Changing with the Times

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 05-26-2016 10:39

A Roundtable Discussion with Today’s Leading Bill Changer Manufacturers

After washers and dryers, your store’s bill changers are arguably the most vital pieces of equipment in your store. After all, they make it possible for many of your customers to actually use your laundry equipment.

With this in mind, we rounded up the leading bill changer manufacturers serving the vended laundry industry to get their thoughts on how laundry owners can make the most of the changers in their stores.

Currently, what are the leading trends in the bill changer industry?

Wayne Snihur, American Changer: Customers are looking for quality, reliability and greater capacity. Changers are not only providing change but also dispensing tokens to use in larger-capacity washers. Credit card readers added to token dispensers also provide customers new payment choices. New coin acceptors give laundry owners the ability to accept quarters and tokens.

Tom Kozlik, Rowe Bill Changers: Just as much larger capacity washers and dryers are a leading trend for laundries, the same is true for bill changers and bill-to-bill changers.

For coin-operated laundries, the ability to recycle $5 bills has created a positive cash flow improvement for owners by removing the need for attendants to break $20 bills. Plus, laundry operators like to see customers receiving other customers’ $5 bills without physically handling the bills. In addition, many owners tell us that few quarters are leaving their laundries, because customers are getting only the quarters they need – and this means almost no more trips to the bank to buy quarters.

For high-volume card stores, high-capacity bill-to-bill changers are needed to support patrons who want to break $20s, $50s and $100s into smaller bills.

Mike Coons, Standard Change-Makers: We are seeing more $1 coin hoppers along with quarter dispense in orders, in response to the trend to add $1 coin and quarter coin drops to new washers and dryers. However, we still sell predominantly quarter-dispensing machines.

The mix between front- and rear-loading units seems to be the same. However, another trend I’ve noticed is that most customers seem more comfortable with the more secure Medeco lock plugs over our default lock plug. I’m not sure if that’s a trend toward more security or just the preference of the more active distributors right now.

The use of bill exchangers and bill-and-coin exchangers has remained about the same over the last few years.

What are the keys to maintaining a store's changers and keeping them working smoothly?

Tom: One of the first things attentive store owners notice when walking into their stores are out-of-service messages and error codes on their changers.

One key is paying attention to what customers are doing. If a patron has to reinsert a bill into a bill acceptor several times, that’s a sign the bill acceptor needs attention. Another key is preventative maintenance, which includes the use of cleaning cards for bill acceptors, paying attention to error codes while bills are being rejected, and cleaning coin hoppers before the out-of-service message appears.

Wayne: It’s very important for store owners to clean their machines weekly. Cleaning the bill acceptor weekly provides better acceptance. Cleaning and checking the hoppers every month ensures they will dispense properly. Testing the bill acceptance and payout weekly will ensure there are no issues with the board or other components.

Mike: Our hopper mechanisms don’t require lubrication, but owners occasionally should completely dump the coin hopper and use compressed air or canned air on them – blow out the dust, lint and dirt that accumulates over multiple re-fillings.

On the bill acceptor, use compressed air or canned air to blow dust and lint out of the bill stacker of the Coinco, MEI, Pyramid and CashCode bill acceptors. Next, use a clean, moist cloth to wipe down the bill path of these validators. Use a little bit of alcohol on the cloth if you see ink build up on the clear sensors. We don’t recommend using the alcohol-soaked cleaning cards for bill validators, because the alcohol can cause the rubber rollers and belts to stretch or become brittle over time. A clean cloth should be sufficient, and you should only have to do this once per quarter.

On our System 500/600 Series bill validators, consult the general maintenance guide on our website for tips on cleaning, calibrating and lubricating the separating stacker.

What are you most excited about with regard to today's newest changer technology?

Mike: We are field-testing a new EF+ Module – the next generation of our Expanded Function Module, which provides programming, diagnostic and audit information via an LCD display. The new EF+ Module has an Ethernet port that allows owners to plug it into their network router, and the EF+ will access the internet to send daily audit reports and alarm/alert notifications via email or text message.

We have several units out in the field right now, and the response has been very positive. With the trend toward absentee owners, the ability to use audit data to determine when they might need to collect or be alerted if a change machine has a jam in the bill acceptor or coin hopper is a big advantage.

Wayne: Technology is always changing. We continue to upgrade our boards and components within our machines to offer the most advanced models. Adding credit cards and cell phone payment options on a token dispenser is exciting, especially when compared to the cost of adding card readers on every washer and dryer.

