Ensuring Banknote Security
Submitting InstitutionPlymouth University
Unit of AssessmentElectrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Information Systems
Engineering: Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Summary of the impact
This case study highlights the research at Plymouth University into the
development of a specialist security thread in banknotes which has been
commissioned and adopted by De La Rue, the world's largest commercial
currency printer and papermaker. The system has provided quality assurance
for over five billion banknotes, including the Euro, and improved the
performance of a worldwide business through the introduction of new
technology. Potential future losses through counterfeit have been
mitigated by the improved quality assurance systems.
Developing anti-counterfeit measures is a key challenge in the sector.
The Bank of England estimate that of the 2.6billon notes in circulation in
the UK, there were 566,000 counterfeit notes in 2009. As counterfeiting
gets more sophisticated, more technological approaches are being adopted
to combat fraud. Research undertaken at Plymouth University from 1993
onwards has developed new, cost effective measures to enhance bank note
security. This case study demonstrates the way that this issue has been
addressed and has led to the practical solutions now employed in the
security printing of currency.
Over the past three decades a great deal of research on the development
of novel magnetic sensors, new magnetic material, and advanced signal
processing & coding techniques has been undertaken at Plymouth
University by Prof. Des Mapps (Professor 1973-2009, Emeritus Professor
2012-to date), Dr. Paul Davey (Research Fellow 1997-2000, Lecturer 2000-2012,
Associate Professor 2012-to date) and Nick Fry (Research Officer
1983-2012, Technical Specialist 2012- 2013). This work has focused on
improving areal density in magnetic storage devices, such as hard disk
drive and tape backup systems. During this time approximately 25 PhD's
have been successfully completed in this area and approximately 150 papers
have been published in recognised international research journals.
The research underpinning this case study and referenced in the papers
below concerns state-of- the-art techniques initially developed, for
high-speed, high-density, data processing and storage application that the
team have also applied to improve banknote security. The specific
tailoring of the technology required for this unique application has not
been published due to the high security nature of the product.
This Plymouth University team translated their work on the development of
magneto-resistive sensors and associated signal processing into methods of
reliably detecting and decoding new security and anti-counterfeit measures
in collaboration with De La Rue. This has involved the use of advanced
data storage and recognition systems, advanced micro-fabricated sensors
involving magneto-resistance and magneto-impedance technologies. This
phase of the research began in 1993 in collaboration with the Bank of
England. De La Rue purchased the Bank Of England printing operation in
2003 and the Plymouth University research has continued with the new
owners. Nine research contracts relating to security measures on banknotes
have been commissioned between 2004 and 2009. De La Rue Currency provides
market-leading banknote paper, printed banknotes and a substantial
portfolio of banknote security features, including cylinder mould
watermarks, security threads, a wide range of printed features and
sophisticated optically-variable devices.
The research team fabricate and recalibrate the detection and recognition
systems regularly as part of their on-going relationship with De La Rue.
References to the research
Davey P.J., Donnelly T., Mapps D.J., "Two-dimensional coding for a
multi-track, maximum likelihood digital magnetic storage system". IEEE
Transactions on Magnetics, Vol. 30, No. 6, Nov 1994, pp 4212-4214.
The IEEE Transactions on Magnetics publishes research in science and
technology related to the basic physics and engineering of magnetism,
magnetic materials, applied magnetics, magnetic devices, and magnetic data
storage. It is the leading journal in the field.
Smith D.F., Donnelly T., Mapps D.J., "Fixed sample rate Bayesian
detector in a variable speed magnetic channel." IEEE Transactions on
Magnetics, Vol. 33, No. 5, Sept 1997, pp 2797-2799.
He L.N., Wang Z.G., Mapps D.J., Wilton D.T., Clegg W.W., Robinson P.,
"Keepered perpendicular media reproduction with dual MR heads". Journal
of the Magnetics Society of Japan, Vol. 21, Supp. 52, October 1997,
pp 273-276. Official publication of MSJ with international circulation.
