Retrofit Kits Give Machines State-of-the-Art Capabilities

There are many instances in which vending operators have been able to win business because they offered a piece of equipment with new features, such as guaranteed product delivery, higher denomination bill acceptance, or cashless transaction capability.

In many cases, however, purchasing a new machine that includes some or all of these features isn't financially feasible, particularly in challenging economic periods. The good news is that there are a host of kits, controllers and peripherals that make the choice to stay with an older vender easier.

Most of the older machines can now be upgraded to be DEX- and MDB-capable, offer guaranteed product delivery, large bill acceptance, and debit or credit card acceptance.

Guaranteed delivery options
One of the most popular new capabilities is guaranteed product delivery. Most new machines on the market these days offer this feature. Now there are controllers and kits that offer this same functionality for many of the older glassfront venders.

Mike Garrett, operations manager of Twin Oaks Vending, a 6-route operation based in Twin Oaks, Ill., said his company has exclusively been using refurbished equipment for several years. Twin Oaks Vending has found that by using retrofit kits to provide new features such as guaranteed product delivery, they can be competitive with other companies offering brand new equipment.

Garrett said guaranteed product delivery is a strong selling tool. He acknowledged that the retrofit kits haven't been problem free. Fortunately, the supplier he has worked with has been willing to replace parts when necessary.

"It has cut down on refunds," he said.

Retrofit kits an option for many legacy machines
Northwest Vending Co., an 18-route operation based in Eugene, Ore., has been studying DEX and MDB retrofit kits for machines that still have some good use ahead of them, noted Dave Peterson, sales and marketing manager.

Northwest Vending has used retrofit kits in the past to extend the bill acceptance on some of its changers, Peterson said. He said it is important to know that the retrofit kit is compatible with the specific changer model.

InOne Technology, Vendors Exchange International Inc. and Lutech Inc. all offer an aftermarket "guaranteed delivery" system.

Vendors Exchange International Inc. offers a retrofit kit called the Vend Wizard for nearly all Micromech machines on the market. The Vend Wizard guaranteed product delivery kit reduces refunds and unnecessary service calls. The kit re-establishes credit in the machine for a failed vend, allowing a second purchase attempt. After two failed attempts, it refunds the customer's money.

The Vend Wizard installs in the field in 12 to 30 minutes, and requires no special tools. In addition, the Vend Wizard upgrades a glassfront vender to $5 acceptance, as well as makes the machine DEX and /or MDB capable. The Vend Wizard is available for APi 6000/7000, 110 series, LCM and National 147/148, 145/146,157/158 venders.

Lutech Inc. has Vend Verifier, a guaranteed delivery kit that retrofits any Micromech snack machine.

InOne Technology provides the CheckMate™ guaranteed
delivery feature, a popular feature of InOne's DEXmate VMC, a replacement vending machine controller for legacy machines such as the APi 4000/5000, 6000/7000, APi LCM and 110 series glassfront snack merchandisers, as well as the Crane National 147/148 Snack Center.

"We listened to our customers who were frustrated that they were forced to purchase a new vender in order to stay competitive," noted Gene Ostendorf, CEO of InOne. "We designed the DEXmate VMC as an easy and affordable replacement board for the top performing snack machines while also providing most of the same features available in new venders."

The InOne replacement boards also offer MDB; credit cards; large denomination bill acceptors; 3- to 5-tube coin mechs; built-in DEX compatibility; updated, digital 2-line displays; and the ability to program times when machines are available for use.

"The InOne VMC kits have revitalized our old machines that were previously used in secondary locations," said Bill Hannon, technical services manager at Mark Vend Co. in Northbrook, Ill. "The large bill abilities, along with the drop sensors, have enabled us to use these machines in premium locations without having to purchase new machines."

Upgrading to MDB
To take advantage of many of the latest technological advances, machines need to be MDB compliant. MDB (Multi-Drop Bus) is a uniform standard that allows various parts of the vending machine to communicate to the vending controller. Much like a USB port in a PC, MDB provides power and communications with peripheral devices such as card readers, coin mechanisms, bill validators, etc.

Almost all of the cashless systems require MDB compliance, as do many of the large denomination bill acceptors and 5-tube coin mechs.

If the goal is MDB compliance, there are many options from which to choose.

Vendors Exchange International Inc. is now offering its easy-to-install Micromech-to-MDB conversion kit. This kit enables most Micromech machines to accept new 4- and 5-tube changers, credit card readers and cashless payment systems like Zip. One big advantage of all of VEII's MDB conversion kits is that operators can upgrade to 4- or 5-tubes mechs and still use their existing bill validators saving themselves time and money.

Lutech, Inc. has an MDB replacement board designed to make the APi 4000/5000/6000/7000 as well as the Rowe 4900 snack venders MDB compliant.

