La casa de papel

A conversation with Franz Lanckau and Axel Wappler

“My knowledge has been immortalised in a product that is in use all over the world.”

We’ve all held banknotes in our hands, but most of us know little about how they’re developed. Landqart CEO Axel Wappler and project and process engineer Franz Lanckau reveal one or two secrets about the mysterious world of high-security paper. We talk about small works of art and the interplay between traditional occupations and innovative ways of working.​

Just gaining access to Graubünden’s banknote paper mill is reminiscent of a scene from a spy film. Getting into the building complex in the middle of Landquart calls for your fingerprint, badge, security clearance and a personalised code. For CEO Axel Wappler and paper technologist Franz Lanckau, this process is a completely normal part of their morning routine. After a tour of the huge cotton warehouse, the highly protected machine room and the modern materials laboratories, we sit down together for a chat.

The security protocols, the locked doors – the sense is one of secrecy all round.

Axel Wappler: Just generally speaking, it’s pretty unique to be developing something that no one around you is allowed to know about. With around 50 companies worldwide, this industry really is something of a secret society. Which brings us back to the aspect of confidentiality. A banknote is a country’s calling card. When a king in Southeast Asia has a son, a new banknote is issued. The appearance of the banknote will be discussed by the king with his family, a designer and us – and no one else. We’re not allowed to reveal anything during this process.

Franz Lanckau (grinning): Even my wife doesn’t know exactly what I’m doing. And back in my apprenticeship I was already the odd one out as a paper technologist. You spend time with other papermakers who produce newsprint, printing paper or cigarette paper. But I, as a banknote specialist, was never allowed to talk about what I actually did. Even my Bachelor’s and Master’s theses were for my professor’s eyes only. This really makes you feel as if you’re part of an exclusive club.

Is it hard, keeping so many secrets?

Both respond in unison: no. You already know that when you apply.

Is it true that working at Landqart means you’ve reached the Champions League of paper manufacturing?

FL: We have a product that no one else in the world can make.

AW (nodding): That’s right, our Durasafe high-security paper. The composite material, consisting of two outer layers of paper and a polymer core, forms the basis for some of the world’s most secure banknotes. Developing this product together with the National Bank, and the forward-looking technology behind it, are what drew me here.

A product like Durasafe bridges the gap between tradition and high-tech. Is this also reflected in the working methods here?

FL: My apprenticeship was in classical papermaking, and then I went on to focus on innovations like nanotechnology in my studies. At Landqart I can combine traditional papermaking with my fascination for state-of-the-art technology. I see this way of thinking throughout the company, in the way we react quickly to changes in society. The coronavirus pandemic, for example, made us aware of the fact that it makes sense to issue a banknote that doesn’t spread viruses. That’s why we developed the CleanNote.

AW: I also feel the long history and the loyalty to the craft when I walk through the factory. These are people who’ve been making paper for generations. With a lot of manual labour. But we’re also strong supporters of the interplay between digital and analogue. Both in terms of our technologies and our product. Digital options for payment and identification are needed, as well as high-quality and secure paper identity documents. Just as both painstaking manual work and innovative high-tech machines are essential.

I’m just trying to imagine how varied papermaking can be.

AW: We have more freedom than you’d think when it comes to developing high-security paper. We hold regular ideation workshops, and encourage employees from all disciplines to get involved in the process of creating a new product.

FL: Lots of creative thinking flows into our paper. We maintain a very close working relationship between my process engineering team and our R & D people. If I have a problem, everyone is there to lend a hand. I could have colleagues from five different departments suddenly standing around a single facility.

AW: Talking of variety, we’re currently expanding our facilities and premises to present Landqart 2.0 next year at our 150th anniversary.

Franz, why should I become a paper technologist?

FL (laughing): Put simply, we’re just a great group of people. There’s a paper technology centre in the Black Forest where all German and Swiss apprentices meet on a regular basis. So even as an apprentice you’re already building up a small network of people with shared interests. I’m still in touch with lots of them today. And it’s also extremely rewarding, of course, to see my knowledge immortalised in a product that passes through countless hands worldwide, day in and day out.

I really like the new 20 franc banknote. What’s your favourite banknote, Franz?

FL: One I helped to develop, of course. I devised a method for getting the security thread into the 50 dollar banknote from the Bahamas.

So the Bahamas turn to a company in Graubünden for their paper?

AW: The Bahamas don’t have their own printing facilities, and commission a commercial printer to do the work. This printer was inspired by the strength and durability of our Swiss banknote and wanted theirs to be the same. And we’re the only ones with the right substrate.

Is this your favourite banknote as well, Axel Wappler?

AW: I have more than one. I’ll have to show you a few (pulls out his wallet, full of different international and exotic notes). One of the ones I really like of course is the Swiss 1,000 franc note. The design and colour configuration of the purple just looks fantastic on the Durasafe. And again the 50 dollar note from the Bahamas. The thread has a three-dimensional effect, and the bird changes colour with the light. That’s what I call a banknote! And this one from Kazakhstan. But now I need to stop, or I’ll just keep on raving about them all.