Industrial vending – vote or veto28 October 2017

Industrial vending machines can be used to stock a range of items and tools, but would they work on your site? Adam Offord explores the options

For many UK manufacturers, keeping pace with fast-moving consumables can be the stuff of nightmares. One minute your stock levels are fine; then, the next, you’re running low or, even worse, have run out of a much-needed item.

Industrial vending machines are used to store items from abrasives to hand tools, and from personal protective equipment (PPE) to lubricants and greases. Much like vending machines that store snacks and drinks, these items are stored in the machine and then dispensed when an employee or work area needs them.

Numerous companies have developed such machines to help UK manufacturers cope with fast-moving consumables and stock levels – with some vending machines featuring a range of software to help with stock replenishment. But who stands to benefit the most from industrial vending machines?

Vote for vending
Mike Pokora, vice-president of industrial sales at automated dispensing provider Apex Supply Chain Technologies, and Michelle Hoey (inset, right), external sales manager for Sil-Mid, a specialist distributor of silicones, sealants, adhesives, lubricants and cleaning agents, say that there are many benefits to using industrial automated dispensing.

Pokora says that, in addition to managing supplies and benefiting a company’s productivity, automated dispensing equipment “can also provide manufacturers with data on the use of supplies by a particular employee or department”. This, in turn, allows manufacturers to manage their inventory in the most efficient way possible.

Other benefits, Pokora adds, are cost reduction, more effective inventory management, automated benefits, leaner operation and productivity increases.

“If a product fits into, and out of, a device, it can be vended,” he says. “You can also make alterations to a device to suit the type of items you are dispensing. For example, adding a padded delivery bay will suit more fragile items that could be damaged when dispensed.”
Hoey says that one of the key benefits of industrial vending machines is that they extend the supply chain to point-of-use and, through report monitoring, this helps to reduce surplus stock and unnecessary wastage.

Meanwhile, automatic replenishment ensures that you are never in a position where you don’t have stock when a customer needs something urgently.

Machine mutiny
Like most things, industrial vending machines do have some negatives that firms should be aware of. Hoey explains that, in terms of drawbacks, there is potential downtime of vending software or the “obvious one”, namely the size limitation it can place on products.

“We’ve been working hard to address this and now have an alternative range of storage solutions available to house larger products efficiently,” she says.

Pokora adds that, in some cases, there can be a brief on-site disruption while the device is installed. However, he says the best solution will be pre-configured and prepared off-site to minimise disruption during installation.

“In these instances, it can take under two hours for a device to be up and running,” he explains. “Sometimes a concern can be the time it takes to repackage products and re-fill devices. This is misplaced, however, because it doesn’t apply to modern technologies and methods. Most product manufacturers now use ‘vend-ready’ packaging and re-filling processes are becoming more streamlined. In fact, it’s often the alternatives to automated dispensing that eat up the most time – a fact that is sometimes forgotten.”

Sector specific?
Both Hoey and Pokora agree that industrial vending machines can be implemented across all areas of UK manufacturing. Hoey says that vending machines “can be utilised across all industries” where there is an ongoing need for consumable products. She also believes that all companies can benefit from vending machine solutions, because there is a wide range available to suit all budgets.

She explains: “If the customers’ product volumes are large, more frequent deliveries can be scheduled to ensure no stock-outs; equally, if the product volumes are small, less frequent restocks are required. If the client had a large product range, multiple vending machines can be located on-site to accommodate this. There are lots of options to finance these machines, from leasing to outright purchase.

“Traditional spiral vending machines are available as an entry-level step into on-site vending. These allow small- to medium-sized products and PPE to be dispensed for low initial start-up costs. Locker vending machines are the next step up and are ideal for larger products.”
Pokora adds: “The benefits can apply to any sector that uses PPE, MRO or other similar supplies. Automotive and aerospace are two of the most active users of automated dispensing in the UK. This is, in part, due to the benefits that these sectors have seen as a result of their early adoption of this technology, including leaner management and a higher level of cost control from having critical protection equipment, MRO items and kitted components available at the point-of-work.

“Automated dispensing is relevant to any company that values efficiency and cost control. Certainly, sites of 50+ employees using PPE and MRO consumables would stand to benefit the most from automated dispensing.”

Here to stay
Industrial vending machines come with a range of benefits and very few negatives – something of which the automotive and aerospace industry, in particular, have taken full advantage. Industrial automated dispensing and its benefits have also extended beyond these two industries. With a range of options available to suit the needs of all manufacturers, industrial vending machines have made their mark and are here to stay.

Adam Offord

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