Case study - West Technology Systems

West Technology approached UWE Bristol as it wanted to optimise the machines it makes to detect fingerprints on evidence used in criminal cases. Lacking the forensic science knowledge, it became involved in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) and this led to a year-on-year sales increase of 14%.

About West Technology

West Technology was set up in 1993 as a vacuum engineering company and subsequently developed its vacuum metal deposition (VMD) machines. By evaporating metal in a vacuum chamber, the machines reveal fingerprints on evidence. It is now the world’s leading manufacturer of the devices, which are built by hand in its factory in Yate, South Gloucestershire. Its customers include police forces across the world and other forensics providers.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership project objectives

West Technology wanted to gain better understanding of the science behind the VMD process so as to provide more information and assistance to customers and increase sales of its devices. It lacked the forensic science knowledge to achieve this, so became involved in the KTP. The main objective was to optimise the machine so that it could reveal fingerprints on particularly challenging materials such as polymer banknotes and other substrates.

UWE Bristol support

Expertise was provided through the University of the West of England’s forensic sciences department. A senior academic oversaw the associate’s work, whose research took place both at the University on a VMD machine the company provided, and at West Technology.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership in action

The KTP associate tested the VMD machine by assessing how it worked with various substrates that, in the past, proved challenging for detection of fingerprints. The machine had mostly used a combination of gold and zinc to ‘develop’ the prints. The associate, however, tested other metals such as silver, and varied the combination of metals. The associate also built up a network in the forensics world and raised the company’s profile and credibility.

“Since the graduate started, our orders on the forensics side have gone through the roof and she has been critical to the success of the company.”

Ian Harris, Managing Director

Knowledge Transfer Partnership outcomes

  • Greater knowledge of the VMD process and how it interacts with various substrates
  • Has set up a separate forensics division within the company and distributes other devices used to solve crimes
  • Based on the KTP it now has a greater ability to provide customers with robust advice about their product and often help them to identify criminals
  • Provided credibility for the company in the forensic science community
  • Strong links with the University and continued collaboration


  • Increase in sales of VMD machines by 14%

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