AN engineering company is set for growth after bosses steered it through the recession by exploring new markets.

ALM Products, specialised in manufacturing and supplying hardware and systems for cubicles and lockers, and at its peak was turning over in excess of £3m a year.

In 2008 the Newton Aycliffe company diversified, setting up a new division called ALM Engineering Solutions, tapping into several sectors including the oil and gas, aerospace, nuclear and automotive industries.

The firm produces components from a wide range of materials including stainless steel, exotic alloys, titanium, inconel, copper and engineering plastics. 

Turnover has steadied at £3m a year, the company has recently increased its workforce to 30 with two additions to the management team, and more than £700,000 has been invested to increase capacity since 2009.

Since August last year £200,000 has been spent on machinery, with a new £160,000 lathe its latest prize asset.

And managing director Tony Thompson has set out an ambitious growth plan which will see turnover jump to £5m by 2015.

“We have the space and capacity to expand, and there's potentially a lot of work in the oil and gas sectors,” said Tony.

“We've diversified massively in the last 10 years, because we've had to, when a lot of engineering firms like us have gone to the wall.

“We've had to tap into different sectors, explore new ways of producing parts that were once alien to us.

“In October 2008 the business suffered significantly. We lost about a third of our turnover.

“But we've invested in state-of-the-art machinery to produce a range of parts. We'll take a bit of raw material and turn it into a component, and that could be components for any number of things.

“We're now producing parts for aircraft de-icing systems and subsea remote vehicles for example, and that's testament to how we've evolved over the years.”

Mr Thompson, from Ingleton, near Staindrop, started the business in 1994 and was originally based at South Church in Bishop Auckland, but relocated to Aycliffe Business Park in 1999.

Despite making two key appointments in recent months - production manager Tim Walker and production engineer John Blackburn - Mr Thompson has become frustrated with an ever-increasing skills gap.

“The new additions are part of our growth plan, but we need more skilled people,” he said.

“We can find the work if I can attract the right people to do the job, but that's proving really difficult.

“Our salary package and incentives rivals the  biggest and most well known in the industry and  we've also introduced a more attractive overtime rate, shift and fuel allowances.

“It's a serious problem which a lot of businesses are faced with right now, we currently have three apprentices and are looking to recruit another two by the spring"