The development of uniform data standards for data recorded in electronic vending machines has created a wealth of opportunities for managing the data more efficiently.
In time, as more operators become familiar with these benefits and begin using them, they will be able to maximize the return on their service labor, menu their machines to meet location needs more accurately, utilize cashless solutions more economically, and be privy to a host of other benefits associated with line-item tracking.
Last month, I explored the differences between the three technologies that have emerged — multi-drop bus (MDB), data exchange (DEX) and data transfer standards (DTS) — and how they interact in a vending machine. Much of the article addressed the distinctions between DEX and MDB. This month, I will focus more on the collection methods and benefits afforded by DEX data collection, many of which are only in the experimental stage.
DEX data collection
There are three levels of DEX data collection: machine, local and remote.
Machine data capture involves either plugging a handheld device in a machine's DEX port or using an optical alternative, such as infrared technology.
Many DEX ports enable the vending machine controller (VMC) to detect the insertion of the handheld device plug so that it serves as a signal to start the DEX data gathering process.
Local machine polling incorporates a handheld device (or pocket probe) designed to connect to a vending machine's DEX port or to communicate through an IR port. Once the connection is established, the device is used to extract (upload) transactional data from the machine to the handheld device.
A typical DEX data upload takes approximately five seconds. Field collected data can be transferred from the handheld device to a central office computer for processing, analysis and report generation.
Wireless technology makes it possible to collect DEX data from the comfort of a route truck located within location proximity. Some operators incorporate truck-based replenishment ticket printing and/or enable a handheld device to capture machine data to provide the validity of polled curbside data.
Like other remote options, curbside polling eliminates at least one trip back to the truck when filling machines.
In order to extend the capabilities of curbside polling, some operators are trying to apply warehouse fill orders or dynamic scheduling without intensive forecasting technology. Curbside polling is normally considered best for daily, unpredictable inventory machines. Curbside polling does not usually incur line charges or monthly fees within the network, and is the least expensive polling option.
Dial-up polling involves use of a modem and telephone line. Once a valid connection is established, DEX data can be transported to a remote office or warehouse location for evaluation over an Internet or virtual private network (VPN) connection.
Dial-up polling may require a dedicated phone line connection for each vending machine, or simply one line connected to a master DEX data consolidation device. Phone line availability, line charges, service fees, location permission, and the like may present barriers to successful connectivity.
Dial-up polling enables a machine to be remotely monitored with respect to cash, inventory, machine alerts and malfunctions.
Usually a single machine with a cellular modem, located in a cluster of machines, can serve as a master unit for data transference and machine monitoring. The master (or host) unit gathers DEX-data-linked (slave) units within an approximate 1,000-yard radius. Readings can be performed hourly, or at user-defined intervals.