Printing money — There’s nothing like it!

Printing money — There’s nothing like it!
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. 

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. 

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. (See article on bank note waste handling on web)
25Intaglio printing IMG 4554Intaglio printing of currency on the K&B NotaSys Super Orlof Intaglio III press. Photo IPP

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.

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. 

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

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. 

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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