Vending machines can be found all over cities, towns and station platforms in Japan and it is now a part of Japanese people's daily lives. To operate this vending machine, do you know how many parts are used in a single vending machine? More than 40 parts of OMRON's electronic and mechanical components are used in it, performing a variety of functions. Recently, some vending machines use OMRON's technologies to recognize the face of the user and estimate his/her attributes and facial expressions, enabling them to propose products that match the preferences of the user.
In this article, we will introduce OMRON's electronic and mechanical components and technologies used in vending machines.
Our lives are enriched by a variety of products and services. One such product is the vending machine, which can be found in every town and is used by everyone from children to the elderly. It's a convenient product that allows you to get a drink at the right temperature just inserting coins and/or bills. The electronic and mechanical components such as switches, sensors and relays support these operations. Although we cannot directly see them because they are embedded in the appliances, each of them plays a role to operate the vending machine.
Now, let's take a look at some typical examples of what kind of electronic and mechanical components are used in vending machines today.
They are used to determine which products the user has selected after they insert coins. There are switches inside each product selection button. When a person presses the button, the switches turn on and the electricity current will flow. By doing so, the system can determine which products has been selected and products will come out by just pressing the button. In addition, the system is designed to ensure that the sensation of pressing the button is transmitted to your fingertips. With this ingenious "Tactile Switches", the user will know clearly that he or she has selected the desired product.
Relays are components that receive electrical signals through switches and other devices to turn on, off, or switch electrical circuits. In vending machines, relays are used to control the on/off of current flowing to heaters for heating drinks and compressors for cooling them. This supports the functions of heating and cooling drinks in a single vending machine.
Light Guide Plates
Light guide plates are used for display panels that indicate the status of a product, such as "sold out." Light guide plates are thin, plate-like components that can diffuse light from a light-emitting body on its side to produce a uniform light on its surface. This eliminates the need to put fluorescent lights or LEDs in the back of the display, reducing the thickness and making effective use of space.
Specific type of vending machines are also becoming popular that use OMRON's image sensing technology "OKAO Vision". It estimates the gender and age of the person buying the product from the camera image and this adds "recommend function" which suggests suitable products for that person to vending machines. OMRON's sensing technologies are also used to realize a new function that goes beyond the function of providing beverages and allows the vending machine to give a recommendation of beverages to the user.
As you can see, more than 40 electronic components play an active role in operating the vending machines that we use so casually in our daily lives.
Currently, there are more than 2 million vending machines (*1) in Japan, and in the trend of IoT utilization, their new role is attracting attention: the evolution of vending machines as terminals for collecting and utilizing information of their surroundings. In addition, the emergence of models that can distribute free beverages in times of disaster, and the idea of making them function as base stations for cell phone 5G communication networks, have grown to support lifelines. As vending machines become IoT-enabled, we can remotely monitor information on the number of products in stock which can be detected by OMRON switches, optimizing the number of times they need to be replenished. This function helps to solve labor shortages.
Furthermore, new social needs, such as non-contact operation and remote support has been emerging due tothe COVID-19 disaster. In response to these needs, OMRON is taking initiatives to solve social issues by utilizing new technologies.
The vending machine introduced here is just one of the most familiar examples. OMRON's electronic and mechannical components (*2) are also used in various applications in a wide range of industries, including smartphones, home appliances, automobiles, and industrial equipment, and they are supporting our daily lives in ways we cannot see. By providing sensors, devices and modules on a global scale, OMRON will contribute to the development of people's lives and society around the world.
*1 Japan Vending System Machinery Factory Association, "Number of Vending Machines in Use: As of December 31, 2019."