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23 June, 2011 - 13:56 By News Desk

Precision support for sensor firm finds perfect target

Zettlex Printed Technologies co-founder, Mark Howard

Zettlex Printed Technologies co-founders Mark Howard and Darran Kreit developed a unique range of non-contact sensors that can perform in the harshest of environments for the aerospace and defence sectors.

Establishing its technology in these challenging markets was facilitated by Business Link’s Enterprise Europe Network.

Printed onto paper or film using conductive ink, the Cambridge company’s sensors are remarkably light and robust compared to traditional electro-mechanical systems.

Zettlex has been busy signing up distributors across the globe. Recent additions to the distributor network have come in Australia, Israel, Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The company is taking part in four exhibitions in Taiwan during 2011 as it nudges its technology into Asia.

Mark Howard said: “After 20 years working for big companies, I decided that, if I had to work for another 20 years, then it should be for my own business. Darran had independently reached the same conclusion and we eventually launched Zettlex Printed Technologies. The first 12 months were spent on research and development.”

Managing director Mark and technical director Darran are both experienced engineers. They had worked in the sensors field for long enough to understand what customers’ needs were, so developed a set of non-contact sensors that measure speed and position in hugely demanding environments. These provide accurate readings in extremes of temperature, pressure and humidity, even performing under attack by acids, alkalis and salt water.

“It’s a real challenge for a small company like ours to find the right contacts within the large organisations that are our primary customers,” said Howard. “Once we’ve found the right person, then our sensors almost sell themselves!”

Finding the right person is where the Enterprise Europe Network has been invaluable. Zettlex’s first contact with the Network came via the East of England Development Agency and Business Link, when Howard was searching online for help available to exporters.

“That was five years ago and, as our adviser has come to know our business, the frequency and quality of information and leads has steadily improved.”

The adviser, Dave Reynolds, explains that the Enterprise Europe Network can match technology businesses like Zettlex with potential clients throughout Europe.

“The Enterprise Europe Network spans 35 countries, with 600 partner organisations and 4,000 staff,” he explains. “That makes it the largest technology transfer network in the world.”

Finding the right person to contact in the multinational corporations that dominate the aerospace and defence sectors can be a challenge and one where Mark has found Dave’s contacts to be invaluable.

“We’ll send a request to Dave for a particular contact at a big firm. If Dave doesn’t know the right person, he’ll ask one of his colleagues at the relay hub local to our target. And nine times out of 10 he provides us with the correct contact first time, saving us a huge amount of time and energy, ensuring we’re immediately able to contact the relevant decision maker.”

Reynolds and the Enterprise Europe Network came up trumps when Zettlex was trying to find a contact within one of Europe’s biggest defence firms. The contact Reynolds found was, it transpired, just 20 minutes down the road from Zettlex’s Cambridge base!

“We arranged to meet with the person recommended and he was exactly who we needed to speak to,”said Howard. “We spent half an hour explaining what we did and he immediately brought in half a dozen colleagues, saying that our products are just what they’ve been looking for!”

Zettlex not only won a contract to supply sensors but also anticipates introductions to other companies in the group. Howard said: “The Enterprise Europe Network team provide a truly professional service and we find their support invaluable. We have been introduced to a stream of high quality defence and aerospace partners that have embraced our sensor technologies and helped to grow our business substantially over the past five years.”

• Photograph shows: Zettlex Printed Technologies co-founder, Mark Howard

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