Seeing the Big Picture

Feb. 1, 2006

About the author: Jessica Moorman is associate editor for Water Quality Products. She can be reached at 847.391.1012, or by e-mail at [email protected].

In today’s busy world, water vending machine operators are always striving to maximize time and cash flow. This can prove difficult when adhering to the traditional model of water vending operation, in which operators must visit machines frequently for money collection and maintenance. A new technology, however, is changing this model by allowing operators to monitor many machines with minimal staff.

Through the use of remote monitoring technology and radio frequency identification (RFID), operators can deploy numerous machines over large geographical distances, and only visit the machines when necessary.

Aqua Polar, Inc. utilizes this expanding technology to offer customers a unique product and service. This California-based company designs, manufactures and distributes water vending machines and other water purification systems. Since inception, the company has been working with C-Secure Systems, based in Bellingham, Wash., to offer water vending machines with a C-Secure Remote Monitoring Solution.

“We wanted to come out to the market with something unique, so we worked with C-Secure to design a system that gives us an edge over the competitors,” said Alex Diaz, CEO of Aqua Polar.

System Design

The system devised by the two companies features water vending machines with built-in GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) transceivers that can transmit data through cellular infrastructure to a data processing center.

“The system sends all the data through the GSM network, and the data is aggregated at a data center,” Diaz said. “We can then view that information on the Internet. There are also e-mail alerts for certain parts of the machine. For example, if the UV system goes down, we receive an e-mail.”

According to Lori Evans, CEO of C-Secure Systems, clients can use remote monitoring to respond to maintenance demands quickly, as well as analyze performance over time. Alerts are sent via e-mail for urgent issues, and Web-based reports are available for long-term analysis.

The data collected from each machine varies, but frequently monitored parameters include the amount of water dispensed, the amount of water in reserve, water pressure, funds collected and other water quality and maintenance needs. For each parameter to be measured, the appropriate sensor must be installed in the machine, either by the company or customer.

“As long as they have a means to collect that data within the machine, we can capture it, send it to our data center and present it either on their phone as a text message or on the Web,” Evans said.

In addition to remote monitoring, the transceivers can receive commands as well. “The transceivers have two-way communications, so if the data center gets an alert that, for example, the machine is being jiggled, we can send an instant command back to shut a door, set off an alarm, stop vending, etc.,” Evans explained.

In addition to the transceivers, Diaz and Evans recommend implementing RFID payment to customers interested in monitoring machines remotely. For water vending machines, RFID is basically an automated means of funds transaction. To obtain water, users purchase “water cards” from retail locations rather than inserting cash into the machine. This technology further reduces the number of visits that must be made to machines.

A Proactive Approach

Aqua Polar sells many machines with remote monitoring capabilities directly to customers, but the company also places owner-operated units in retail locations in the U.S. For these units, Aqua Polar is responsible for installation and maintenance, so the company uses remote monitoring to quickly respond to maintenance demands.

“Remote monitoring enables us to do preventive work, so we’re proactive rather than reactive to issues,” Diaz said.

Although the current model for vending in the U.S. involves operating only a small number of machines, individuals new to the vending industry can use remote monitoring to operate a larger number of machines without increasing staff.

“For most users that are approaching us, that’s what they like about us, that we can do large deployments and at the same time, they can manage their business with fewer people,” Diaz said.

These large deployments are increasing more quickly in countries with poor water supplies. As water quality degrades around the world, Aqua Polar is utilizing remote monitoring to boost sales to these regions. According to Diaz, the company currently has large shipments going to Africa, South America and Mexico, and is expanding rapidly.

As remote monitoring technology improves, water vending is being transformed into a more reliable and more profitable venture, and Aqua Polar is capitalizing on this shift.

“We put technology up front,” Diaz said of Aqua Polar and C-Secure. “Anything we can do to minimize the expense and provide a better service to our client base, we’ll do it.”

About the Author

Jessica Moorman

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