Dart Sensors

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Dart Sensors's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Dart Sensors is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Highlighting best practice
Founder, Dr Walter King
Ultrasonic welding of
sensor body
Dart Sensors is a developer and manufacturer of fuel cell
sensors for breath alcohol and formaldehyde gas. Based
in Exeter, it has maintained a trading and technical
support operation in Shenzhen in China since 2007. Dr Walter
King, who founded the company in 1994, explains how they
export their entire sensor product output with around 50 per
cent going to China and much of the rest going to North
America, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Turkey.
The company was founded in 1994 by Dr Walter King. In 1992 he supplied sensors
to one of the world’s oldest breathalyser companies, Intoximeters. From that single
customer, Dart Sensors has steadily grown and is now the world-leading alcohol
sensor company with over 40 customers. It introduced a formaldehyde sensor in
2006, and the latest version is now the biggest selling in China, the main market
for this product. Dart Sensors received the Queen’s Award for International Trade
How we operate our business
A comprehensive website with sections in Chinese and Russian is our principal
marketing tool. We are near the top of all major search engines for alcohol sensors
and at the top for formaldehyde (first for both on Baidu in China). In a recent
typical week we received enquiries from Estonia for breathalyser components;
sensors for food spoilage from Turkey; a request from Samsung for intelligence on
products under development; a new formaldehyde sensor customer in Shenzhen;
and two companies in China wanting to put the DS brand name on their products.
»Founded by Dr Walter King
»Established in 1994
»Based in Exeter, Devon, with
subsidiaries in Hong Kong and
»Services: Manufacture of
sensors for breath alcohol,
formaldehyde, hydrogen,
oxygen, carbon monoxide,
food freshness
»No. of employees: 24 in UK
and China combined
»We don’t need a trade deal
with China; most goods can
be imported across the border
cost-effectively through a
Hong Kong subsidiary
Dart Sensors
Just about all our new business comes
through the internet. Much time has
been spent over the years on trivial
enquiries and I have learnt to interpret
them, and now apply a triage system
when determining how to respond:
a. Generally ignore or give a limited
response to emails from Gmail,
Hotmail, and other obviously personal
b. Enquiries from recognisable
companies that we do not know,
check to see if there is a website before
determining degree of response.
c. Industry majors get full and detailed
responses, free samples and meetings.
We try to concentrate on and pay
regular visits to our principal markets,
which include China (four times a year)
and the US (once a year). You have to
do the legwork as some aspects of our
service cannot be done from behind a
desk. We have established a permanent
presence in Shenzhen, China, run
by a Chinese science graduate also
fluent in English. We started with a
representative office, the simple entry
level, and upgraded in 2013 to a wholly
foreign owned enterprise (a local agent
will set one up for a modest fee) with
trading rights as start-ups in China face
formidable obstacles to importing so
this assists their initial development,
graduating to importing from the UK
in due course. Chinese SMEs generally
are not interested in exporting. We
develop deals with our customers to
export from our local office to defray
the costs of running it.
How to succeed in China
Learn some conversational Chinese.
Study a bit of history and culture, learn
how to use chopsticks and propose a
toast, put a Chinese translation on the
back of your business card and learn
the etiquette for exchanging business
cards. Open a Hong Kong subsidiary
for your China trade.
Profits from sales into China from
Hong Kong are 0 per cent taxed, and
you can repatriate them from your
subsidiary tax free. The earliest piece
of advice I received about trading
in China was “Keep your money in
Hong Kong”. China likes money in but
doesn’t like money out and this way
your exposure to China is minimised.
Our office bank account never holds
more than about £10,000.
Work with a manufacturing/sales
partner in China for the China
market to receive benefit of market
knowledge and low-cost, high-volume
assembly while retaining component
manufacturing containing critical
intellectual property (IP) content in
the UK. Regularly audit assembly and
Testing breath alcohol
sensors Catalyst preparation
We try to
concentrate on
and pay regular
visits to our
markets, which
include China
(four times a
year) and the US
(once a year)
Highlighting best practice
calibration of your company labelled
goods assembled in China. But do not
put your partner in a position where
they can learn your business and set
up in opposition to your venture.
Maintain full ISO Quality System at
Try some foreign trade shows. So far
we have found limited value but we
have persevered and exhibited at the
Sensor+Test in Nuremburg in June.
Make sure paperwork for customs
is absolutely correct, particularly
goods category. Delays are routine
because no one will make a decision
for fear of getting it wrong; every
slightly questionable transaction has
to be referred upwards through the
hierarchy then trickles down again. We
currently have a shipment held up at
Shanghai customs for three months.
Lessons learnt
We have learnt what is likely to work
and what is a waste of time. Last year
we trialled online product guides – a
total failure. We have also learned to
be wary of “bonanzas” – when you
get your first enquiry for a million
units, recognise that they are testing
the limits of your discounting and you
may be lucky to get an order for ten.
I recommend the value of ignoring
your home market and concentrating
on exporting. We have never sold
significant quantities in the UK. In
2017 we sold worldwide about
500,000 sensor components: within
the UK, we sold five.
If you are selling to China, trademark
your logo there. We are getting it done
but meanwhile are dealing with a
number of examples of passing off. It is
important to get the obvious right. For
example, provide full technical support
for all customers and consider pricing
in the local currency or US dollars
to avoid the instability and possible
ultimate Brexit-induced collapse of the
pound sterling. Even more obviously,
take pride in the welfare of your staff,
give them proper contracts and pay
them over the odds in the interest of
workplace stability. Outsource staff
dispute resolution to professionals. For
new appointments we tend to take
agency staff on trial before making an
offer of permanent employment.
It is vital to exercise caution before
offering a credit account. We have
never had a bad debt in 24 years
trading internationally.
We invest generously in new product
R&D and patent unique IP. I also
recommend taking full advantage of
the Patent Box scheme.
Finally, if you are considering
manufacture abroad, as an alternative
to China, try Subic Bay Free Trade
Zone, Philippines. I keep my yacht
there and find the low overheads, hard
workers, good skills base and widely
spoken English a refreshing change.
We have never
sold significant
quantities in
the UK. In
2017 we sold
about 500,000
within the UK,
we sold five
Manufacturing sensor
inner components
Assembling sensor
electrical contacts
Yue Lan, our office
chief in Shenzhen


This article was sponsored by Dart Sensors. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy