Monday, August 01, 2005


A Euro Is a Euro Is a Euro (Or Not)

Even after setting lower security levels on our coin acceptors, we still have about a 20% rejection rate on valid coins, meaning that about 1 out of 5 times that we put a coin in, it falls out the coin return slot. I notified the coin-acceptor vendor of our problems, who passed along the information to the manufacturer.

The manufacturer responded quickly, which was nice. The problem, he says, is that Europe has fifteen different factories that manufacture Euro coins, with varying quality, materials, and manufacturing tolerances. (The factories in Belgium and Italy are the worst, he said.) Because of the variations in weights and electromagnetic properties, programming their coin acceptor to handle every possible valid coin has been challenging. He asked whether I could send him some of our troublesome coins so that they could improve their coin acceptor.

He noted that the one-Euro and two-Euro coins are the most problematic, because they are made of two different metals. Our vending machines are designed to accept exactly two different denominations of coins: I'll let the reader guess what those are.

It was interesting information, but not very helpful. My company's options seem to be (a) just ship machines with these coin acceptor and deal with all the complaints, or (b) find a better coin acceptor. This seems like a hardware issue to me, but I'm still stuck with it.

By the way, my entire job isn't about dealing with coin acceptors (although it does seem that way to me sometimes). I'm sharing all the details of one isolated task, as an example of all the crap that we go through when a new product is launched. I won't rant about the problems with our supposedly-uninterruptible power supply, or getting our user interface translated into a couple of foreign languages, or connecting a modem to the European telephone system, or redesigning sales reports for different currencies, or interfacing with retailers' cash register systems, or . . .

That's actually pretty interesting. I obtain a significant fraction of my caloric intake, if not of my nutritional needs, from vending machines. It's good to know that someone is making sure they correctly identify my loonies.
I own a handfull of vending machines of my own, which partially pay for my flying habit.

All of the stories about "what makes them tick" (Beyond what I see every time I open them up) has also been interesting for me.

Want to reprogram my mechs for me when the $5 coin comes along? (Ugh!) :-)
Who knew this would be so much trouble... I would think by now there would be established producers of all the subcomponents and that these issues would either be worked out... or the limitations known ahead of time. Am I missing something or is your company trying to reinvent the wheel here?
We're not re-inventing anything here. I'm surprised at how difficult this is. I'm not an expert on coin acceptors, but these are my theories about why things aren't easy:

1) Our hardware people have probably selected the cheapest coin acceptor available, rather than the best.

2) The Euro has only existed for a few years. Maybe all coin acceptor manufacturers are still learning how to deal with it.

3) There could be something about our machine (power, temperature, magnetic fields, the mounting of the coin-acceptor assembly, etc.) that makes the coin acceptor work less reliably.
1) Our hardware people have probably selected the cheapest coin acceptor available, rather than the best.

I bet that's part of it.. I mean shouldn't the subcomponents have been tested before they were made part of your machine? From the sound of it.. it wouldn't have taken much to uncover these problems at some earlier stage. You know what they say.. never time to do it right.. always time to do it over. =]

In their defense.. if the hardware guys were not use to dealing with european currency I guess this could come as a surprise that the coin accepters would be dodgy. US currency has been made to a pretty high standard for a long time now.
. . . shouldn't the subcomponents have been tested before they were made part of your machine?

Yes, they should have been. I doubt that they were. The software developers at my company also have the role of hardware tester. And if we report that the hardware doesn't work, we're told it must be our software causing the problem.
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