The new paradigm

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First put forward a year ago by 101Consultancy, ‘the new paradigm’ in the market place is now being felt and discussed by banknote manufacturers. The emphasis on setting banknote specifications is changing as the focus falls increasingly on the security features and less so on the substrate although this will, of course, remain an important vehicle for the security features into the future. However, the balance of the value in the banknote is drifting away from substrates to the features they contain and which are becoming ever more technically complex.

Banknote substrate and feature development has resulted in significant advances with many new options being introduced to the market.

The number of classes of banknote substrate has expanded significantly from two mainstream substrates, polymer and 100% cotton to include the new generation ‘Chimera’ class of substrates.

‘Reinforced Cotton Paper’ containing polymer fibres in the component papermaking furnish; ‘Laminated Substrate’ in which a lower weight cotton paper has external layers of a thin polymer film applied; and ‘Composite’ substrates, where polymer and paper co-exist as a combined layer all offer increased choice.

Strategies to extend banknote life have been well debated and implemented within the industry, but in order to tackle new challenges, production technologies are becoming increasingly complex. This complexity is amplified by the need to ensure new generation substrates are compatible with both new generation and legacy features which are required to provide security and meet the challenge posed by counterfeiting threats well into the future.

The option of standing still is not a viable strategy, and with increasing complexity comes increasing cost. Whilst mechanisms might exist to partially offset higher costs, the trend is set to remain into the future. As a result the need to select cost effective solutions supporting lower total issue costs becomes ever more acute.

The choices faced are complicated by the number of feature development programs within the industry, and the shift away from elective specifications that allowed mechanical and optical properties to be tailored to satisfy individual preference and requirements. Increasingly, substrate specifications have become product-led as well as process-led to reflect the necessary conditions needed for their production, longevity, and to minimise in-process waste whilst ensuring the substrate and the resultant banknotes can retain new features as well as preserve them and their security benefits, over the life of the banknote.

The fact that different products with essentially the same functionality can be specified differently between suppliers reflecting the different processes used to achieve a particular property (e.g. soiling resistance), increases the difficulty still further and presents a potential issue for the tendering process.

The explosion in technology presents a baffling array of available options and combinations in the market place and not all will be suited to all environments or circumstances, and inevitably some combinations will be mutually exclusive.

Substrate and feature selection should ideally be made on the basis of performance data, but data can take years to obtain and digest and depends on the uptake of the materials in a similar climate or circulation environment, meaning such information may have only narrow relevance within the overall range of conditions across the globe.

To assist in making the choice the industry has developed test methodologies that give a greater insight and understanding of the failure mechanisms of banknotes and features, but currently there is no industry consensus on accelerated failure test methodologies that correlate to actual, as opposed to relative banknote life that can be applied to determine optimum product specifications or indicate expected circulation lifetimes on a region-by-region basis, a situation which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Furthermore different substrates have different end use failure modes.

By remaining up to date in banknote technology and with the benefit of extensive technical experience gained over 38 years in the industry, spanning the full breadth of substrate, print and component manufacturing, research and service department, 101Consultancy is uniquely qualified to offer help and assistance in finding the way through the maze.