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A vending machine that calls you by your first name?

How the Internet of Things, and smart vending machines in particular, are redefining the beverage can industry. 

Have you ever slammed a vending machine because it swallowed your money? Or simply because it had run out of your favourite drink? Try cursing at the latest generation of smart vending machines and there’s a good chance they will answer you back! Yes, the Internet of Things continues to turn previously “dumb” objects into connected, dynamic, interactive and – in short – smart elements of a self-regulating network. And the humble drink can is a prime example! 

Bringing vending machines into the mobile era

Touchscreen interfaces, cashless payments, personalised content, interactive media… From the point of view of the consumer, the arrival of the smart vending machine promises a whole new user experience. While at the back end, they are already revolutionising how vendors maintain, stock and service them. Promising not only increased sales but also more efficient management and hence lower costs. 

Vending Machine - Metal Packaging Europe© Enterprise innovation - Smart Vending machines know who you are by using facial recognition. They know your favourite drinks – or in this case smartphones – and present them on the home screen. Fast and easy!

Anything is possible

Imagine a vending machine that knows who you are and greets you by your first name. Even remembers your favourite selection. And automatically debits your bank account after confirming your purchase. Imagine a vending machine that automatically orders its own refills. Keeps track of stock in real-time. Can update prices remotely. Analyse consumption patterns and predict demand based on the weather? Or time of day? Or the neighbourhood events calendar? All of this is made possible thanks to the simultaneous integration of several new technologies: from connected sensors, near-field communication, cloud-based management and data procurement, and of course some equally smart software that ties it all together.

Cans - Metal Packaging Europe

A fully connected ecosystem

These self-sustaining food and drink dispensers represent a wave of innovation coming to the industry thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Essentially an ecosystem of connected objects, systems and services, the IoT enables data to be gathered, transferred and processed without human intervention. And it just so happens that the very first instance of a connected appliance was in fact a drinks vending machine at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. Members of the computer science department were so fed up with walking down three flights of stairs to the machine, only to find it was empty, that they linked it to their network in order to see whether the machine was stocked with drinks, how long each drink had been in the machine, and whether they were cold.  

Even bigger data

Beyond enhancing the consumer experience, however, the potential impact of smart vending machines in terms of gathering big data and marketing insights is enormous! Coca-Cola for one has been experimenting with connected machines in America and Europe for some time now, using the deep consumer insights it subsequently gains to align both production timelines and product development to consumer demand. And Burger King’s now-famous Freestyle Machines that let users mix their own popular beverage brands into their own signature brew also monitor consumer choices and enable more dynamic stock management.

CocaCola Vending Machine's - Metal Packaging Europe© Coca-Cola Company Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machines are popping up in more and more fastfood restaurants.

Smart production

The use of smart machines doesn’t just stop at the point of sale, however. Connected sensors are also transforming things on the production side as well by enabling the dynamic monitoring of factories and machinery, helping to improve efficiency, boost output and reduce downtime. To take just one example, King’s Hawaiian, a bread manufacturer that produces 90 tonnes of bread every day, doubled their previous production numbers using IoT technology and FactoryTalk, software that gives employees remote access to current and past data to monitor performance. 

So next time you think of taking your frustrations out on a vending machine, you better think twice.
Because in the age of connected devices, a vending machine never forgets! 

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