Shute H.A., Mapps D.J., Wilton D.T., "Eddy-current assisted
digital video read/write head". IEEE Trans. Magn., Vol. 37, 2001,
Shute H A., Wilton D T., McKirdy D M., Mapps D J., "Analysis of
two-dimensional shielded pole heads using singular expansion functions". IEEE
Trans. Mag. Vol. 40, No. 5, Sept 2004, pp 3402- 3406
Details of the impact
The research team in Plymouth worked as part of a Knowledge Exchange
project with De La Rue to design a quality assurance system for specialist
security features used in their banknotes. The team designed, developed
and constructed a complete system to reliably detect and identify security
measures with a tolerance better than 5%. Such precision is currently
impossible to recreate in counterfeiting. The patented technology used in
the sensors was invented by Plymouth University academics and has also
been used to provide applied solutions for a number of other companies.
The University team worked to tight deadlines to meet De La Rue's
production start date for the manufacture of their new technology feature.
The project involved a combination of mechanical design, sophisticated
magnetic sensor design, electronic circuit design, and working in
partnership with another De La Rue subcontractor. The team have
successfully installed and commissioned working detection systems at the
De La Rue, Bolton & Loughton sites.
This technology is highly confidential and subject to non-disclosure
contacts for much of the detail. The precise details of the implementation
cannot be described for these reasons. In outline, invisible encrypted
features are identified by specialist magnetic detectors precisely
designed to optimise the recovered signal from the security thread. These
heads are micro-fabricated in the Clean Room facility at Plymouth to
ensure maximum security. The recovered signal is decrypted using novel
information processing algorithms, also developed at Plymouth, to allow
the tiny signal to be reliably recognized with very low signal-to-noise
ratios. The latest evolution, included in all Euro and other banknotes,
allows innovative optical effects linked to more complex structures which
do not increase the production cost of the banknotes.
Specifically, the development with Plymouth has resulted in two
technologies, Magtext® and MagForm™ which are found on banknotes. The
University technology was applied specifically to the De La Rue
requirement and has resulted in a completely bespoke system which has now
provided quality assurance for over 5 billion banknotes. MagForm™ can only
be identified on the expert level. Magtext® is part of De La Rue's Mask™
technology which is used on many currencies including the EURO and GB
The research has improved the performance of a worldwide business through
the introduction of new technology. Potential future losses through
counterfeit have been mitigated by the improved quality assurance systems.
The new technology has been adopted by De La Rue, the world's largest
commercial currency printer and papermaker. This research has considerable
reach in that De la Rue is involved in the production of more than 150
currencies worldwide including the EURO. Almost half of all banknotes
issued into circulation in the past two years across the world were
created by De La Rue.
The technology is now used on all issued UK Bank of England notes. The
Bank of England has confirmed that "Plymouth have developed a sensor
technology based around a novel structured magnetic read head to monitor
the quality in banknote production and fraud detection. This has had an
outstanding benefit enabling all UK bank notes to be monitored using
De La Rue is delighted with the system and the partnership continues with
Plymouth University providing technical support and periodic calibration
of the magnetic sensors. The company has benefited greatly from the
application of the novel technology and the rare academic skills employed
to support their mission critical project. The new technology is a
step-change in security thread technology.
Dr. Jim Snelling, Research Manager at Overton Technology Centre (De La
Rue International) has said: "We have enjoyed an excellent working
relationship with the University of Plymouth team whose expertise and
technology have produced a tailored and robust solution for our on-line
The innovative methods to deter forgery help De La Rue remain market
leaders. Contracts in this sector are large, for example the contract to
produce new banknotes for the Board of Commissioners of Currency of
Singapore is worth £30 million.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Factual Statement from Research Manager, Overton Technology Centre, De La
Rue International. States the impact of the work of Plymouth University.
Factual Statement from Senior Technical Expert, Notes Division, Quality
and Research, Bank of England, London.
Case study of Knowledge Exchange between Plymouth University and De La
Rue, produced by De La Rue.
De La Rue is awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise for the new
material (Optiks) that incorporates the technology developed at Plymouth
The 13th International Currency Conference in Buenos Aires where De La
Rue presented on the new security with their bank notes.