Counting the coins

Prema machines will be coining in the euros from January 1. Prema

In the next two months, some 70 billion euro coins will come into circulation, causing major headaches for banks, retailers and even churches.

This content was published on January 1, 2002 minutes

One Swiss company profiting from the demise of euroland's 12 national currencies is Prema, based in Oftringen, canton Aargau, which makes machines that count and sort coins.

These machines are having to be adapted across Europe to cope with the new currency, which will have eight coins - 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents as well as €1 and €2.

Prema's main customers are banks, but its boss, Rudolf Stöckli, told swissinfo that he also supplies machines to supermarkets, hotels, transport companies, restaurants and churches.

On the face of it, having only one currency would seem to make the job of counting and sorting coins much more simple. Instead of manufacturing 12 types of machines to deal with as many currencies, only one type will now be needed.

Biggest challenge yet

However, Stöckli points out that the euro has presented his firm with greater technical challenges than any other currency he has yet dealt with.

"One of the problems is that the coins are produced in 11 countries. If you consider that you have to produce 60 or 70 billion coins and you're doing that in 11 countries, with five different mints in Germany alone, you can imagine how difficult it is to make sure than every coin is exactly the same," he explained.

Another headache is that the metals used for the euro coins come from a variety of suppliers, which means the composition tends to vary. This is a problem for the machines, which use magnetic sensors to gauge the authenticity of coins.

"This caused us the biggest problem," said Stöckli, "because if you measure these coins under a sensor, you get very different results because the material [they are made of] is not the same."

Groovy coins?

Prema therefore had to come up with new ways of identifying coins. Stöckli said the company decided to measure coins in several different ways to minimise the potential for error.

"We measure the diameter and sometimes the thickness, and we check whether the coins has grooves or not. There is also the possibility of gauging the metal content as an additional precaution," he said.

Yet another obstacle is the fact that euro coins of the same denomination are different on one side from country to country. For example, the 50 cent coin from Germany features the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The same coin from Ireland features a harp.

Despite all the headaches, business at Prema has been booming, although Stöckli would probably object to the phrase that he has been "coining it in".

Booming business

"It's booming but it's also a lot of work. We've needed a lot more people. We've also been working hard with our suppliers so that they delivered parts at the time we needed them," Stöckli said.

"We've also had a lot of information work to do. We've had to train all our dealers, or engineers and technicians from our dealers. Before that we had to study exactly the new euro coins to be able to provide optimum solutions for our machines," he added.

It is tempting to draw the conclusion that once the machines have been modified and are back in place, business will slow down to a more normal rhythm. Stöckli smiles at the very thought.

"I think 2002 will be even busier than this year. This year we've been working very hard in countries that have prepared well for the euro, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria."

"But there are other countries which are not so well prepared and there we think we will have a lot of business," he told swissinfo.

by Robert Brookes

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