DES MOINES, IA -- U-Select-It received an innovation award for its improvements to vending machine design, dubbed as Advanced Ergonomics, which were displayed on a concept snack vender at the recent NAMA OneShow in Chicago.
The company explained that its first two ergonomic subsystems, the iCarte customer interface and the "automated delivery bin," were conceived in response to a challenge that has overtaken vending: "With the push for higher capacity and versatility of machines to deliver more diverse packaging, manufacturers -- including USI -- have focused more on function and less on form. As an unintended result, the customer's purchasing experience has suffered."
In particular, "Product variety is continually growing and with it the need for consumers to be provided with information they can use in a quick and straightforward format," USI officials observed. The company's solution is iCarte, an interactive touchscreen selector panel displaying product information at the time of purchase, without adding a separate system.
Similarly, consumers formerly regarded the 24/7 convenience of vending machines as so remarkable that they were willing to overlook some inconvenience in order to enjoy it. USI warned that today's patrons, by contrast, expect convenience, and vending's inability to meet that expectation has impaired the industry's competitiveness and image.
The automated delivery bin was conceived to rectify this difficulty, USI explained. Instead of the patron's having to set down whatever he or she is carrying -- a beverage or bag for example -- and then push a door open to "fish around" for the product, the vending machine company's novel delivery bin automatically opens the door when the product is delivered and lifts the product into plain sight for easy retrieval.
USI says its mechanism that accomplishes this is low in cost compared with other automated delivery systems available and applicable to many machine types. The delivery door can be operated in a traditional way; when the machine is in an idle state the delivery flap can be opened manually.
Attempts by vandals to interfere with the automatic operation result in the motor's stalling and restarting after an induced delay. A built-in auto-recovery sequence kicks in after an interruption to the power supply.
USI emphasized that iCarte and the automatic delivery bin are designed for ease of incorporation in general merchandisers as standard features, offered as options and implementation as field retrofits some time in the future. Each would take no longer than 30 minutes to install.
"These new features give the consumer the desired confidence by providing comprehensive information about the product, and the ability to operate the machine with one hand, whether the user has one hand full or is wheelchair bound," USI said, predicting that improvement to the user experience will encourage more frequent machine use, facilitate price improvement and thus contribute to better profit.
PHOTO: Rebecca Palazzola, A Matter of Taste (Northridge, CA), checks out iCarte touchscreen interface on Advanced Ergonomics-equipped machine as USI's Grant Pritchard details its benefits.