While automated stores remain a wild dream for most retailers, it has been a reality for more milleniums for the vending machine industry . However, even if the vending business is at a crossroad in developed countries  reinventing itself through integrating consumers’ aspirations for healthier food and digital machines, the innovation has been mostly lead by well-established big companies, leaving a very tiny space for startups to grow. Launching new features and machines takes indeed a particularly long time in this industry since it requires a long technical development and testing mainly because the iteration cycle in the industry is very costly, so that the incentive to stick with old proven distribution technology is very strong . Nevertheless, 3D-Printing is completely reshuffling the cards, enabling the emergence of new entrepreneurial actors.
Centimeo is a young French vending machine companies created in 2011 , based on a simple concept: people in Western Europe are not using their low-denomination coins, which are costly to manufacture for European States . The company started to sell chewing gum per unit for 5 Cents in vending machines in order to collect those coins. Once collected, it recycles the coins in the economy via providing change to storekeepers. While starting its business, Centimeo faced a significant issue: there were no existing system enabling the distribution of tiny products such as chewing gums sticks, so that the company relied on an underused technology in the vending machine industry: 3D-Printing. As the CTO of the company said, “3D-Printing was the only way for the company to prototype multiple distribution mechanism within the same week. It allowed us to intensively iterate, and this would not have been possible if we would worked with traditional vending machine manufacturers. Those rely indeed heavily on sheet metal manufacturing and plastic molding. Prototyping with these technologies can take up to several weeks, whereas for us, it took a couple of days, if not even hours sometimes!” .
What is fascinating is that Centimeo relied here on 3D-Printing to develop from scratch new distribution systems, having therefore the ability to test new products within a week, and constantly improve its distribution mechanisms without incurring high manufacturing costs. It confers to the company a very significant flexibility, that can be used to quickly match any development needs. A good example is the partnership between Centimeo and Nailmatic , a nail polish vending machine concept. While not familiar with the cosmetic business, Centimeo was able to develop a completely customized system applied to nail polish in two months relying on 3D-Printing technology, a performance that could not have been realized through traditional manufacturing.
I believe that the company will apply this usage of 3D-Printing to a wide variety of products, adding therefore a strong flexibility to its product line. The technology is likely to help the company to even regularly change the products formats sold in a machine, something that will help the industry to match ever better with evolving consumer needs, and pull the vending machine towards being a more dynamic retail store. We can indeed imagine seasonal products, especially during Christmas or Easter. In the longer-run, the impact of the usage of 3D-Printing in the vending industry might be to move away from standardization and to increase the number of different machines operated by the main actors of the industry. We can indeed easily think about modular vending machine that can be fully adapted to their environment, so that a vending machine in a library for instance would be perfectly customize to retail pens, ear plugs and other relevant products.
In this perspective, I think that it would be relevant to push this idea towards customizing also the shape of the machines. The vending machine is more and more problematic from an esthetic point of view, and there are many attempts to fit them better, especially in crowded places such as train stations or hospitals. I believe that 3D-Printing can here play a big role in giving adequate shapes to the machines, so that they move away from being standardized parallelograms. It represents for startups like Centimeo a huge innovation opportunity to play leading role in this industry, and engage the customer in a new shopping experience. With the combination of 3D-Printing and digital vending machines, one can indeed think about empowering the customer and asking his/her opinion towards the products that can be sold in the machine, as well as transforming the vending machine consumption into an interactive and fun experience.
 HIGUCHI, Yoshihiro, History of the Development of Beverage Vending Machine Technology in Japan, Center of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology.
 LEE, Bruce, Current and Future Trends in Vending Machines, Forbes, 4/22/2016.
 MOREL, Agnès, La réinvention de la Distribution Automatique, Le Nouvel Economiste, 3/18/2018.
 Forbes 30 under 30 Website, Forbes.com.
 Official Website of French Senate, consulted the 11/13/2018.
 ANBAZHAGAN, Ramesh, Phone interview, 11/12/2018.
 GAZEAU, Antoine, Nailmatic se fait un nom en cassant les codes de la cosmétique, Brief Mag, 2018.