The 16’x8’x7’ standalone, ATM-equipped vending machine fits into a parking space and holds up to 345 5-gal bottles of water. A gravity flow design supplies the bottle for vend via three slots and, just above those on one side, for return via three slots.
A custom designed RFID antenna, reader, and tag solution from Northern Apex Corp. (www.northernapex-rfid.com), makes the bottle return system accurate, user friendly, and completely automated, according to S2C. Each bottle’s base is affixed with an RFID tag that permits automated returns and bottle deposit refunds. Customers can drive up to the outdoor machines and easily purchase bottled water by using their credit card, debit card, or prepaid AquaCard. A bottle releases from the machine upon purchase.
“Our AquaDuct machine will not only provide North American consumers with the convenience they are used to, but most importantly it will aid in recycling those bottles by approximately 30 percent, consequently saving space in landfills,” says Rob Bartlett, CEO of S2C Global Systems, referring to a trend among Canadian bottled water suppliers toward using disposable, one-way 5-gal containers. S2C designs and manufactures systems for the automated handling of bulk prepackaged products.
After testing concepts for S2C, Northern Apex selected ISO standard high-frequency (HF) encapsulated RFID tags from Tagsys (www.tagsysrfid.com) that are about the size of a nickel, only thicker. The tags are adhered to the bottle base with epoxy and heat. There is no change to the bottle design to accommodate the tag.
A Northern Apex spokesperson informs Packaging World that HF frequency was selected because the read distance is engineered to be very short—about an inch—to help prevent “collision” with the tags of other stored bottles. HF also works well in this application because the vending machine walls are made of stainless steel which, like all metals, can pose problems for UHF performance. A returned bottle’s tag is read as it rolls by an RFID-reader-equipped assembly from Northern Apex that’s powered via USB 2 connection. The vending machine itself is powered through an electrical power cord. Three of the RFID reader assemblies are integrated into each machine.
Reportedly with units already in test, S2C plans to install 62 of its Aquaduct units in five locations in the