Seaga Premium Collection Unites Advanced Technology, Simplicity

Posted On: 3/19/2007

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FREEPORT, IL -- On display at the upcoming National Automatic Merchandising Association Spring Expo will be the Premium Collection from Seaga. The line now includes two snack machines of different widths, a refrigerated-or-frozen food and snack merchandiser, and a chilled packaged-beverage vender, all of which can control an adjacent satellite snack dispenser.

Seaga's Premium Collection, unveiled last fall at the NAMA National Expo in Orlando, integrates innovative technology into the durable, straightforward design for which the company is known. Low parts counts, extensive parts commonality and modular subassemblies all contribute to fast service in the field and efficient parts department operation.

This functionality is combined with cutting-edge technology. Premium Collection machines are compliant with the industry-standard DEX (data storage and external communication) and multi-drop bus (internal communication) protocols. The controller records cash insertions, individual vends and sales totals, along with time stamps from the onboard clock.

Premium Collection machines also feature Seaga's Vigilant positive vend detection system, which uses infrared beams and sensors in the product delivery bin to verify delivery of the product, and a bright two-line 20-character vacuum fluorescent scrolling information display.

Entirely new is high-brightness LED illumination -- patent pending -- for the product display. Light-emitting diodes consume little power, run cool and are much more durable than fluorescent lamps. According to Seaga founder Steve Chesney, an ongoing concern operators and route drivers express about vending machines is the need to replace lamps frequently and the inconvenience of doing so.

The LEDs, of the sort now finding wide use in large outdoor video displays, are compact, rugged and very long-lived. They produce bright, even, neutral white illumination that displays selections to their best advantage.

Also new on the Premium Series is field reprogramming by means of the Seaga Smart Card. This system -- a standard feature of the new line -- allows the operator to set machine functions, such as column pricing and energy-saving modes, with a standard desktop computer. A simple interface allows the new program to be downloaded to a Seaga Smart Card, which the driver carries into the field to reprogram the chosen machine or machines automatically.

The magnetic-stripe card has many other uses. For example, it can be used to diagnose location-specific problems by logging data over one or several days, transferring the record to a Smart Card and transmitting it to Seaga's Customer Care Team for analysis. It also is able to actuate tests including keypad, motor/vend, current (with programmable high and low amperage points), and spiral home-position and sold-out (stock) switch operation.

The machine's operating firmware can be updated when enhancements are published; the operator need only download the new version from Seaga and transfer it to the Seaga Smart Card for upload on location. The system is designed to make life easier for new and veteran operators alike, and for their field sales and service personnel, too.

Premium Collection venders ship with card capability built in; operators who wish to use the system can obtain the hardware interfaces from Seaga distributors.

All Premium Collection venders are 72 ins. high and 37 ins. deep for easy mix-and-match banking. The Collection includes 35-in. (four wide) and 39-in. (five wide) snack machines. The narrow model (nominal 32-select) is available in a configuration optimized for vending DVDs.

The 4-wide (35-in.) refrigerated vender can be adjusted to accommodate frozen, refrigerated or chilled products, and thus can merchandise a very wide assortment of food, cold beverage, dessert, snack and novelty items. The available can/bottle shelves hold and display the packages upright, not tilted backward as is common in other spiral venders for packaged beverages.

Chesney explained that the Premium Collection was developed over several years, on the basis of experience with the company's popular line of snack, food and cold drink machines, careful evaluation of available new technology, and extensive discussions with operators.

The goal of the development process, he emphasized, was an equipment line that gives operators all the technology they need, either onboard or available for straightforward installation, while avoiding features that are not needed and that will not be used. "Our philosophy is to provide the necessary technology, packaged in a form that anyone can use," he told VT.

To that end, Seaga has worked with the leading  telemetry developers, Cantaloupe Systems and Protel, to make sure that their remote monitoring hardware and software will interface smoothly with Premium Collection machines. Control boards are compatible with cashless payment systems, both existing hosted internal (closed) and major credit/debit card (open) architectures. They also can work with other payment systems presently waiting in the wings, such as biometric identification.

An international company with European and South Asian sales and service facilities and business partners, Seaga also is alert to technical developments beyond those currently finding application to full-line equipment in North America and Western Europe. It is developing technology that will be compatible worldwide with the GSM mobile telephony protocol and its packet-switching data transmission companion, GPRS.

The line also has been engineered to provide a variety of energy-saving options, while the parts count has been kept low to streamline production and to keep the cost of ownership low.

Premium Collection equipment is carefully designed for fast service and maintenance. The refrigeration system used in temperature-controlled models is fully modular and configured for service through the front of the machine. Electronically controlled for intelligent temperature maintenance, the refrigeration system does not waste energy by running when it's not needed. Machines are insulated with an environmentally friendly material with "ozone depletion potential" of zero.

The Seaga founder observed that the present vending market, characterized by strong demand for service by locations that do not meet classical full-line vending volume norms, has not been kind to traditional machine manufacturers. However, he said, "We feel that this is the most opportune time to introduce new and exciting technologies and features on attractively priced machines."

Since its inception, Seaga has thrived by looking at the marketplace in a different way. "Our focus always has been to embrace change, and to seek loyalty not through distributors' contractual obligations, but through enhancing the operator's experience and the distributor's business model," Chesney added.

"Seaga has earned its distributors' loyalty by offering the right product at the right price, with excellent service," he reported. "Many distributors have looked at the Premium Collection and contacted us, because we let them maintain their independence. Over the past year, we have signed on more distributors than at any other time in our history."

Seaga, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has a long history of innovation and a tradition of responding quickly to unexpected demands (see VT, April 2004). "We go where the market leads us," Chesney said. "We have a good idea what we'll be doing next week, but we're always receptive, and we can respond quickly."

The company's worldwide presence now includes manufacturing facilities at its Freeport, IL, headquarters and in New Delhi, India, as well as a sales and distribution center in Llandudno, Wales. This strategic global coverage reduces manufacturing and shipping costs for a clientele in the world's key vending markets.

"Seaga is a growing, thriving organization with excellent engineering, exceptional service and terrific equipment -- at a price point that's affordable by operators, large and small," Chesney summed up. "Distributors, operators and route drivers alike know that Seaga has manufactured equipment for more than two decades, that its finances are solid and its ownership is resolute in its commitment to our industry and our customers."