Machinery and equipment

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Along Via Tuscolana in Rome, at number 417, you will note a modern industrial plant, that of the Banknote Printing Department. This is where the Bank of Italy produces banknotes, using state-of-the-art technology and equipment.

The Bank decided from the very start - in 1894 - to have an industrial plant of its own for banknote production. This choice reflects the public nature of this task and guarantees satisfaction of the essential requirements of security, traceability and quality.

Since 1 January 2002 the Bank of Italy has been issuing euro banknotes under the rules and principles governing the Eurosystem issuance function. The European Central Bank issues 8 per cent of the notes, and the various national central banks, including the Bank of Italy, are responsible for the remaining 92 per cent, in proportion to their stakes in the ECB's capital. The printing of the notes is assigned according to a method of "decentralized pooling" in which each Eurosystem printing works has a production run restricted to certain denominations. The NCBs also take care of the sorting, collection, withdrawal and destruction of worn and damaged notes.

Special attention is paid to counterfeiting, to the quality of the banknotes and the production processes, and to environmental protection.

In terms of security, euro banknotes comprise - in addition to the security features familiar to the general public, such as watermark, security threads and copperplate printing - features allowing the notes to be used in vending machines and to be handled by automatic sorting and counting machinery. They also have two-tone inks that change colour with the angle of the light, holograms and optically variable marks.

As to quality control, the Banknote Printing Department obtained ISO 9002:1994 certification from Det Norske Veritas certification agency in December 2001 and ISO 9001:2000 certification in June 2003. The Eurosystem central banks have adopted a common quality system in order to ensure that different production plants, which also use different technologies, will produce banknotes that are identical in appearance and in their security features.

As to environmental protection, the Bank of Italy pays special attention to waste management, both through the effort to devise more efficient disposal methods and by careful monitoring of the quality of industrial waste by outside laboratories. Further, differential refuse collection has been instituted throughout the entire plant, with an information campaign directed to the entire staff.

From the beginning to the Second World War

In 1893 the directorate general of the Bank of Italy moved to Palazzo Koch in Via Nazionale, but the banknote printing works remained at the old headquarters of the Banca Nazionale nel Regno in Via Barbieri.

The equipment handed down by the Banca Nazionale consisted in seven hand presses, ten hand printing presses, two lithographic printing presses and four numbering machines. This was inadequate to serve the steadily expanding volume of currency and to replace all the notes then circulating with new ones, a task that under Law 449/1893 was to be completed within two years.

In 1894 the printing works needed a machine shop and a galvanoplastic workshop for electro-typography, and all the equipment necessary to the entire process of banknote printing was procured. At the same time, for security reasons, the printing works and all its equipment were moved to Via dei Serpenti.

In the next few years, the works were steadily expanded with the purchase of new, technically advanced machinery, such as a Phénix mechanical platen printing press, acquired in 1897 from J.G. Schelter & Giesecke of Leipzig and two Albert presses.

In 1910 a large number of counterfeit banknotes were discovered, and the Bank decided to upgrade its production methods. Copperplate printing was accordingly introduced and the Bank then acquired first papermaking equipment of its own and then printing "presses that were more advanced and could print in four colours at once". Eight Johnston copperplate presses were bought.

In 1926 the Bank of Italy, as the sole remaining institution of banknote issue, had a "workload four times as great as at first" and acted for further renovation of the equipment.

By the early 1930s, however, the machinery again began to be inadequate to provide the new notes required, in part because they were now smaller and in part because printing had to be speeded up. So the equipment was replaced by new machines manufactured by Waite. The Bank also acquired two new Lambert four-colour printing machines and four one-colour machines - three Otleys and one Crabtree.

From the Second World War to the euro

With the Second World War underway but Italy not yet a belligerent, the Bank decided to move the printing works from the centre of Rome to the relative safety of the provincial city of L'Aquila. The renovation of the building selected, which was near the railway station where the new paper mill would be built, began in December 1939. The transfer of the machinery and staff for the new plant was completed between November and December 1941.

This plant produced Italy's banknotes during the war, even after the dramatic bombardment of 8 December 1943, which killed 19 people. Production was terminated on 11 June 1944 when the machines were mined by the German army in its flight northward. That summer it was decided to reopen the Roman works in Via dei Serpenti, and all the equipment that was still usable was moved back there and the damaged machines repaired. The paperworks was reactivated in 1945.

The works began to operate full-steam, but eventually the increased volume of production required a new plant. In 1968 the entire banknote printing works was transferred to its present-day facilities in Via Tuscolana, near the Claudian Aqueduct and a recently excavated ancient Roman road.

Work for the new building began in late 1962 on plans by Pierluigi Nervi. Constricted by the nearness of the aqueduct, he produced a vertical rather than a horizontal design, certainly atypical for an industrial building. Another distinctive feature is that the main workshops and machines are not on the ground floor but on the second of the six storeys, much to the benefit of workplace health, safety and security.

The plant has about 110,000 square meters of floor space, with a covered area of 9,600 square meters and a total volume of 225,000 cubic meters. Thanks to careful study of weights and balance and intelligent use of glass, Nervi succeeded in the difficult task of attenuating the feeling of bulkiness and achieving a luminosity more typical of residential than industrial architecture.

Today the printing works in Via Tuscolana performs the entire banknote production cycle. The watermark paper and the ink are procured from outside suppliers. For the production of the euro the plant has a machine for hologram application and one for silk-screen printing and a new banknote cutting and quality-control line.