This article first appeared in the November/December print issue of Industrial Distribution. To view the full digital edition, click here.
Industrial vendor managed inventory (VMI) systems have been around for about 20 years, and like all technology, they continue to become more efficient and sophisticated.
AutoCrib, founded in 1994, has been the VMI supplier of choice for many industrial distributors – large and small. The Tustin, CA-based company has systems in place at more than 300 distributors, many of which have partnered with AutoCrib for 10 years or more.
The capabilities of today’s industrial VMI systems dwarf that of their predecessors, but even so, customers continue to ask for more. A few things customers have been asking for recently are a vending machine that doesn’t require distributors to repackage their products, a machine that can hold more SKUs in a smaller footprint, and a machine that is virtually maintenance free, capable of being reconfigured on the fly.
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To answer those challenges, AutoCrib and its cross-country partner Pioneer Tool (Agawam, MA) recently collaborated to form a new system. The result was yet another AutoCrib innovation — the TX750. Pioneer was acquired by BlackHawk Industrial in April of 2015.
At Pioneer Tool, company president Derek Upson had experienced the aforementioned VMI issues. Most tools arrive in square or rectangular packages, whereas most industrial vending machines have pie-shaped bins, resulting in a need to repackage items before they went into vending.
“With our older machines, if you wanted to distribute an item like an extra-long drill, you would have had to know it was going into the machine in order to configure for it,” Upson says. “As a distributor, I would want a new machine that can configure for any size item on the fly, without taking up as much real estate in a traditional machine.”
AutoCrib founder Stephen Pixley took Upson’s hardware and software input to develop a prototype, and the two worked with Pioneer head of vending Mike Cottuli to run exhaustive tests at AutoCrib’s R&D facility in Orange County, CA. When Upson’s list of modifications was completed, the RoboCrib TX750 was born. It is the first automated inventory vending system to feature a flexible, rolling dual-tambour-style door (like a household garage door) that dispenses square boxes and other products not supported by traditional coil or carousel machines.
The TX750’s capacity is 30 percent more than earlier systems’, achieved by eliminating wasted vertical bin height associated with fixed-door machines. With that, the machine requires only 9.8 square feet of floor space.
The TX750’s dispense door can open to as little as two inches, and as much as 60 inches, all within one-inch increments. This enables it to accommodate a vast arrange of inventory with little waste. A 19-inch display interface offers added ease-of-use.
“The TX750 is a definite improvement and offers greater flexibility,” Upson says. “Since installing the first of the new machines in April, they have required virtually no maintenance or downtime.”
The machines have helped Upson and Pioneer earn new business, aided by the fact they can be readied for customers in just days instead of weeks, as with older systems. “I actually ended up signing a new account as a result of the client seeing this machine,” Upson says.