling them as well, offering the customer a turnkey solution” he said.

“Since we moved to Etherley, production has increased three-fold. We have just shipped 1,300 to Ethiopia and 400 to the Philippines.

“It's about building them and having them ready to send. This month, we will make more than 3,500 filters.

“If we get to 4,000 a month, there will be the creation of another five jobs,” he added.

Water filters are just one part of the business. The company makes plastic products for use in a variety of business sectors including oil and gas, pneumatics and window systems.

The company has also signed a contract to produce mouldings for single use ophthalmic devices which will require the construction of a 'clean room' to ensure they are made in an environment free of bacteria and particles.

Mr Beard said that the company has been producing miniature mouldings for the medical sector for several years, and the introduction of the ISO 14644 class 7 clean room was a natural progression.

“We are in the process of designing and costing the clean room facility, which should be up and running by the end of March.”

This facility will house two machines operated by two people. There will also be an ante-room for the staff to put on protective clothing to ensure nothing contaminates the sealed-off production area.

“We also have to create a positive outflow of air and control static levels. There must also be very tight procedures for cleaning to control bacteria.”

Mr Beard said developments at O F Bell should see the workforce increase from its current 18 to 25 by this time next year and those new recruits are expected to come from the local area.