Case Rivender - Stores without salesclerks
Grocery stores will make a comeback in suburbs and small towns if entrepreneurs warm to the unmanned store solution ModulShop of Rivender Ltd. The invention is predicted to become a huge success in Finland and European export markets. The solution is based on Finnish leading-edge know-how.
The first automated store based on ModulShop was opened in the Finnish town of Forssa on Feb. 16, 2017.
“It’s a demo system with 72 sales items. We’ve already received many inquiries from Finland and some other European countries”, says Managing Director Juha Pennanen.
The unmanned store is easy to use. After signing in with a debit or credit chip card, you insert it into the module with the desired product. After getting the product, you can choose the next one, and you can get a receipt when you’ve finished shopping. Many people can use the system simultaneously.
It’s brilliantly simple, as are all good inventions, and Revender has applied for a patent for its payment system. The unmanned stores of its competitors can be used by only one customer at a time. The modular structure of ModulShop is another crucial element of this invention, and the patent application is out for this too.
Malfunctioning of mechanical devices cannot be completely prevented. For example, when the expensive robot of a certain Japanese unmanned store is out of order, all sales stop and a very expensive specialist has to be called in.
Easy, reliable, and efficient
With ModulShop, on the other hand, the sale of all other products continues normally even if, for example, the pineapple pizza distributor should get stuck. Typical small ModulShops will have 300 to 400 separate modules, and large ones up to tens of thousands. Retailers are automatically notified of any defect, and they can replace modules themselves, which in addition can be carried by one person. So there is normally no need for expensive specialists.
“Reliability, personnel savings, low maintenance costs, and linear scalability are ModulShop’s selling points”, Juha Pennanen proudly points out. He adds that the initial costs are nevertheless not significantly higher than those of traditional stores.
“Financing of product development and production launching is a big challenge for a startup. We are thankful for the financial support we received from the TE Office (Finland’s Employment and Economic Development Office) and TEKES (the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation). TEKES believes in us.
“We needed competent experts for designing the technical realization. We decided on Espotel due to its excellent reputation. And the results have been impressive”, Pennanen adds. Collaboration with Espotel – now part of Etteplan – began in 2013.
“An unmanned store has to work reliably 24/7. We’re familiar with this requirement from numerous other projects, and we always accept it humbly”, says Project Manager Mikko-Matti Kukkonen. Due to the expertise of the experienced designers, all technical problems were resolved one after another.
“The biggest challenges were posed by the moving mechanical parts and by the coordination of the different aspects of the project”, Kukkonen summarizes.
We were not happy with the reliability of the distributor mechanisms available on the market. In addition, we needed to create a distributor module that can push products such as milk cartons, for which the spiral distributors commonly used in snack machines aren’t suitable.
The division of functionality to separate electronic modules was carefully planned. The ERP (enterprise resource planning) system in charge of sales was developed by Aava Ohjelmistot Ltd in close collaboration with the rest of the project team. In the the latest development cycle, special attention was given to manufacturability and easy assembly of the units.
The system needs to be scalable according to store size, so the solutions for the network between the ERP and the distributor modules were developed with this in mind.
The ERP communicates via an Ethernet connection with the sales gateway application. As a result, a single ERP can manage many stores. The sales gateway application in turn communicates via Ethernet with the rack gateway, so racks can be added as needed for the size of the store. The rack gateway in turn communicates via an RS-485 bus with the distribution modules in the rack. The only limiting factor is the size of the rack, in other words, how many modules fit on a rack. The RS-485 bus was chosen due to its high failure tolerance and reliability.
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