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The technology of ice vending

How do automated vendors keep ice on-hand for frequent sales?

February 22, 2013

Vending machines offer an innovative way to buy ice and water. They are quick and appealing to the consumer and offer a unique convenience. The machines are sharp and clean looking and are much more inviting aesthetically to the consumer. They will attract attention to a location.

Making the ice

Ice machines can be purchased with a variety of different features, but the production capability of the ice maker and the storage capacity of the bin inside the machine will dictate how much ice can be made and stored for sale to the consumer. When choosing an ice vending machine, consideration should be given to the individual owner’s prospective market and location to best determine which unit will meet the production needs of his location.

The machine’s ice makers will automatically produce ice until the storage bin is full. There are different methods used by manufacturers to keep the ice in the bin cold, and some are more cost efficient than others. There appears to be a trend toward the elimination of the refrigeration unit to keep operating costs lower.

The ice remains in the bin until the consumer puts his money into the machine and presses the button or “demands” the ice. The ice is then measured and, using the preferred bagging method, is automatically bagged and delivered to the consumer. Some manufacturers make machines that do not bag the ice automatically and consumers must bag their own by holding the bag underneath the delivery spout. The consumer has the option at that point of putting the ice directly into his cooler or using a twist tie to close the bag and take it with him.

Inside the bin

The machines have sensors in their bins, or on the ice makers themselves, that automatically turn on when more ice is needed and off when the bin is full. Ice makers require a certain amount of time, which depends on various factors including environmental temperatures, to “recover” and produce more ice. Ice vending manufacturers offer ice machines that can produce anywhere from 1,000 pounds to 10,000 pounds of ice in a 24 hour period. 

This is where the importance of choosing the right sized storage bin becomes more important. The larger the bin, the more in storage, and the more likely you can keep up with demand during high-usage times. Generally speaking, smaller units may be able to produce 70 to 100 10-pound bags per day for sale. Medium to large size units may be able to produce 90 to 200 10-pound bags per day. The largest sizes may be able to produce upwards of 500 10-pound bags per day. Naturally, the larger the unit, the larger the price tag, so it is important to match your needs with a machine that will provide you the right production. This way, you are not paying too much money for a machine that is oversized for your needs.

Advantages of vending

There are many advantages to ice vending. In addition to being environmentally friendly — since trucks are no longer required to deliver ice — ice vending provides the end user a fresh, great tasting product that is not stale from sitting in a cooler for a long period of time. Additionally, consumers love the convenience aspect of the ice vending machines.   Ice vending is a better, more convenient way to bring ice to the consumer because it is made on-site by the machine and is delivered “on-demand.” The customer can simply pull up to the machine, get their ice (and/or water), and either put it directly into their cooler or tie it off and go. And no one other than the end user is in contact with the ice.

In addition, with an ice vending machine, the owner does not have to have an attendant on site, and he or she can sell ice 24/7. Some of the problems that are inherent to selling bagged ice from a freezer, like theft, stock outs, re-freezing and clumping, pricing fluctuations as well as the need for the customer to wait in line to purchase the ice from an attendant, are completely eliminated, and the end product is fresher and better tasting.