By making the machines MDB capable, they become capable of accepting 1- and 5-dollar bills, as well as debit and credit cards. The replacement board will also support a guaranteed vend if a retrofit kit is added.

The Lutech MDB replacement board also offers a DEX option, meaning the machine can become DEX capable as well.

InOne Technology offers the aforementioned DEXmate VMC, which allows for upgrade to use MDB peripherals or continued use of pulse validators and Micromech changers. It also makes the machine DEX compliant.

Jason Greene, sales manager at D & S Vending Inc., which sells parts and refurbished equipment, said the DEXmate VMC goes a step beyond some other kits in that it includes a new board in addition to the guaranteed delivery sensor, MDB capability, DEX capability and 1- and 5-dollar bill acceptance.

Greene said today's retrofit products make it possible for a vending operator to provide a snack machine with state-of-the-art capabilities for half the cost of a new machine.

Retrofit kits support cashless systems
Credit, debit and stored value card acceptance in particular is bound to play a bigger role in the future. Many colleges and factories employ card systems and insist on card acceptance in their vending machines.

David Robinson, president of Robinson Vending Inc. in Bridgewater, Mass., said manufacturers of retrofit kits have made a lot of progress recently. He recalled a situation a few years ago when he had to buy new equipment in order to service an account that had a debit card system. With today's MDB kits, he thinks he could have saved some money.

Robinson has also used retrofit kits to upgrade his bill changers to four tubes. "It's a money saver," he said.

Combination bill acceptor/card readers
MEI offers the series 2000 combo acceptor that integrates the MEI series 2000 bill acceptor with a debris-resistant, swipe-style credit card reader. With the combo acceptor, a vending machine can handle whatever form of payment customers prefer: credit card, debit card, cash or MEI coupons — or any combination thereof.

"The 2000 combo acceptor uses either an MDB or pulse interface," explained Craig Lewis, marketing manager of MEI. "Used in conjunction with the MEI EASYTRAX® remote data port, credit card information can be validated using a cell hookup." The series 2000 combo acceptors are specifically designed as replacements for the popular 2000 series bill acceptors.

Coin Acceptors, Inc. (Coinco) has launched a new bill acceptor and credit and debit card reader combination unit built upon the reliable BillPro™ platform with patented Flexstack™ technology.

The BillPro-CRX increases vending sales by offering payment flexibility in the form of bills, credit or debit cards, and coupons. The intuitive vertical card path is ergonomically designed to optimize use in vending equipment to ensure reliable card swipes. A multi-line, high-contrast LCD display and audible feedback provide the consumer with a continuous transaction status.

"The BillPro-CRX is developed to be consumer friendly," said Tom Paczkowski, director of marketing at Coin Acceptors Inc. "The ergonomic design and styling offers simplicity of use, which translates to increased sales through the vending machine. The illuminated vertical card path not only draws more attention to stimulate sales, but also provides a clear distinction between the card and bill inlets."

The Coinco combo unit is specifically designed to operate in conjunction with card processing technology offered by Transaction Network Services (TNS) and USA Technologies, two of the leading providers of wireless credit and debit card transaction services in North America.

Coin Acceptors Inc. also offers a variety of bill validator upgrade options which allow operators to have bill acceptance in machines that did not originally offer this feature, like the APi 4000 series snack vender.

Some retrofit kits support stored value cards which allow operators to grow their business by interacting with consumers in ways never before possible. Stored value cards collect consumers' money in advance, providing a frequent use discount. This enables the concept of "happy meals" to be introduced into the vending channel and also reduces transaction time.

DEX retrofit kits make machines state-of-the-art Since its adoption as a data standard by NAMA in 1986, there have been many articles exploring the advantages of DEX. The industry has generally concluded that DEX utilization technologies, which include wireless communication, will reinvigorate the vending business. The two major suppliers of DEX retrofit kits are inOne Technology with the EASY 1 Audit System, and MEI, which offers the EASYTRAX® Retrofit Audit System (RAS).

The EASY 1 Audit System installs in most vending machines, including glassfront snack machines, single-price can venders, and coffee and food machines. The system offers tamper-proof cash accountability and product sales tracking, and interfaces with all of the major software providers. EASY 1 plugs in between the existing harnesses and is completely non-intrusive and UL-certified.

MEI EASYTRAX® RAS is a retrofit audit system for single-price venders and glassfront snack machines. It provides electronic cash and selection data. The system is designed with "T" cabling, which easily installs in between the existing harnesses, and is UL-listed. The EASYTRAX® Remote Data Port (RDP) also offers DEX with the addition of the ability to send data wirelessly via cellular telemetry.

Depending on the level of functionality an operator needs and the budget with which he is working, an older machine can be upgraded with many of today's "latest and greatest" features. The various retrofit kits give operators a variety of options from which to choose.