Fast and reliable authentication of banknotes
Successful research cooperation between Koenig & Bauer and the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences
In 2021, the number of counterfeit euro banknotes withdrawn from circulation was at a historically low level. Among other things, this is due to the fact that banknotes are becoming increasingly counterfeit-proof. The cooperation between Koenig & Bauer Banknote Solutions and the Institute for Industrial Information Technology (inIT) at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences is making an important contribution to this. It enables new authentication solutions that work via smartphone. The joint venture coverno was now integrated into Koenig & Bauer’s core business.
Koenig & Bauer Banknote Solutions and the Institute for Industrial Information Technology (inIT) of the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences (TH OWL) have a long-standing cooperation in research in the field of banknote authentication and new digital concepts for banknotes. As part of the cooperation, the machine readability of intaglio and other printing processes was made possible with the one-of-its-kind patented technology „Sound of Intaglio®“ through a joint company. The joint venture coverno was recently incorporated into Koenig & Bauer’s core business to establish a brand new authentication platform called ValiCash™. Here the successful cooperation in the sense of industrialisation of research could be demonstrated and research cooperation in the field of industrial image processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be pursued further.
Unique printing processes
Intaglio and other special printing processes have long been used in banknote and high security document production. At the Institute for Industrial Information Technology (inIT) of TH OWL in Lemgo, researchers have developed a method to evaluate steel engraving and other printing processes using image processing methods to reliably authenticate banknotes.
„In the Sound of Intaglio® research project, we were able to successfully show that the steel engraving print, which can easily be felt and seen, can also unambiguously be evaluated using image processing and pattern recognition methods and has thus become a machine-readable security feature,“ explains Prof Volker Lohweg, project manager and institute director at inIT. In the meantime, the inIT scientists have significantly expanded the procedure. Prof Helene Dörksen, who actively contributed to the project for many years, adds: „We are now also able to assess other important processes such as simultan offset printing in terms of their quality and authenticity.“
Julian Schubert, former managing director of coverno and current head of Data, Vision and Authentication Solutions at Koenig & Bauer, comments: „The close cooperation with TH OWL makes it possible to always be one step ahead with innovative technologies. In this way, the joint cooperation has enabled us to bring the traditional but highly secure intaglio printing process to a completely new dimension, namely machine readability. This allows new, scalable authentication solutions for everyone, as a banknote can be verified by a simple photo with a smartphone.“
The term intaglio comes from the Italian „intagliare“ meaning to engrave. In this printing process, a drawing or text is engraved into a printing plate, the ink remains in the indentations and is then transferred to the paper during printing. Intaglio, i.e. steel engraving, is still the most reliable and secure method of producing money – very fine and in high resolution, even complicated patterns can be printed. In addition to the special optical appearance, the printing is three-dimensional, so that, for example, elevations can be felt. This makes banknotes unique and counterfeiters have so far been technically unable to replicate this combination of haptic and optical features.
No additional security features
A key advantage of ValiCash™ and Sound of Intaglio® is that it analyses a printing process that is already used to produce almost all banknotes, meaning that central banks do not have to apply any new or additional security features. They can use this technology on banknotes already in circulation as well as on other high-security printed documents. For example, on tax stamps, product protection labels and birth certificates.
The ValiCash™ app is currently downloadable for free on the Apple App Store for authenticating euro banknotes.
Banknote authentication with the app
To ensure that counterfeit banknotes can be detected not only by central banks but also by laypeople, the team developed a first research version of an app for smartphones, which was presented at the Optical Document Security Conference in San Francisco in 2012. „The app uses image processing and pattern recognition to identify whether banknotes are questionable. This already works with an average camera on a smartphone,“ says Lohweg. „This could also be a great help for people with visual impairments, for example.“ In the meantime, the process has been scaled up through collaboration so that it can be used on a wide range of smartphones. In addition, the robustness against environmental influences has been significantly improved and the process itself has been industrialised to a great extent. „Often, as soon as a first prototype is shown, people think that the system is now ready for the market and fully functional. But this is only half the truth, especially in the area of high security applications. A lot of work has gone into industrialising the prototypes to make them robust and reliable,“ says Schubert. Today, ValiCash™ is firmly integrated into the portfolio of Koenig & Bauer, the only supplier able to provide to customers a complete solution from the design of banknotes to printing presses to quality control and authentication solutions.
ValiCash™ and further research results on banknotes will be presented at the Optical and Digital Document Security Conference in Vienna on 11-13 April 2022, giving the opportunity to test the application live.
About Koenig & Bauer
Koenig & Bauer is the world’s oldest printing press manufacturer with the widest product range in the sector. For over 200 years, the company has been supporting printers by offering innovative technology, custom-fit processes and a wide range of services. The range encompasses printing solutions for banknotes and cardboard, foil, tin and glass packaging, books, displays, labelling, decors, magazines, advertising and newspaper. With sheetfed and web offset and flexo printing, waterless offset, steel engraving, simultaneous and screen printing or digital inkjet printing, Koenig & Bauer is at home and often a leader in almost all printing processes. In 2020, the 5,593 highly qualified employees worldwide generated annual revenue of €1.029bn.
Further information can be found at www.koenig-bauer.com
About the inIT
The Institute Industrial IT (inIT) of the Technische Hochschule OWL is one of the leading research institutions in the field of industrial information technology and thus one of the formative research institutes in the leading-edge cluster „it’s OWL – Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalen-Lippe“. Industrial communication, image processing, and authentication, computer intelligence, and human-technology interaction are among the institute’s fields of expertise. Since its founding in 2006, the institute has raised more than 40 million euros in third-party funding to support research and development. On average, the annual volume of third-party funding is a remarkable 3.1 million euros. Currently, around 65 employees are working on publicly funded research projects and industrial commissioned research projects. In total, more than 160 bilateral and publicly funded research projects have already been carried out.
At inIT, information and communication technologies (ICT) are harmonized with the high demands of automation technology. After all, intelligent automation is the driving innovation engine not only for the German mechanical and plant engineering industry but also for other sectors such as food technology and manufacturing, as well as healthcare and the digitalization of the community. The focus of work at inIT is on the challenge of precisely capturing, efficiently distributing, and effectively processing information.