The world map on the office wall of Wessington Cryogenics is covered with a blur of blue dots covering the land masses - every dot a Wessington customer.
"We've always been good at finding new markets," says Gill Southern MBE, a director of the family-owned business. "And we've always innovated. R&D and product development are core to our business."
Set up by Gill's father, Eddie Rowe, in 1984 the company is a world-leader in cryogenic pressure vessels for storing and transporting liquid gases such as oxygen, helium, argon and liquefied natural gas (LNG). These specialist containers, which keep the gases at ultra-cold temperatures, range in size from half-a-litre to 100,000 litres; a portable oxygen cylinder to a road tanker.
Their products are used in a vast range of industries, from hospitals to offshore oil platforms, yet the market was very small and specialist in the '80s. Eddie Rowe, however, saw its potential. He also knew that the excellent engineering skills needed to make the vessels to highest-quality standards were right on the doorstep in Sunderland. Steadily, Wessington's customer base grew, expanding from a handful of European medical research laboratories to shipping industrial tanks to India and supplying the North Sea oil and gas industry.
"We then began repairing and refurbishing tanks which, because we have the engineering skills, took us into designing bespoke containers," explains Gill. "Show our engineers a design on a scrap of paper, and they can build it. Now, some of our designs have become industry standards."
Throughout, says Gill, they've built up an invaluable business partnership with Sunderland City Council's business investment team. "They're a good sounding board, advise us how to manage our growth, and know our business so well, they've found us the right premises."
Based at Rainton Bridge and employing around 100 staff, diversification is the key to Wessington’s future, Gill says, highlighting the staff's ability to fulfil bespoke orders. Wessington Cryogenics' customer order book is extraordinarily diverse, from NASA's space shuttle programme to Roman Abramovich's Moscow night club and from the Ministry of Defence to CERN's Hadron Collider project.
Gill Southern believes that their order book is only healthy because they always deliver, at consistently high standards. She adds: "It's very much word-of-mouth marketing. The north-east’s engineering excellence is recognised worldwide, and we've proved it."