How the Royal Canadian Mint Used Virtual Minting to Create the Innovative Stanley Cup Coin
In 2016 and 2017, the Royal Canadian Mint hit some roadblocks in its efforts to create a collectible coin honoring the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup.
Michael Groves, director of development and applied technology, explains how the R&D team rose above the challenges of minting this groundbreaking new coin — marking yet another first in innovation for the Royal Canadian Mint.
Mike, can you describe what the Stanley Cup-shaped coin looks like?
It’s a coin unlike any other the Royal Canadian Mint has ever made — a true one-of-a-kind in terms of its shape. Essentially, the coin is half a miniaturized Stanley Cup. If you put two of them together, you would have an entire Stanley Cup replica, albeit a fraction of the size of the actual trophy.
Overall, how was the process in minting this coin?
From a minting and engineering perspective, this was one of the most complicated technical projects that we’ve worked on at the Royal Canadian Mint. For the customer, they may see this as just another cool coin — but there was a lot of energy, sweat, tears and innovative thinking behind it on our end.
Can you elaborate on what made it so difficult to produce?
Basically, the design for this coin extended beyond the Mint’s traditional geometrical boundaries for minting numismatic coins. Most of our collectible coins are a circular shape. The Stanley Cup, obviously, is a completely different shape — not to mention, it’s three-dimensional with varying levels of thickness throughout (for example, the base of the cup is thicker than the neck of the cup). The technical challenges all related to the flow of the material during the striking of the coin.
When you mint a coin, the equipment used normally includes a press, a bottom die and a top die. You’re basically using that machinery to strike (or “squish”) material, with up to 350 tonnes of force coming from the top as well as the bottom. With regular coins, you’re basically striking a silver disc that you’ve formed into a circle — and the thickness is all the same on the entire coin. But with the Stanley Cup coin, we didn’t know which way the silver material would flow while being struck.
So how did the Stanley Cup coin end up looking originally?
Not like we first envisioned it! Minting is all about creating a pristine coin with attractive design elements and realistic features. But using our traditional minting model, material for the Stanley Cup coin was flowing in an unpredictable manner, thereby creating a coin with a sharp knife-like edge — which is unacceptable for our customers.
What other sorts of challenges were you facing during this time?
Because the 125th anniversary of the Stanley Cup was in 2017, we had to go to market in 2017. The technical challenges presented a number of delays to the project, however everybody at the RCM was committed to meeting the October launch date. Many of us on our team are avid hockey players and fans, so we had an emotional attachment to this project, despite the time crunch and technical challenges.
The Royal Canadian Mint is world renowned for its team of leading engineers and minting experts. How did you try to work around the technical challenge?
This was a challenge unlike any other in that nobody knew how to solve it! To prevent sharp edges from forming, we were in an endless trial and error loop. But every time we’d fix one problem, we’d create another one. We tried changing the shape of the original material to be struck over and over again — but after more than 10 iterations, we still hadn’t solved the technical issues required to meet our internal standards.
Obviously though, you ended up succeeding. So how did you do it?
One day, one of our engineers suggested that we use something called Finite Element Analysis (FEA) as a tool to help solve the problem. Put simply, FEA is a very advanced mathematical method that can predict and simulate the behavior of components under a variety of conditions. It comes up with equations that are so complex that you’d never even think of doing them by hand.
You solved the problem using math?
Yes, and software. FEA has been around for some time now, but over the last decade or so, software and computers have advanced to the point that they are much more equipped to solve complex FEA equations. So when our engineer told us about advancements in FEA software, we decided to look at it as a way to help us avoid this whole endless loop of trial-and-error.
So what does the software do?
Other companies in different industries use it to predict material flow — for example, in the automotive or aerospace industry, where they’re manufacturing different parts made of various materials. What we did was purchase a commercially available software product and then further developed it to apply the fundamentals of FEA to virtually “strike” silver coins. Basically, it allows us to predict and simulate the flow of silver without using physical machinery.
Can anyone use the software?
No. You really need the understanding of FEA plus minting expertise to know how to input the proper technical information to the software, and then to analyze the data. Basically, you need to know how to apply the software to the minting industry; plus understand things like stamping, plastic deformation and material properties of precious metals. The engineers who figured all this out have advanced degrees such as PhDs — which we were able to use to our advantage!
So how does the software work?
Basically, you provide design tooling information to the software, and it processes the complex FEA equations overnight. We would literally input data such as coin design, blank shape, and material properties, leave for the day, and return in the morning to the software’s predictions. The software would tell us what the coin would look like, based on those parameters if we used a certain striking force. Once satisfied with the virtual striking results, we would manufacture physical tooling for trial-and-error purposes. Making the physical tooling then takes between three and five weeks.
How long did it take to get the right equations?
It only took us only two attempts using the technical information generated by the software!
So from the time you purchased and finetuned the software, how long did it take to mint the Stanley Cup coin as you originally wanted it?
That process took us about eight months. As I mentioned though, we spent well over a year before then, doing trial-and-error approaches using physical tooling.
How many people worked on the Stanley Cup coin?
There were eight leading technical experts from the Mint working on this project, including our top PhDs and the Chief Technical Officer. But it really was a collaborative effort to take this idea from a very prototype environment all the way to full production.
How does the complexity of the Stanley Cup coin compare to the minting of other coins?
This was “up there” with two other projects I can think of: our award-winning 100-kg million-dollar coin, which is the largest, purest gold bullion coin ever produced; and the minting of the medals for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, which like the Stanley Cup had very unusual undulated shapes.
Now that you’ve successfully created the Stanley Cup coin, what plans are on the horizon?
Because the software can be used to facilitate the minting of complex shaped coins, the Royal Canadian Mint is planning to use it more often to add to the portfolio of innovative and leading edge products.
And it makes sense from a business and financial perspective too: virtual minting has enabled us to reduce labor requirements, lower tooling costs, and increase technical certainty. We foresee many other minting applications using the FEA-based software. We’re really excited by the many opportunities and innovations that virtual minting can eventually bring us!
Own this unique piece of minting history in time for the playoffs! Order your 125TH Anniversary of the Stanley Cup fine silver coin online at mint.ca, or by phone at 1–800–267–1871.
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About the Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint is the Crown Corporation responsible for the minting and distribution of Canada’s circulation coins. An ISO 9001-2008 certified company, the Mint is recognized as one of the largest and most versatile mints in the world, offering a wide range of specialized, high quality coinage products and related services on an international scale. For more information on the Mint, its products and services, visit www.mint.ca.
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