Vending technology has moved on from the first century, when a Greek mathematician and engineer called Hero invented a coin-operated machine to dispense holy water to worshippers.
Today, there are about 15 million vending machines installed worldwide, enabling retailers to sell practically anything 24 hours a day, and all-year-round. When engineers from PharmaShop24 were looking at how they could fit more product lines into their self-service vending machines, they decided to go digital by switching to an interactive user interface. After lengthy research, the touchscreens they finally selected were based on Zytronic’s projected capacitive (PCT and MPCT) touch technology.
For more than 20 years, PharmaShop24 has been designing and manufacturing vending machines for dispensing chemists, drug stores and pharmacies. Based in Luzzara, Northern Italy, the company has grown exponentially and is now a multinational operation with sales offices all over EMEA, as well as in Japan, the USA and South Africa. In 2008, it recognised a gap in the market for its customers to provide “over the counter” medicines and non-prescription drugs outside of normal shop hours.
Addressing consumers’ demands for the convenience of 24/7 access together with pharmacies’ needs for a reliable, secure way to deliver products, Pharmashop24 has helped shape the automatic distribution of health care products and daily medical essentials. Their modular system combines two or more product display windows with a digital point-of-sale system.
“The selection and dispensing mechanisms are very bulky, which limits the number of product lines we can vend,” explains Luca Garimberti, President of PharmaShop24. “To accommodate more items, we increased the size of the product display module – for example, our largest EXTENSIVE model has a 3.5m2 footprint and can hold up to 120 different items.” However, this added number of choices also increased the complexity of traditional shelving with mechanical pushers.
The engineers at PharmaShop24 had already developed a dynamic, digital point-of-sale (POS) module, named INTERACTIVE. It features a 21.5” touchscreen and a multimedia kit to enable pharmacies to promote special offers and other products or services. It also has the ability to allow remote pharmacist consultations via the enhanced brightness display, for sunlight viewability. Having worked successfully with touchscreen specialist Patrice Romano of Camax on this project, Phamashop24 engineers turned to him again for advice on the appropriate touch technology to use to replace the existing system.
Traditionally, outdoor, unattended vending machines use thick, toughened glass in front of the products on display to secure against malicious attack and theft. PharmaShop24’s engineers were initially concerned whether a touchscreen could offer a similar level of protection, and still function in all weather conditions. In response, Camax recommended using a customised Zytronic ZyBrid® 55” touch sensor made using 6mm thermally toughened anti-glare glass, delivering a cost-effective combination of extremely high levels of impact resistance and year-round, faultless outdoor performance. By helping to hide and replace the previously bulky internal electromechanical systems, the new VIRTUAL module can hold many more products without increasing its size.
With the vandal resistant and sunlight-readable, touchscreen in place, the VIRTUAL window shows digital representations of the available products on the large interactive LCD display, adding a further level of customer engagement. As a result, pharmacy owners can stock and configure the machines how they wish, whilst customers can quickly swipe through and select what they want to purchase. After payment, a robotic pick-and-place system selects and dispenses the product to the waiting client.
A further invaluable feature of all the Pharmashop24 vending machines is their networked telemetry, enabling owners to monitor sales and manage stock levels within each deployed unit. This enables the reporting in real-time of product demand at a specific location and can issue a low stock level alert to trigger replenishment, minimising lost sales and customer frustration as a result of vending machine shortages. This intelligent inventory management system also helps to reduce operational costs, as rather than being unnecessarily checked and refilled, popular items can be topped up as and when needed. A further optional feature is a ‘locker’ which enables prescription drugs to be safely held within the machine and released to a patient only when a special, pharmacy provided security code has been keyed into the touchscreen.
Garimberti adds: “In comparison to the EXTENSIVE module, which holds up to 120 product types, the new VIRTUAL module can manage up to 255 lines, which effectively doubles capacity while also reducing its footprint. Zytronic’s ZyBrid® touch sensor has enabled us to create an attractive and responsive interface that customers love to use, while also providing the security, reliability and low maintenance that operators expect.”
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