How to unlock values hidden inside the vending machine

There are all kinds of vending machines these days, ranging from simple snack food machine, cold drinks machines, coffee machines to ice making machines. You can imagine the daily headaches bought by fixing issues and refilling stocks in such a massive scale. Connecting the vending machines online comes to rescue as the cost of data communication keep decreasing every year. In fact, information from one of our customer estimated that they can save up to around USD $400 per machine/month by getting timely alerts on machine failure and also stock replenishment. At the same time, you get real time insights from all the information gathered.
Assuming you want to start a vending business on selling health snacks or lunch boxes. You want to be a complete solution provider from renting the machines to refilling and selecting merchandise for your clients. The vending machine will also need to support various cashless payment methods and provide an information dashboard for your customer. You may need a great team to put this together.
Although I cannot recommend what to sell for your vending business hopefully this post can help you understand the technology infrastructure involved. Let’s start by looking inside the vending machine as all treasures are hidden inside it.

Inside vending machine

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  1. Most of the vending machines you can obtain from the manufacturers looks like this. A simple vending controller providing an interface to retrieve audit data. The controller also has another message bus connecting coin and bill payment accepters. In the old days, technician will open the door of the vending machine and retrieve audit logs using a hand-held reader (Data Collector), getting information on machine failures, stock status as well as the total money collected.
  2. We replace the Data collector with a mini computer. The mini computer has an agent install to talk wireless with the server.  For indoor systems we can utilize Wifi for communications.
  3. Cashless payment is usually not provided from the manufacturer. You need to have a system integrator to help. The newly added cashless payment module is another mini computer supporting QR or NFC payment. Notice that this mini computer can also sniff payment statistics on cash payments, providing more granular statistics than audit data.
  4. Lastly, we can combine the 2 mini computer into one. The data collector device now double as a cashless payment module, connecting to both the payment message bus and the audit message bus.

Asset monitoring portal

From the audit and sales data collected we can built a asset management solution to provide:
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  1. Role based access for different stakeholders – Sales manager will look at data to determine promotions and sales strategies. Refillers will look at stock replenishment alerts. Technicians will monitor machine failures.
  2. Task management – Technicians get information on machine failures and determine repairing priorities in different locations. Refillers monitor stock levels and refills.
  3. Dynamic pricing – Sales manager can remotely adjust pricing on all vending machines from a single button click. Say at 5:00pm to 6:30pm there is an 20% discount on all purchases by cashless payment.
  4. Technical and refiller mobile apps – Designed for refiller and technicians working in the field. Real time alerts on machine failure status and task assigned from the manager can be received from push notifications.

Moving Forward

This is the basic IoT infrastructure needed to manage your fleet of vending machines. There are a lot more that can be done to streamline the operations and unfold additional insights. We will talk about this in the follow up post.
Lindsay Chung
VP, Program Management
Kii Corporation