During her less than 18 months as the U.S.
Mint’s quality division chief, Stacy Kelley-Scherer has focused her
attention on a problem that has plagued the American Eagle silver
bullion coin program almost since its 1986 inception — spots.
So far, a solution that prevents spotting from
occurring has eluded Mint officials.
As quality division chief assigned within the
U.S. Mint’s manufacturing department, Kelley-Scherer is responsible
for all of the quality control issues related to coin design,
equipment and materials procurement, sales and marketing,
manufacturing, distribution of finished product and customer returns.
Spotting is just one problem that she has had to address, and it is a
Each year of the program, collectors and
dealers of the American Eagle silver dollars have reported spots or
blotches on the obverse and reverse, on all finishes — bullion, Proof
and Uncirculated — and on coins from all Mints involved.
The spotting is random and can appear as a
single spot, multiple spots crossing the field and devices, or in
large blotches or patches consuming significant portions of a coin’s designs.
Examples of silver American Eagles illustrated
with this article, all of which were submitted for certification and
encapsulation by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., are typical.
Scattered spots and blotches are clearly
evident on the obverse of the illustrated 2012 American Eagle silver
bullion coin, while the reverse is devoid of such detracting surface imperfections.
The 1996 coin, however, is an example of
massive spotting and blotching problems that attacked most of the
surfaces of the obverse and reverse from the rim inward.
Besides being unsightly, the spotting
translates to diminished value on the secondary market, especially
among collectors seeking coins for their numismatic value rather than
for their bullion value.
The Mint can lose revenue as well. A collector
receiving a spotted silver American Eagle — especially a Proof or
Uncirculated numismatic version — will likely return the coin to the
Mint for a spot-free replacement.
Spotted American Eagles
Since the program’s inauguration in 1986,
production of silver American Eagles has been distributed, depending
on the calendar year and version, between three production facilities
— the Philadelphia, West Point and San Francisco Mints.
In 2001, production of all versions of the
silver American Eagle was restricted to the West Point Mint. After
that, except for special issues, the West Point facility became the
primary producer of American Eagle silver dollar production.
In May 2011, however, to meet investor demand,
the San Francisco Mint resumed production of the American Eagle silver
bullion coins to augment the primary output at the West Point Mint.
With the spotting issue involving silver
American Eagles, Kelley-Scherer says all components of the production
process are being addressed.
Among the things under scrutiny are the
quality of the universal planchets from which all silver American
Eagles are produced; concentrations of coin cleaning and brightening
solutions used on the planchets; rinses used on the planchets; and
drying time and temperatures for planchets, among other factors.
Inability to remedy the spotting problem,
especially with the numismatic issues, translates into continued
customer product returns, Kelley-Scherer said.
All factors are being addressed for
“mistake-proofing,” in an attempt to identify and correct possible
causes and thereby eliminate detracting results before they occur,
Design, production issues
As quality division chief, Kelley-Scherer also
finds herself tackling the other top concerns and complaints that
collectors and other U.S. Mint customers have registered — packaging
problems that have resulted in coins being ejected from improperly
fitting plastic capsules, and scratches on plastic lenses for
numismatic coin sets.
Design problems can translate into production
problems. Kelley-Scherer noted issues with the Proof 2012 National
Infantry Museum commemorative silver dollars as well as the September
11 silver medals.
The design of the Infantry silver dollar
contributed to the potential for creating a “halo effect” in the
fields, she said. The Mint also experienced problems associated with
the copper in the 90 percent silver, 10 percent copper planchets
trying to flow to the surface during striking, she said.
It is best that problems of these types be
addressed early in the process so there’s no setup for failure once
full production begins, she said.
Similar problems occurred with the background
design for the September 11 silver medals.
In various programs, Kelley-Scherer said, some
problems increase the need to polish dies more often, thus shortening
die life and contributing to reduced quality on the finished product.
Addressing all issues that could affect a
product at the beginning and examining possible quality control issues
at each respective interim step will help Mint officials better
predict the quality of the end product and tweak what’s necessary at
each step, she said.
Packaging problems, returns
Packaging problems — among them capsules
opening, allowing coins to wander inside the boxes, for the five-coin
2011 Silver American Eagle 25th Anniversary set — prompted
Kelley-Scherer to direct a closer look at new product introduction and
Kelley-Scherer said problems with that 2011
set and its packaging was a driving force behind the Mint re-examining
its procurement contracts and packaging specifications.
A new product introduction process implemented
for 2013 employs a cross-functional team of Mint employees from
different disciplines to help streamline procedures, she said. All
information is being examined by the team, in conjunction with outside
suppliers and vendors, to ensure that the materials provided at the
front end will result in a quality packaged product, she said.
The packaged products are shipped in specific
quantities per shipping container depending on the product and
delivered to the U.S. Mint’s contracted order fulfillment center,
Pitney-Bowes Government Solutions in Plainfield, Ind., for ultimate
individual shipping to customers.
Kelley-Scherer said that since she joined the
Mint, at least seven different procurement contracts have been
modified and redesigned to ensure that product samples meet
engineering specifications and tolerances before production of any of
the components of the packaging begins.
Multiple plastic capsules and lenses with
different dimensions are procured by the Mint for various numismatic
products, Kelley-Scherer said.
Each of these coin containers has different
specifications and tolerances, Kelley-Scherer said.
The outside diameter of a coin capsule could
be at the upper range of the specified tolerances and still be
acceptable, she said.
A problem can arise when the opening in the
box or other packaging into which the capsule is to be inserted is
within specifications, but is still too small to secure the
encapsulated coin in place. With insertion of an encapsulated coin,
whether manually or robotically, a risk exists that the rim of the
opening could be compromised — resultant bits of chaff thus would be
allowed to float freely about inside the box, creating an unsightly
environment, she said. In addition, a too small opening could exert
too much pressure on the capsule, possibly springing it open, allowing
the coin and possibly the capsule lid to float freely within the box.
The opposite scenario, of a larger opening
than required for the capsule, could allow the encapsulated coin to
fall out of its slot, she said.
Kelley-Scherer said some plastic capsules are
configured to require a coin to be placed, usually robotically, into
the bottom capsule, with the outer lip or flange of the capsule’s top
piece fitting over the outside of the bottom piece’s flange.
The Mint also uses some capsule types where
the flange of the top fits within the diameter of the bottom piece of
the capsule, Kelley-Scherer said. This requires the coin to be
properly centered within the bottom piece of the capsule so the top
piece can be properly accommodated, she said. When this style of
capsule is used, proper alignment is detected by robotic sensors, she said.
The Mint’s quality teams also are examining
the cardboard inserts used for annual numismatic products such as
Proof sets in their various configurations, to ensure the coins of the
proper diameter and denomination are inserted into the correct
position, she said.
Kelley-Scherer said Mint officials are also
trying to rectify the causes of scratching of plastic lenses for the
annual sets and other similar packaging, a problem that has resulted
in a significant number of product returns.