Thursday, October 27, 2011

Observations / Australia: Shining some light on Kiwalite

A year or so ago, in one of my semi-regular "shopping trips" around the various plate stores on the web, I took advantage of a big batch of Australian plates that Plate Depot was offering. (The site's run by a fellow ALPCAn who has lots of high-quality stuff - still including over 100 Aussie plates at last count.) I don't really collect stuff from outside North America at present, but the ability to complete a seven-continental-states-plus-ACT run in one purchase was intriguing, so I bit. They've been hanging on one of my walls in a colorful eight-plate stack for several months now, and I quite enjoy them.

However, I hadn't yet entered them into my collection checklist, so tonight while watching the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals duel it out in Game Six, I pulled them off the wall and noted their pertinent details. Of course, on the front of the plates is the serial number, but there's also some matrix-printed code on the back of the plates. Here's a photo of my Victoria issue as an example:

The code, although mostly inscrutable, does reveal a couple of important things. After the "LB" at the far left appears to be a date code in DD-MM-YY format, in this case meaning that the plate (or at least the non-embossed blank) was manufactured on February 4, 2003.

Then, at the far right edge is a notation instantly familiar to plate collectors everywhere: "3M".This undoubtedly refers to the manufacturer of the reflective sheeting, 3M Corporation. This is not surprising, as the company has been a powerhouse in the registration industry since at least the 1940s or 1950s.

But several plates carried a different mark, and indeed appeared to be constructed differently. Again, by way of example, here's my issue from Western Australia:

That word on the far right is "KIWA", and I initially had no idea what or who it referred to. Five minutes spent with Google taught me that the fine folks at Sakai Chemical also make plastic sheeting products under the "Kiwa" trade name, in this case known as Kiwalite. Based on my own observations, Kiwalite appears to be a much thinner covering than 3M's usual offerings (never mind that of Avery Dennison), and gives the graphics a very crisp appearance while maintaining good reflectivity under the shine of my reasonably bright flashlight.

In a broader sense, the uniform application of these printed codes also tells me that, much like the system used by Mexico, Australia apparently oversees all plate production on a national level while allowing each state or territory to set its own standards as far as design and numbering are concerned. Even the dies used appear to vary: the Victoria plate above uses what looks like Irwin-Hodson's Oregon set, while most other plates use the "standard" Australian variety. But since I only have one of each plate, and since I don't plan on getting more any time soon, I'm curious to know if Australia regularly switches out its manufacturing contracts nationally or if each state sets their own policies. Anyone out there have the answer?