About Signature Materials

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) has formed Signature Materials with Pryor Marking Technology Ltd of Sheffield, to tackle the ever-growing problem of metal theft. IOM3 has developed unique metal "signatures" which, together with an instantly accessible national register provides a solution to a crime that costs the UK economy an estimated £220 million a year.

British Transport Police and government bodies including the Home Office, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) provided early project funding to allow the concept to be developed.

The rate of metal theft has risen steadily in recent years. Commodity metals, including copper, aluminium and lead, have all seen significant increases in value over the last 4-5 years. This is widely acknowledged as the primary cause for the increase in theft activity. Church buildings have been badly affected to the extent that the main insurer for the Church of England, reported more than 2,500 claims from churches in 2011.

The readable permanent mark information is held within a National Register ( MaRC, the Materials Registration Centre securely maintained by IOM3) and can be traced by police within a matter of minutes. This rapid traceability of the metal, without the need for a forensic check, to the site of a theft has previously been a major problem. With the new marks, there is no ambiguity, as the metal is linked to a given location – thieves can be charged on the spot. Processes have been developed for marking of wire, tube and sheet in a range of materials including lead, copper, aluminium and stainless steel.  Commissioning of the demonstration units was completed in the summer of 2012 and patent protection has been sought to assist in future development of the technology.

During the latter part of 2012 and 2013 the processes have been developed further, such that copper wire in a range of diameters has been successfully marked, lead sheet markers trained and certified to mark, and the first external marking undertaken on buildings previously targeted by lead thieves. Copper earthing materials used in electricity sub-stations has been marked during the middle part of 2013 as part of large trial programme to deter metal theft (see the news page for more information). Trial work has been done on other materials including those used in pump/valve bodies, catalytic converters amongst others.