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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The sound of Las Vegas in Maasbracht
The sound of Las Vegas in Maasbracht
Keywords: Steel, Surface treatment, Plating
Ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk. ... As anyone who has been to a Las Vegas casino will attest, the sound of money coming out of a slot machine has a very special sound – even if it comes out of a machine someone else is playing!
That self same sound is a part and parcel of working life at Surface Treatment BV in Maasbracht in the Limburg region of The Netherlands. With the European common currency in place, the specialists in surface treatments for the aerospace, reprographic, defence and other high tech industries have faced and risen to a particularly exciting challenge – turning steel into money. Using a fully enclosed PAL barrel line with a raft of state-of-the-art features, steel blanks are turned mostly into sparkling 5 cent Euro coins. The first customers were the Dutch and Italian Mints, but more recently coins have also been produced for Belgium, Austria and Luxemburg and Surface treatment has been asked for quotations by some of the other national mints in the Euro zone (Plate 3).
Well in excess of a staggering 2,000,000,000 coins have gone through the treatment. Once plated, the shining disks are returned to their boxes and go off to the relevant mints to be stamped and turned into usable coins.
Plate 3 Fully enclosed PAL barrel line with a raft of state-of-the-art features
When working flat out, 33,000 coins come off the line every 30min. Working 24 h a day and 7 days a week, the average weekly yield of the machine is 11,000,000,000 coins. During the period prior to the introduction of the Euro and up to February 2002, 24 h working was the norm. Since then, the mints have “turned the tap on and off” according to their needs – but certainly until the end of the year, the machine is working flat out 7 days a week.
Establishing a partnership
Before investing in the PAL line, Surface Treatment Nederland's Managing Director, Frans Verheijen drew up a short list of ten plating line manufacturers. “Working on a venture of this kind has to be a true partnership in every sense of the word, and it was important to us to select a company with a superb reputation and in whom we could have total confidence. We found that company in PAL,” he said when he had made his purchasing decision. The relationship has proved to be just that – a partnership with a highly successful outcome – near perfect plating of over all those millions and millions of coins.
“The line works well,” says Jan Delsing of Surface Treatment. “We have had no great technical problems, and if something happens that we can't solve ourselves we know we can call on PAL Europe's Nata – he is truly an expert in problem solving and the most valuable of all of PAL's team as far as we are concerned.”
A state-of-the-art line
Just one man looks after the operation of the machine. The fully enclosed part of the line is 40m long and has 26 tanks. With six plating stages of copper, the machine cycle time is about 40 min, allowing around 4 h copper plating time. From the moment, 500 kg of steel blanks (some are supplied by the mints, increasingly though Surface treatment are buying in the blanks themselves to make life simpler for their customers) are loaded into the hopper, the whole process is fully automated.
The coins are separated automatically into loads of a predetermined weight and fed into the hexagonal shelf-type barrels by means of a vibratory feeder. The barrels are made of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene for a long life – each one is guaranteed for 5 years. The initial part of plating “journey” takes in five cleaning tanks; it is vital that the blanks are carefully cleaned. Then they are electro-etched, rinsed twice again, treated to a caustic dip, and rinsed several times more before arriving at the copper cyanide tanks with their submerged anodes and copper anode balls. The anode balls are in titanium anode baskets for ease of lifting – loading is simple and through a chute.
Their return journey takes in passivation – to prevent corrosion and ensure that each coin keeps its shine throughout a long shelf-life (anything up to 2 years before stamping and entering the money chain); and copious rinsing and thorough drying before the shining copper disks go through the counting machine and back into their box. It takes just 150 min for 500 kg of coins to fill the box.
A retractable drip tray and Henig blow down system are invaluable features of the machine. The drip tray stops any contamination from one tank to the next and helps to ensure that the machine is kept as clean as possible; and the blow down system facilitates the removal of drag-out from the barrel. Safety features, in addition to the enclosure, include flashing lights on the transporter, a crash bar and infrared beams facing down and across the machine that cause an alarm to sound if they are broken.
MMI, continuous removal of sodium carbonate – a by-product of the copper electroplating process; and a highly efficient and effective fume scrubber are amongst the “behind the scenes” features of the line that ensure efficient and safe operation day in day out.
When in the Euro zone, take a look at the coins in your pocket or purse. If you have a 5 cent coin that originated in The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Luxemburg or Italy you could be handling and admiring work done on a PAL line!