Canberra Mint Factory Floor Tour

March 4, 2012

An early morning Qantas flight took me to a drizzly cold Canberra morning for an event I just couldn't miss. The Royal Australian Mint was joining the Enlighten festivities with a special counterstamp one dollar and behind the scenes factory floor tours for those lucky enough to secure tickets. First stop was a visit to the Canberra Mint where the mobile coin press was set up to strike a Canberra Bluebell Counterstamp onto a C mintmark wheat sheaf $1. These special Enlighten event coins have a mintage capped at 15,000. The queue...well....wasn't and I was able to secure 30 coins in a matter of minutes at 10 coins per lineup. The friendly staff were all smiles as we discussed the coin and the tours later that day.

Just after 6pm I arrived for the evening tour to start at 6:30. A table labelled "designers" greeted me and a chat with new RAM designer Aaron Baggio saw me ushered over to the start of the tour before I knew it. Mint tour visitors had to sign a legal document for security reasons and we were given visitor passes, a pair of earplugs and a golden mob of roos dollar sticker. We were given the opportunity to place handbags and such in a locker as carrying coins into the secure area was not allowed. This was stressed to us on a number of occasions.

An eager team of about 10 visitors with a Mint tour guide and a security officer headed through 2 security doors and into the Mint's back corridors. We passed by 2 huge vault doors which house the National Coin Collection, one door which was open allowed us to look through a barred door to huge cabinets and shelves displaying our treasured collection. It was reminded to us that it is us, the Australian public that own this treasured collection.

Our first stop was toolroom area where all the parts for the coin presses are made. Part of the diemaking and coin press process was explained to us and we touched and held items such as feeder fingers and coin collars. Many different rooms make up the Mint factory and we went from room to room fascinated by what we were seeing. We saw rods of metal that dies are cut from and saw the dies shaped before the design is pressed into it. Then a technician pressed a 5c reverse die in front of our eyes!! Photos were only permitted in a couple of locations which was disapointing because I wanted to bring this experience to every one of our readers.

We donned eye and ear protection and entered the production area where the automated guided vehicles move barrels of blanks in the wee hours of the morning getting ready for the days production. Loud was an understatement as the machines churned out new 20c pieces in front of our eyes and they travelled up a conveyor machine to be bagged up. Sadly Titan the robot was unwell so they couldn't show us his mightly arm lifting the barrel of blanks into the hoppers. These feed the conveyors which lay out the blanks in preparation to feed the press.

Another room showed us the pickling and burnishing process of NCLT blank preparation. Only the proof blanks are pickled and the uncirculated blanks burnished, different processes of acid surface preparation. We also watched the technician as he ran dollar blanks through the rimming machine. Passing a metal hardness tesing machine we were informed this machine was still in use and has been since the Mint opened in 1965.

The proof room was next as we donned our white coats as they need to keep this area as clean and dust free as possible. Here we saw 2013 standard coins being struck and the next in the coloured pad printed Melbourne Zoo series, a green type of frog. We were presented with samples of before and after the plating process of the 2012 selectively gold plated proof set 50c and the Australian Open $5.

The tour lasted around an hour and a half on an estmate of an hour and at times we were pushed along as the following groups were catching up. Obviously our group asked too many questions as were taking in as much as we were offered as was possible.

To conclude we had to pass security to make sure we hadn't pocketed any of the product. At one point during the tour there had been 50c blanks accidently strewn on the floor and dollar blanks on conveyor belts , newly struck $2, $1 and 20c and all manner of dies and machine parts any wrongdoer could have pocketed. Our personal effects ran through an x-ray machine, we went through a scanner similar to an airport security screen and our bodies and shoes were also checked. There were special coin disposal baggies for staff who may accidentally find stray or problem coins on their person as they exited after their shift. One of our group when asked again if they had any coins on them replied in my wallet....yeah. This person was ushered to be checked more closely. Mint staff had questioned us many many times as this rule was of utmost importance but obviously went unheard for one visitor.

Overall I had an amazing time and would certainly do it all again given another opportunity.

Gearing up in White Coats for Entry into the Proof Room

Posted by harrisk at March 4, 2012 5:55 PM
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