The U.S. Mint is
contemplating what to do as 10 gas-powered rotary hearth annealing
furnaces currently used at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints in
planchet production reach the end of their useful service life.
The Mint is studying whether to replace the furnaces, or to
outsource annealing operations while still retaining blanking
production in-house, or whether to have all blanks produced by outside vendors.
During a technical presentation in February at the World Money Fair
in Berlin, Richard Robidoux, division chief of engineering and new
technology at the U.S. Mint and John C. Briggs from Fraunhofer USA’s
Center for Manufacturing Innovations, jointly outlined research the
Mint has pursued in streamlining blanking operations to make them more
efficient and cost effective, including alternatives, like pushback blanking.
Pushback blanking allows punching of coinage blanks from already
annealed materials, such as coinage strip; most blanks currently used
for U.S. coins are punched from coinage strips, their edges are
deburred, then the pieces are annealed in furnaces, and finally, a
raised proto-rim is formed in an upset mill to create a planchet.
The U.S. Mint buys a combination of ready-to-use planchets and
coinage strip. Currently, it contracts for ready to strike
copper-plated zinc cent planchets from Jarden Zinc Products in
Greenville, Tennessee. For copper-nickel 5-cent coins, copper-nickel
clad dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars, and manganese-brass clad
dollar coins, the Mint punches it own blanks from coiled coinage strip
and finishes its own planchets. The current coinage strip vendors are
Olin Brass in East Alton, Illinois, and PMX Industries in Cedar
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The Mint has been experimenting with several new production methods
In 2014, the Mint researched laser cutting blanks, which, although
found to be technically feasible, was deemed impractical in production
of billions of coinage blanks.
In 2015, the Mint examined on a small scale the use of pushback
blanking die technology. While pushback blanking, too, proved
technically feasible, economic savings were not clearly defined,
especially if the Mint were to choose instead to outsource blank production.
While investigating heat-treating technologies in 2016, it was
determined that no more efficient method exists for annealing the
blanks than a gas-powered rotary hearth. The furnaces currently in use
are powered by natural gas.
In 2017, according to the technical report, an economically feasible
pushback blanking operation was designed and demonstrated for quarter
dollars, with 170 coinage strip coils processed and 50 million coins
struck from the blanks produced.
Pushback blanking allows for direct blanking of annealed strip
acquired from contractors. The blank would have a flat edge rather
than a cupped edge.
The annealed strip is pressed between the blanking punch and a
heavily spring-loaded pad. After punching, the blank is pushed back
into the strip, the strip advances, keeping the blank flat, and the
newly punched blank is knocked out later.
The Mint’s testing of the pushback technology, with Fraunhofer USA
consultation, began with a single blanking die to determine parameters
for blanking die construction. A 10-at-a-time-die configuration was
established and used on narrow web scrap on test strikes for three denominations.
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Full-scale blanking execution was then tested using a
30-at-a-time-die configuration for high-volume production. Current
blanking operations employ a 15-die configuration.
The Mint’s technical presentation indicated that the pushback blanks
are better in appearance than blanks internally annealed currently at
Coils of coinage strip weighing several tons each are moved and fed
into the blanking presses using heavy, forklift-style machinery;
handling coils that are already annealed to make the metal softer
requires more care.