Printing money — There’s nothing like it!

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Bundled specimen currency notes at K&B NotaSys Wurzburg. Photo IPP

As part of the Koenig & Bauer 200th anniversary celebrations at Wurzburg, one was privileged to look into the often mysterious science of bank note currency printing. This is a market that Koenig & Bauer NotaSys dominates with more than 80% market share and also one of the focus areas expected to contribute about EUR 20 million to the company’s target of an EUR 70 million increase in profits in the four years from 2017 to 2021.

One learns only enough to reinforce the belief that this is a very special niche area. Currency production machines are sold to only about 80 customers around the world who are entrusted by central banks and national currency printing organizations. A chain of custody is maintained for all presses sold by the company, with old presses either sold to other licensed currency printers or destroyed. There has been some discussion lately of a currency-less or cash-less society and there is extensive progress in this direction in a few countries with Sweden perhaps the furthest ahead in this area. The idea of a cashless economy has naturally generated much controversy and discussion. 

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It is clear that Koenig & Bauer-NotaSys, which is the latest incarnation of the company founded in 1952 and known as KBA-De La Rue Giori until its total takeover by KBA in 2001, is extremely confident that cash currency will be of continued relevance to trade and economy and will only evolve and grow. The company which continually enhances the security of currency products made 12 significant innovations in currency printing in just the period from 1997 to 2012. 

Although it is not easy to understand or explain the currency production process; it must be kept in mind that each note is printed on three different sheetfed presses with different process technologies and there are subsequent steps of unique numbering and inspection which need to be incorporated in this most valuable form of printing. The Indian government’s currency presses are also customers of KBA-NotaSys as well of Komori, which has a much smaller market share in the niche business. 

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Intaglio printing of currency on the K&B NotaSys Super Orlof Intaglio III press. Photo PSA

Currency printing machines have multiple deliveries as every sheet needs to be inspected and each rejected sheet needs to be securely destroyed. Currency printing even with all its modern electronic controls (because it needs to be perfect in every way) still has a relatively high amount of rejection and wastage. The handling, destruction and disposal of this wastage, of course, requires highly secure and automated waste handling systems that are availabe from companies specialized in this area.

Offset platform
Offset is the base printing technology used in all bank notes in circulation. The offset design exploits the precision provided by the process by using specialist security design software. This process efficiently creates highly secure features like multi-color see-through, and in many cases KBA-trademarked features such as Simmark and SUSI Flip.

25MachineIMG 4612The K&B NotaSys NotaCheck III currency inspection system demonstrated at Wurzburg. Photo PSA

Screen
Screen printing is suitable for the application of thick ink films on bank notes, particularly metameric (optically variable) and iridescent inks. Since these inks are very expensive, efficiencies are important. KBA-NotaSys uses rotary mesh screens and offers the full range of tools and services to optimize this crucial value addition to currency notes. 

Optically Variable Devices
Optically Variable Devices (OVDs) are used on many bank notes in circulation and can be applied in the paper mill or the print works. In order to reduce waste and increase security by underprinting and overprinting, the currency press is often a better place to do this. KBA-NotaSys has a dedicated platform for effective application of OVDs both in strip and patch format.

Efficient intaglio
Apart from the print images which are etched on a steel plate and then chrome plated, a second plate is used to pick up and transfer the ink only in the required image areas. The two-level inking of the latest generation of NotaSys intaglio presses creates savings of up to 15% in ink consumption, while at the same time the press’ wiping solution recycling system dramatically reduces environmental impact. 

Numbering and finishing
The use of smart numbering boxes dramatically increases the efficiency of the process. The integration of full-sheet inspection, numbering and varnishing reduces the needs for labor, storage and space. However, the secure disposal of waste is crucial to the integrity of the process and the currency.