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 The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister