Masters of Destruction – Chew up Plastic Cards

June 13, 2018 at 4:30 pm by SEM

For SSI Photo ID of Edmond, Oklahoma, destruction is as important as production. Management of the plastic data card manufacturing company considers the prompt obliteration of its defective cards a security priority–for good reason.

Two years ago, a batch of prepaid telephone cards–one of the company’s specialties–that had been laminated improperly was thrown in the garbage by mistake. Because such cards are prepaid, they can be used by anyone who obtains them, and the client requesting the cards is liable for any misuse. Thieves found the cards, deciphered the still-legible PIN numbers, and used them to make unauthorized phone calls. Though the thieves were caught and prosecuted by the government–stealing telephone time is a federal offense–the incident reflected poorly on SSI, and management resolved to establish procedures that would prevent a recurrence.

Company policy at the time dictated that small batches of cards be manually shredded in-house. Larger batches of cards were outsourced to another company for destruction. After the incident, management considered expanding the contract for the cards to be destroyed off-site. However, due to cost and security considerations, it decided to develop a program to destroy the cards in-house. Acting on management’s instructions, Phil Baker, SSI’s purchasing manager, began researching disintegrators capable of destroying the company’s plastic phone, access control, and ID cards.

Baker had one specific requirement: the equipment had to be capable of completely obliterating a card. According to Baker, manufacturing mistakes can take on many forms. Often, an error that necessitates destroying a batch of cards does not affect the information on the card. So, even if the cards are shredded, legible information could allow someone to use the card.

After testing several machines, Baker purchased the SEM Model 1012 disintegrator manufactured by Security Engineered Machinery of Westboro, Massachusetts. The design of the unit is simple. The material to be destroyed is fed into the machine through a feed hopper. The cutting mechanism comprises five knives, mounted on a steel rotor, that pass two stationary knives. The system can make up to 6,000 cuts per minute.

The cards are sliced until they are small enough to pass through a steel screen beneath the cutting rotor. SEM can use interchangeable screens to alter the size of the waste from 1Ž2 inch to 3Ž32 of an inch–roughly the consistency of talcum powder. A fan cools the plastic to keep it from melting and simultaneously draws it into a waste compactor. Baker was initially concerned that one unit might not be enough to destroy a large batch of cards in a timely manner–job sizes range from several hundred thousand to forty million. The solution was to run the machine around the clock with two shifts of workers. Even big jobs can be handled in twenty-four hours by the two workers who operate the machine, says Baker.

The noise created by the unit also caused some initial concern among workers and management. To solve the problem, the company built a small outbuilding to house the disintegrator. Workers operating the machine wear special protective gear, including earplugs and a face mask. The building, which also holds all the material to be destroyed, is protected with a heavy-duty padlock. Only managers directly involved with overseeing the destruction process have a key.

–By Teresa Anderson, senior editor

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