by Jose Avalos
Are you looking to get more value out of each vending machine? Adding connectivity and intelligence to your existing vending machines can pay off big time, from slashing maintenance costs with remote management to boosting revenue with cashless payment and payment flexibility. You can also integrate modern retail tools (e.g., discounts, coupons, campaigns, loyalty schemes) into your vending environment.
When vending machines are connected to the Internet, you can take advantage of cloud services, data analytics, and new opportunities to grow revenue. However, chances are high that you are operating many different types of vending machine, from a range of manufacturers, and each one using a different approach. Retrofitting machines for intelligent vending is a relatively low-cost way to completely revolutionize what they can do. By retrofitting, you can build a fleet of vending machines that uses a common set of off-the-shelf embedded PC hardware and software that are accessible through one Web management interface.
How to get your retrofit started
Retrofitting existing machines does call for a few special considerations. Before starting the process, you will want to choose technology that will result in a smooth rollout and future upgradability. Here are four key questions to guide your path forward:
1. Can you upgrade quickly? Every hour your machines are down is revenue wasted. Your retrofitting process needs to be fast, so you can get your machines back up and running.2. Can you flexibly deal with different types of vending machines? Many current fleets rely on a patchwork of machine types and manufacturers. Reaping the rewards of retrofitting starts with ensuring those disparate systems can be effectively retrofitted.
3. Will your machines and data be secure? Not only do you need to protect customer payment data, but you will also want to protect valuable information about sales.
4. Can you easily scale to additional machines or add new features? Many operators test the waters by adding intelligent vending to just a few machines at first. If all goes well, you will soon want to roll out to hundreds, or even thousands, of vending machines. Plus, as new forms of payment become popular, you will want to make sure your solution can incorporate them.
Roles and responsibilities in the process
Marketing should lead the charge for a vending machine upgrade. It should highlight the value of new features that will help increase operational efficiency and create new business opportunities (e.g., digital signage). The marketing manager can analyze the benefits of new features such as digital display signage, remote price programming, stock sales analysis, etc.
The operations manager/field services manager also plays an important role. It falls to that person to determine the return on investment (ROI) of investing in a retrofit kit. They must highlight to the CEO and board the savings possible in machine maintenance costs as well as the improvement expected in machine efficiency and sales. They will also want to demonstrate that remote monitoring can lead to greater predictive maintenance and, hence, a reduction in truck/van rolls.
Securing a retrofit kit solution provider is the next key piece in the retrofit process, so it is important to be prepared. The operator should have a maintenance cost plan that outlines the potential benefit shortfall (e.g., cost saving), while also identifying potential new income generators (e.g., signage). Moreover, they need to provide a clear overview of the machine types involved. Capturing such details is fundamental to ensuring an effective proposal from the solution provider that meets needs and expectations.
Keep in mind that the right solution provider should offer a complete solution spanning hardware, local software, a cloud solution and connectivity. It should also offer consultancy services because each implementation is different. The solution provider should act as a partner, addressing issues including hardware lifespan (e.g., boards, Intel® chips), hardware warranty, hardware roadmaps, hardware capability (e.g., headroom for future features), software engineering capability, software and systems integration capability and the hardware OEM reputation.
If the right solution provider is engaged and the steps are undertaken properly, companies can expect to see a profit increase of 5 percent to 20 percent, depending on the machines themselves, the market and other variables. In some cases, adoption of a simple telemetry system led to savings in maintenance costs of 30 percent through improved route efficiency, product restocking, and part swaps.
Simplifying your retrofit with Brainy
To address these considerations, AAEON and Emutex have developed an intelligent vending solution called Brainy that is specifically for retrofits. With fast implementation and sophisticated remote management tools, Brainy can lower your total cost of ownership. Plans are already in the works to deploy Brainy across thousands of vending machines globally with some of the largest operators.
The 6 Steps of an Effective Retrofit
Understanding the order of requirements is crucial to a successful retrofit. The Brainy solution, which can serve as the foundation for any vending machine, simplifies steps 3 through 6.
Step 1: Define the business plan, highlighting potential ROI and areas of improvement with existing vending machines.
Step 2: Evaluate the target vending machine and determine the retrofit functions required to achieve improvements.
Step 3: Conduct a feasibility study with the Brainy solution provider.
Step 4: Create a proof of concept by integrating and adapting Brainy technology.
Step 5: Run a field trial, monitoring predefined functions and improvement targets.
Step 6: Implement the business plan.
Emutex’s ubiworx* software provides valuable business intelligence with analytics both at the edge and in the cloud, making it easy to identify the best-selling products by location, sales velocity and much more. In addition, Brainy features full connectivity, including cellular (GSM/3G/4G), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth* Low Energy (BLE), so operators can communicate with machines anytime and anywhere. Live inventory tracking, active machine sensors, and video surveillance allow operators to monitor the status of all installed machines, minimizing the time and cost of maintenance. You can even control spirals and motors to resolve jams and other problems remotely.
Brainy from AAEON consists of an UP Board that features a low-power Intel® Atom™ x5 quad-core processor and a vending module that supports the most common vending machine interfaces and protocols. By adding Intel® RealSense™ technology, you can collect demographics about your customers through facial recognition and be sure your machines are dispensing the right products. Depending on whether other mechanics of the machine need to be modified, Brainy can be installed in as little as a few hours.
Because it is based on the Intel® Reference Design for Intelligent Vending, Brainy helps operators protect customer payment and sales data. All data from the vending machine to the cloud are encrypted through Intel® Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions (Intel® AES-NI). Once you have installed Brainy in a few machines, you can easily scale it across your entire fleet or add new features as they become available. From making sense of sales data to keeping on top of stock levels, intelligent vending gives you control and business insights never before possible. To learn more about Brainy intelligent vending solutions, click here.
JOSE AVALOS is the Global Visual Retail Director for Intel Corp. in the Internet of Things Group. He and his organization are responsible for delivering Intel’s solutions for digital signage, interactive kiosks, intelligent vending and dispensing, intelligent shelving and interactive white-board platforms, as well as initiatives to fuel the growth of these Industries.