MORE than £4.5m is being invested in a County Durham manufacturing site after it was selected by its global parent company to make a market- leading product.

The 3M plant, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is to have a production line installed to make maintenancefree respirators, in a move that has been hailed as confirming the “world-class” reputation of the site.

The factory has been chosen ahead of a number of others in 3M’s $24.5bn US-based global empire to make the products, which were researched and developed in the region.

The line is due to be operational by June next year.

Keith Willson, site manager for the Newton Aycliffe plant, said it was a massive boost for the plant and the region.

“This investment confirms the reality of our world-class reputation,” he said.

“The standards we set ourselves in the areas of safety, quality and service speak for themselves.

“We have shown that we have a skilled workforce that is fully capable of competing with emerging countries and economies.”

The Newton Aycliffe plant, which employs 370 people, is a major supplier of respirators for the global market – 75 per cent of its exports are within Europe and the remainder are shipped to countries including Japan and the US.

Its product sales have seen double-digit growth every year since they were launched into the market in 1997.

The respirators are used in industries including woodworking, steel and engineering to protect workers from inhaling dust and particles, as well as in the healthcare sector to combat germs and viruses.

The £4.5m investment is being supplemented with a £675,000 grant from regional development agency One NorthEast. The agency has been working with 3M over the past few months through the North-East Productivity Alliance to introduce more efficient working practices to the site.

It also introduced the use of laser technology to help improve and quicken its manufacturing techniques.

Mr Willson said: “One NorthEast has been incredibly supportive. As well as this grant they have also been working to help us over the past year with our continuous improvement initiatives.

“This has been a great help in improving our operations.”

Ian Williams, director of business and industry at the agency, said: “Securing this investment in Aycliffe is great news for the North-East and is testament to the hard work of the team at 3M.

“I am pleased that One NorthEast, with support of our partners, was able to offer 3M advice and grant support at such a crucial stage in the firm’s development and at the same time contributing significantly to the region’s technology capability.”