Loh Yong Khun, Managing Director of Silkron reveals his big ideas on redesigning the vending machine for the 21st century
There are many machines out there that serve to make life more convenient. The very same platforms are also the source of much frustration. Think autopay systems. Or vending machines. We did not say it, but a man who wants to reinvent this concept certainly shares the same sentiment.
“Vending machines have been around for more than 30 years, and since then, there has been no progress in terms of technology and innovations. You insert your coins, press a button and your selected product drops down. Sometimes it gets stuck, you’d get frustrated and you might give the machine a little kick,” says Loh Yong Khun, Managing Director of Silkron Technology Sdn Bhd.
Silkron is a company that specialises in Smart Vending and Automated Retail solutions. Armed with the goal to enable smart vending and connect vending machines from around the world, Silkron started in 2009 when Loh identified a gap in the industry.
“It is common to see vending machines with sold-out products or displaying an error message, both being missed revenue opportunities to the vending operator and an inconvenience to the consumers,” he shares.
Combining years of experience and expertise in industrial automation, Loh started to work on a solution. The result was a suite of solutions, known as Vendron. It provides a holistic solution, comprising embedded software that runs in the machine, kiosk and the devices on the front end; Vendron Cloud for remote manageability on the back end; and Vendron API for third-part integration and expandability. Recently, it also introduced the Vendron GO mobile app.
Smart vending for all
Opening a whole new avenue, Loh’s idea has taken this concept beyond just drinks and snacks. The Big Data generated from these machines can be analysed, allowing for better understanding of consumer behaviour, as well as for companies to provide a better user experience. While it sounds good on paper, trying to punch into the market over bare metals that have stood steady for years is not easy.
Silkron has had some success overseas, while traction at home is a hit and miss situation as the local market slowly wrestles with the idea. Despite that, Loh sees a growing demand for better user experiences, greater flexibility in payment options, as well as mobile and social interactivity.
“With the adoption of cashless payments increasing around Malaysia and Southeast Asia, as well as rising labour and operation costs, smart vending and automated
retail will gain more tractions in this region,” he opines.
Increasingly, there has been a demand to deploy smart vending machines in high-traffic locations, such as public transportation hubs, hospitals, schools and education campuses. FMCG products, complete meals, electronic gadgets and even credit top-ups are among some of the merchandises that are increasingly available from these enhanced platforms.
Expansion in the horizon
Since the company’s conception eight years ago, Silkron has since expanded to almost every continent – save Antarctica. However, for Loh, the journey does not just stop here.
Under the Global Acceleration and Innovation Network (GAIN) programme with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Silkron has been expanding its market access.
“The MDEC team is highly passionate in doing what they are trying to achieve; supporting local companies advance to the next level,” he shares.
Beyond just growing the business, Loh believes that Big Data and artificial intelligence will be key in transforming the tech landscape. Silkron is looking to incorporate those capabilities into the core development pipeline of its smart vending and automated retail technologies. However, before the company
can move on to do that, it needs to secure even more landmass.
“We want our products to be available around the world, connecting vending machines and enabling smart vending and automated retail. Our aim is to continue to grow the install base of our technology intensively in the next three years all over the world, especially in the key markets like ASEAN, the United States and China,” he concludes.