Quantity Control: How Smart Vending Machines
Can Boost Productivity & Safety
IVM, Inc.’s smart systems allow plants and businesses to bypass inefficient supply processes
to provide workers the tools they need exactly when they need them.
by Travis Hessman
On a recent trip to California, a friend here in the offce got a tour of Face- book’s Menlo Park headquarters. I expected him to come back with
exciting stories about its massive open spaces, its rooftop garden paradise, or at least the
free ice cream.
Instead, all he could talk about were the
On the surface, that seemed a little weird.
But, he noted, they weren’t your typical snack
Facebook, like many such companies lately,
has adopted a new breed of smart vending
machines designed to provide offce tech
essentials—keyboards, mice, cables, even
headphones—directly to workers whenever
they are required. With a quick scan of a
badge, employees get what they need without fghting through the sometimes lengthy,
always aggravating IT request process.
The result, they say, can be dramatic increases in productivity for both the workers
who need this stuff and for the IT departments
that have much more important things to do
than dole out power cords.
But the technology isn’t restricted to just
offce spaces and fancy internet companies.
Over the past few decades, these vending machines have been slowly popping up in factories and plants all over the world to automate
(and track) delivery of everything from tools
IVM, INC. SMART VENDING MACHINES
and safety equipment to healthcare supplies.
To fnd out more about this growing trend,
we tracked down Michael Pitts, president
of IVM, Inc., Facebook’s vending machine
vendor and a driving force behind this smart
Let’s start with the basics. What on earth
is a smart vending machine?
Basically, a smart vending machine allows
users to track the distribution of products
that they have to give employees so their
employees can do their job.
If you saw our machine next to any other
vending machine, you’d probably think they
look just alike—they look like they could be
flled with candy bars or chips or whatever.
The difference is that all of our machines have
a completely different internal system. The
systems all speak to our servers so they’re
all connected to us no matter where they are
in the world.
It’s becoming the norm for clients to get
product into the hands of their employees.
And not just getting the products into their
hands, doing so in an effcient manner. Em-plyees don’t have to wait for someone to give
them the tools they need or to go track down
a supervisor. They can just go to the machine,
scan their employee ID badge, and it vends
whatever they need.
What about the “smart” part of it? What’s
the advantage to having these machines
online and connected?
Well, companies can not only place restrictions on what certain employees can or cannot
vend and how much they can vend and how
frequently, but they also have the opportunity
to know what an employee has vended.
For instance, you have the ability to know
that your employees have been vending hearing protection before every shift.
Hearing loss, we all know, can be a cumulative problem. So our clients can come
to us and ask how often a certain employee
vended hearing protection over the past 12
years. And we can pull that data and show
BEHIND THE SCENES NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
their legal department every time he or she
has vended hearing protection. So you’ve just
mitigated 12 years of hearing loss that is not
the responsibility of the company.
There also seems to be a possible effciency gain here. Workers aren’t going rifing
through fling cabinets trying to fnd what
they need anymore, and they wouldn’t have
to hoard supplies, right?
Exactly. A good example of that is right here
in Indianapolis where we’re located. There’s a
Carrier plant here that had one tool crib where
they handed out all their cut-resistant gloves.
They realized that from the time somebody left
their assembly station to go to the tool crib and
back was costing them anywhere from 12 to
18 minutes of productivity.
So they put eight of our machines at strategic locations around the plant and reduced
that time to just two or three minutes.
But, in the process they also found out
that they reduced the use of gloves by 80%.
Because now people aren’t going to grab
a pack of 12 and throw them in their locker, they’re just going to get what they need
and move on. That alone saved them almost
$72,000 a year.
I see that your company has been at this
since the 1990s, which seems amazing from
a technology standpoint alone. How did you
get such an early start in this?
Well, it was kind of forced on us. Our roots
go back to traditional vending machines, and
when I say that it’s exactly what you think
when I say “vending machine.”
Union Pacifc was one of our clients. At
the time, they would set all their personal
protective equipment products out on a table
and people would just take them. They had no
idea who took them or how much they took.
Then one day, one of the directors there
was watching a gardening show and the host
was wearing a pair of gloves that had the
Union Pacifc Railroad logo on them. And he’s
just scratching his head wondering how on
earth the guy got those gloves, which were
exclusive to Union Pacifc.
So they asked us to come up with a system that would control the distribution of
these products. And that’s when we invented
At that point, it was a very clunky system.
We just had a card reader that would load the
data on who did what, and when we wanted
that data we had to send a new card reader
to be switched out of the machine.
And boy, when we got those dialup modems, we thought we died and went to heaven
because we could just download machine
data whenever we wanted.
Now, my goodness, it’s all wireless and
cellular technology. It takes anywhere from
fve to eight seconds to vend something no
matter where you are in the world, and it all
connects back to our servers here, so our
clients have all the data they need.