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CHEMICALS: Anti-theft surface sizing?

For decades, Spexel's facility (a former Domtar mill) in Beauharnois, QC, has maintained a prominent international position as a manufacturer of visas, passports, banknotes, as well as government stoc...


October 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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For decades, Spexel’s facility (a former Domtar mill) in Beauharnois, QC, has maintained a prominent international position as a manufacturer of visas, passports, banknotes, as well as government stock and bond certificates, authenticity certificates, gift certificates, check paper, lottery tickets and more. It is the sole provider of Canada’s paper currency. Being in the security paper business, Spexel has developed many secret processes to deter counterfeiters and perpetrators of fraud. In recent years, with the growth of criminals altering checks, it had to explore new concepts to lock printed and hand-written inks onto checks and other security products.

According to Spexel’s managing director Jean Pierre No, “When criminals use tape to remove signatures and account numbers from checks, they have been very successful in tricking banks into cashing them — effectively stealing millions and going unnoticed. When our customers called upon us to try to design something into our security papers to prevent this from happening, we launched a program to find a solution. After much effort, we have succeeded.” No adds that the mill’s ongoing efforts to prevent fraud are evident in the more secure, re-designed Canadian $10 notes, but the alteration problem required yet something else.

Mill manager Franois Morin and his team of experts acknowledge trying many techniques to help their customers eliminate the fraudulent alteration of checks and other financial instruments. Says Morin, “After a long road of very creative experiments, we realized that proprietary application of a unique sizing agent might be the answer. Working closely with Eka Chemicals, Akzo Nobel, we have invented what might be called ‘anti-theft’ sizing.”

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Spexel already had a relationship with Eka Chemicals, Akzo Nobel, which had been providing an AKD product for some time. The technical challenge, as Morin saw it, was to anchor toner particles onto the sheet so that ink removal would be difficult.

Initial trials revealed that greater efficiency could be achieved with a more robust surface-sizing agent. The use of this new sizing agent eliminated the need for a defoamer and provided more flexibility in terms of effective operating pH range at the size press. According to Eka Chemical’s district manager Sebastien Ricchi, “Because we are basic in many sizing technologies, we had a portfolio of approaches to draw upon. We proved to customer, and ourselves, that we can meet unusual requests — in this case, a true breakthrough.”

On-site tests

Right off the reel, on-site print properties such as surface strength, feathering, wicking, and particularly toner adhesion was improved with the new surface sizing agent in the mix. Sizing level, as measured with the Hercules Sizing Tester, also showed a dramatic improvement, effectively providing cost performance benefits over the incumbent technology, says Eka Chemicals’ Bernard Gilbert.

Spexel’s R&D director Dr. Katarina Kwasniakova points out that the importance of the ink locking onto their paper is very important because serious fraud can result from a relatively minor alteration. “Usually fraud is with numbers. Simply add a zero or two to $100 and you have done something quite serious.”

A common technique criminals are using is to take a sticky tape, press it onto the surface and simply pull it up to remove the ink. “If you are very good you can pass the check in your printer, and there you go,” adds Kwasniakova. “Some criminals also simply alter a check, make a photocopy, and write in their own name. The bank usually loses the money. Welfare checks often fall victim to these techniques.”

Kwasniakova concludes, “Before we switched to the anti-theft sizing, our grades had good printability, but, like most security papers on the market, MICR inks could be removed. If you want to be sure that your check is difficult to alter, you must apply the new technology.”