Design Thinking for Banknote Production

Banknotes need to combine design with high-tech developments, making the banknote production process particularly challenging. The “Design for Production” principle enables the symbiosis of design and production. We spoke with Jürgen Zerbes, Director and Head of Product Marketing, Banknote Printing Division, G+D Currency Technology, to learn more.

Mr. Zerbes, on one side you need an aesthetically pleasing banknote design.  On the other side, you have to design for high-tech manufacturing processes. Can a production process also have a beautiful “design”?

Yes it can! That is achieved when all processes and procedures blend seamlessly together. When the manufacturing process works, the five million banknotes planned for Wednesday evening are stacked on the pallets  by Wednesday evening. Then a production process is beautiful, then it is "smooth" and also productive.

Making the process smooth and productive is becoming more and more complex, so that it must necessitate an integrated risk management process, right?

Processing orders that aren’t technically challenging is not difficult for anyone, but complex projects are another matter entirely. G+D has the advantage of being very deeply involved in the value creation chain, which means we are familiar with the whole spectrum of unpredictable factors that can arise when producing millions of sheets. We are  using data intelligence solutions to monitor and evaluate production quality for a long time already. For us, it’s absolutely necessary that we deploy highly professionalized risk management to be able to process complex orders safely and reliably. To increase forecast and planning accuracy, we have the option of making various adjustments; from paper and individual security features, through the printing processes , down to the final quality check. Each individual component is anyway monitored throughout  the process, but overall complexity increases as soon as the elements are combined together.

And Design for Production helps with that?

The full official name is actually “Design for Production and Customer Satisfaction”. Ultimately, we don’t just want efficient production, first and foremost we want to make our customers happy by taking their individual requirements into account. And yes, a large part of Design for Production is proactive risk management, and that makes it possible for us to manage a high degree of complexity in the production process.

What specific requirements do customers bring to you?

Every customer wants durable, robust banknotes that correspond with the population’s usage behavior, and which facilitate easy fitness checking and authentication at ATM level  and banknote processing machines in a way that is both secure and efficient. At the same time, every customer needs a broad spectrum of security features – from watermarks, through security threads and windows, to foil elements and variable printed elements – security that requires costly manufacturing processes but  guarantees finally the  optimal protection against counterfeiting.

How do you deal with conflicting requirements in these circumstances?

We do it by acting as an “integrator” for the banknote. We always think in terms of solutions.  We combine design skills with feature integration, and production reliability with on-time delivery. It’s important to us that our efficiency works to the benefit of our customers, and that is where Design for Production comes in. We have to make the customer’s requirements central to our whole value chain and organization. As a technology leader, our goal is to build trust. We’re the right partner for banknote projects that are complicated, time-critical or technically  challenging.  It is not enough for us to simply support increasingly complex production processes, we have to actively design them. We don’t reduce their complexity, but we make them easier to plan and monitor.

How does graphical banknote design support this process?

Alongside paper and foil production, creating a banknote also involves a range of printing processes, each  sheet must be aligned as precisely as possible for each of the printing steps. However, there are production-related tolerances in relation to the positioning  of the printed images, and every now and then these tolerances give rise to aesthetically discernible, unsightly artefacts. The designer’s role is to lay out these zones and areas in such a way that any overlap won’t lead to visible faults in the banknote’s appearance.

That’s obvious, isn’t it?

Yes, but it’s something that needs to be thought about as early as possible in the overall process. We have a technically demanding product that goes through many steps in the value chain. Design for Production creates a connection between the individual steps so that the entire flow, from the first graphic design to the finished technical product, can be monitored and optimized.

We don’t only want efficient production: First and foremost, we want to fulfill the customer’s individual requirements.

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Jürgen Zerbes , Director and Head of Product Marketing Banknotes at G+D Currency Technology

Which comes first: Design or manufacture?

The answer is that they work in parallel. A lot can be influenced by means of the design but a highly efficient production process has little to do with the aesthetics of a banknote at first glance. I don’t want to set the two things against one another. What is clear is that whatever we work out together with our customers, we must always be able to go on and produce that later  at an industrial scale. That’s why our designers aren’t only artists, but also people with the necessary technical expertise to identify how a particular layout will impact the production process.

How does the Design for Production principle change the designer’s job?

It means the designer is required to think about what elements can productively be combined. As we know, the “devil is in the details” when you bring things together. Some needs and requests such as wide security threads and film windows work brilliantly when you take them individually, but need special treatment once they are combined. This means that, now, not only does a designer have to be able to create beautiful aesthetic objects, but they also have to design them in such a way that the production process doesn’t subsequently end up riddled with risks and unpredictable factors

So at G+D Currency Technology, you only design things that can be produced?

Exactly. That might sound a little mundane, but it isn’t. Independent designers often develop ideas and designs that look very attractive, but which then have to undergo significant amendment during “banknotizing” – implementation into a banknote production process. Customers appreciate the utmost creativity and flexibility but, for good reasons, they want banknotes that are also functional at the same time. To help with achieving that, we offer comprehensive consulting services via our Design for Production solution, wherein our product marketing and management experts work with the customer to analyze processes, evaluating their technical risk level and managing them in such a way that the production planning department can work using valid figures.

Design for Production facilitates communication across the individual value streams and aligns technology and design, which is in turn closely harmonized with the production process.

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Jürgen Zerbes, Director and Head of Product Marketing Banknotes at G+D Currency Technology

Does this way of working require a new process structure and communications culture?

Our Design for Production approach facilitates communication across the individual value streams and aligns technology and design. This way of thinking avoids potential risks by ensuring that they can be identified. We have also introduced a higher supervisory role, a project manager, who is responsible for the whole process from film, through paper and printing, to the finished banknote. This Technical Industrialization Manager – TIM for short – supports the entire banknote project and makes sure everyone involved has the same level of information. This allows for production chains that are robust and incorporate a certain level of tolerance so that tiny deviations don’t create a production problem at the next step.

What does this mean for the customer?

It means maximum flexibility and stability, because we can commit to deadlines that may initially seem rather  tight.  We are able to identify and evaluate risks and conflicts in good time using our Design for Production solution. We know exactly what the future holds, so we can make concrete commitments. We are a single-service supplier with a detailed knowledge of all the production processes involved, from the substrate, through security features, to the printing process. Additionally, serving the entire banknote processing sector means that we take the requirements of an automated, digitalized cash cycle into account at the design stage as a matter of course. This holistic approach is exactly what we mean when we talk about Advanced Currency Management.


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