Tony Goodwin of Propeller explores how semi-automated, lineside parts vending will substantially reduce operating costs and boost productivity.

Inventory, stock, parts or MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) consumables, call them what you will, provide the  oil for the engine  in manufacturing and processing plants. They can represent up to 20% of total enterprise spend and account for more than half of all indirect purchasing transactions, yet many organisations do not have the systems in place to restrict access to inventory and monitor the usage of spares and consumables down the line. Too often, storerooms are free-for-all facilities, where users take parts on autopilot, squirrelling stock away in lockers and, worse still, pilfering company property as a perk of the job. As a result, inventory costs run out of control, storeroom data is totally inaccurate and the inevitable stockouts of critical spares lead to costly downtime, lost production and cancelled orders.

Emerging from much the same technology as coin-operated snacks and drinks machines, industrial vending equipment dispenses MRO consumables, PPE, tooling or whatever in a similar semi-automated manner, except that instead of payment transactions, access is normally by means of time & attendance swipe cards, biometrics or personal identification codes. Known as point-of-use or lineside vending machines, because they are located close to the production line or work area, they are nowadays advanced inventory management systems, enabling strict control of stock access, monitoring of usage down to user level and automatic reordering of out-of-stock items.

Although previously designed around an engineering footprint for handling mainly tools and parts, the latest generation of industrial vending technology, exemplified by our own British-made Pro-Vyda equipment, is configured to be genuinely usable by a whole range of industry sectors, from aviation, automotive and energy, to food processing and pharmaceuticals, and to accommodate all manner, shapes and sizes of stock items.

For those new to the technology, semi-automated parts vending offers a secure environment in which to store and dispose a whole range of items and an effective way of driving down inventory spend. In fact, here are 10 ways that point-of-use vending will help you cut costs, typically by as much as 30-40%:

Reduces inventory holding as much as 70% of inventory items are never used or obsolete, so an initial data cleansing exercise and plant-wide amnesty on parts in lockers and toolboxes, as part of a vending machine implementation programme, will bring about immediate stock reductions; add to that subsequent opportunities for weeding out low turnover items and eliminating duplication across the whole enterprise.

Frees up valuable floorspace new lines mean storing spares to meet service and maintenance needs, putting pressure on storerooms already overstocked with excessive inventory; by utilising vertical space and high density storage technology, modern vending machines are designed to hold a vast array of products within a highly compact footprint, freeing up manufacturing floorspace, a commodity usually in short supply.

Improves staff productivity a major cause of downtime is when staff have to spend time collecting spares from a central storeroom, building cumulatively into hours of lost production; point-of-use vending machines serve the location where they?re installed, dramatically cutting the times taken to travel, locate and retrieve parts, while touch-screen interfaces with ?shopping basket? functions speed transaction times.

Drives down inventory spend the most powerful way to reduce spend is to restrict access to inventory, with a complete lock-down ensuring that only authorised users can remove items; a full audit trail and subsequent monitoring of usage down to user level will identify wasteful employees or departments and indicate excessive maintenance activities, in turn highlighting issues of asset reliability.

Optimises costly parts usage modern machines like Pro-Vyda can allocate a unique status to each compartment, so that refurbished or reconditioned parts can be dispensed instead of new items, saving on routine costs; the machine will also deliver the exact amount of parts required, rather than automatically dispensing standard packs of 10 or 20, again optimising usage.

Eliminates staff pilfering as economic pressures mount, workplace theft tends to increase, whilst at particular times of the year certain items are consumed at greater levels than normal, such as gloves around bank holidays, paint pens and markers during school vacations and batteries at Christmas; locking down access and making staff fully accountable for what they are consuming, has a remedial impact on such behaviour.

Reduces employer liability as all transactions are logged against a user, an employer can identify precisely what an individual has received, providing vital evidence of access to essential personal protective equipment in the event of a health and safety incident and helping avoid expensive litigation; real-time access to vending machine data also enables supervisors to immediately question why incorrect items are being taken out.

Provides 24/7 parts availability one of the issues that management has to balance is the cost of either paying stockroom staff to support shift workers or allow unmanned stores access out of hours; vending machines eliminate that problem by providing 24/7 controlled access and monitoring, while a feature like Pro-Vydas reservation facility enables off-site staff to pre-book parts for planned maintenance whenever they arrive.

Minimises costly downtime with manual storerooms where there are no routine stock checks, there are often discrepancies between inventory records and physical items on the shelves, leading to stockouts at critical points and consequent downtime; vending machines ensure accurate data and user-defined depth of stock on vital parts, as well as incorporating expiration and calibration dates against any part.

Improves budget control as well as avoiding bloated inventories and restricting access to parts, vending machines like Pro-Vyda can allocate budget ceilings to individuals, cells and departments, ensuring budget compliance; given strict control of parts distribution and automatic restocking, stockholdings can be kept below one or two months in hand and complete stock checks can be carried out within hours, rather than days.

Finally, contrary to the view that workers might object to point-of-use vending machines, we find that hardworking staff respond positively to the idea of having the right parts in the right place at the right time, rather than wasting energy tracking down items themselves, and appreciate facilities for reserving MRO consumables for upcoming maintenance and repair jobs, instead of finding much-needed parts out of stock at the last moment.

Tony Goodwin is CEO of Propeller GB, a world-class provider of inventory management solutions and advanced stock control systems. He can be contacted at:

Tel: 0191 569 1690


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