Tom: In our everyday lives, we’ve all become attached to our smartphones and rely on the instantaneous information they provide us. Rowe’s newest BC1600 and Bill Buster product lines are the first standard-production products to utilize the Linux operating system in every changer. This open-sourced operating system makes available a huge range of powerful, reliable hardware and firmware tools that allow us to offer email and text alerts via Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections for every changer at no extra cost to store owners. Operators now can receive instantaneous information about their bill changers – just like their camera systems, washers, dryers and card systems.

Are there any currency changes expected in the near future? If so, how would this impact store owners and their changers?

Wayne: There are plans to change some of the U.S. notes in the future, but not immediately. When that time comes, owners will have options to update the software in their bill acceptors by using a flash drive, Ethernet cable or sending in their validators to be updated.

Mike: The only change being discussed recently is the redesign of the $10 bill with an image of Harriet Tubman taking the place of Andrew Jackson on the currency.

For change machines, it requires a firmware update to the bill acceptor for the new bill. This can require anything form an EPROM chip upgrade, flash drive upgrade or a flash device that plugs into the bill acceptor and uploads the new firmware.

We advise owners to wait until a new bill is in circulation before updating the firmware of their bill acceptors, because the Bureau of Engraving and Printing releases specimen bills to bill acceptor manufacturers – and we use these to develop and test the software updates. However, we are using new bills to build these files. Once bills have been in circulation, the wear points are different and that can change the way the bill acceptor “reads” the bill.

Firmware after the release of a bill is always better than pre-release firmware updates. It will save you from having to pay for a second update.

Tom: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has stated that our currency will be under constant change and that we should anticipate currency changes every three to five years. Unfortunately, we can’t predict what future currency upgrades may cost store owners, simply because we have no idea how involved the upgrades may be. However, it’s our goal to keep the cost as low as possible for our laundry owners.

What are some common mistakes laundry owners make with regard to their bill changers – and how can they avoid making them?

Mike: Owners seem to think change machines don’t need preventative maintenance, but they do need a little attention from time to time.

It’s an electromechanical device. It will break down. It’s in your best interest to keep a spare bill acceptor, power supply and spare coin hopper in inventory. These are the most common items that break – and, when they do, swap them out with your spares and send the broken parts in for repair. This way, your machine is down for a limited time, and you don’t have to spend a shift handing out quarters.

Also, ask you distributor to recommend a reliable service technician in your area to contact when you have change machine issues. There are fewer independent service distributors out there, and a knowledgeable and trustworthy service tech can save you money and down time.

Remember that dispensing bills is not like dispensing coins. Bill dispensers can be finicky devices, especially if you get careless or take shortcuts. You must use good-quality bills in these devices. A quality bill will have some stiffness to it, no deep creases and no “dog ears.” You must load the bills so that all of the edges are uniform and straight. If you use good bills and are careful when loading your bill dispenser, you will eliminate most of the problems owners encounter.

Wayne: It’s important to provide change. And providing the proper-sized models will enhance your sales and customer satisfaction. Keeping your changers or token dispensers in good working condition is just as important as keeping your washers and dryers in good working order.

What's the best advice you can give laundry operators about getting the most from the bill changers in their stores?

Tom: Considering that the money that goes through every washer and dryer comes from a store’s bill changers, it’s important that there are an adequate number of bill changers for the size of the store. This is especially important with the number of large laundries being built. Having an extra bill changer means peace of mind for an owner so that they can be away from the store for a long weekend or that well-deserved vacation. The number of changers needed is a function of the projected weekly store volume, compared to the dollar capacity of the coin hoppers.

Wayne: Changers provide opportunities to improve your sales. Install them where everyone can see them. Test your changers frequently. Replace old components if you have issues, and consider purchasing new changers to enhance your operation.

Mike: Be sure you size the capacity of your machine based on how many quarters you will need to efficiently serve your customers, and meet your collections goals. If you prefer to collect twice a week, make sure your store has the change-machine capacity to cover the business you do in between collection cycles. You don’t want to make extra trips to fill the change machines.

Once again, keep some spare parts in stock. Minimize your downtime by using this inventory, rather than waiting for a part to come back from repair.

And check in with the service department from time to time to see if your machines are running the latest version of software. Software updates are made regularly, and they are made because a bug has been uncovered. Running the latest version of software is the best way to protect your investment – and your money in that machine.

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