By Steven Bromberg
President of Canadian Coin & Currency
I have just returned from the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I was an invited guest for the June 13, 2013 official opening of a major addition to the Mint’s facilities. Although I am personally more interested in the collector coins produced in Ottawa than the circulation coins produced in Winnipeg, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with what I saw.
Dr. Hieu C. Truong Centre of ExcellenceThe new facility is a 70,000 square foot expansion of the Mint’s plating facility, and has been named the Hieu C. Truong Centre of Excellence for Research and Development. Dr. Truong has been a Royal Canadian Mint inventor and innovator for 35 years, with a reputation at the Mint and in minting technology circles that has become legendary. Truong is credited with developing the process for increasing the purity of the Mint’s bullion and collector coins, for developing holographic and laser imaging technology, and for developing the Mint’s multi-ply plating technology now being used for production of Canadian and other world circulation issues. He is also the leader and mentor of a new and often youthful group of scientists and engineers who are seeking to keep the Mint at the leading edge of minting technology.
For me, the significance of the new plating facility is about the direction the Mint is heading for the future. The new facility leaves no doubt that the Mint is truly committed to its own mission statement that it strives to be “the best mint in the world”. Profits from several highly successful years have been reinvested on a large scale into all segments of the Mint’s business by developing technology, building infrastructure, and increasing capacity to supply a growing demand for bullion coins, collector issues, and coins used for circulation.
The largest part of the new facility is the actual production area. At one end of the plant, rough steel blanks enter the process. At the other end, finished blanks emerge ready for striking into new coins. Steven with Dr. Hieu in front of the Dr. Hieu C. Truong Centre of Excellence buildingThese high tech coins will be composed of a steel core plated with a layer of nickel, then a layer of copper, then a third layer of nickel. The result is a durable low cost coin with a unique electromagnetic signature which is extremely difficult to counterfeit. During my visit, the blanks traveling through the process were destined to emerge from the adjacent original minting facility as Canadian quarters.
My first impression of the new plant was that it seemed surreal. Unlike most big factories or tradition mint facilities, the huge room was daylight bright and spotlessly clean. Conveyors moved large quantities of coin blanks through the production process, but where were the people making it all work? A few operators stood by several stations, but their job appeared to be more to witness the computerized automation than to actually touch or move a product. Conveyors with massive loads of blanks seemed to know on their own just where to go and what to do next.
Even quality control was completely automated, with three high definition camera scans of every blank, and the rare reject being kicked out with a pressurized blast of air. I was told that at full capacity, a contingent of just 10 mint employees was able to keep a steady flow of newly plated coin blanks flowing at a rate that could total over three BILLION pieces per year.RCM Production Area
After seeing the production area, we were given a tour of what I would consider the brains behind the production. This included a “New Technology Applications Laboratory” an “Analytical and Physical Testing Laboratory”, and a “Security Features Advancements Laboratory”. The facilities even included a “Laboratory-Scale Plating Line” to test new plating technologies. Although it wasn’t installed yet, we were told that a new electron microscope was on order and being added to the analytical equipment. These labs and the people working in them left no doubt as to the Mint’s ongoing commitment to innovate and continue to advance the 2500 year old art of minting coins.
The tour ended with a display of some of the Mint’s newest high tech and innovative collector coins. High relief ten kilo silver and gold coins, coloured, holographic, lenticular and glow-in-the-dark coins shared the display space with classic frosted proof collector issues. As I admired the coins that have been produced in the past year and reflected on the Mint’s obvious commitment to research and development, I was left with a great feeling of anticipation of things to come.