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Safety gloves and drill bits from a vending machine? Fastenal adding it

Self-service technology has revolutionized the way we pump gas, withdraw cash, check in at airports and rent movies. Now, thanks to a new breed of industrial vending machines, it's also changing how industrial workers access high-use and critical supplies.

The machines, called FAST 5000s, are provided by Fastenal, which operates an industrial and construction supply store at 21 North Jefferson Street, Wadena. The store implements the machines at customer sites and keeps them filled with needed products - everything from safety glasses and batteries to abrasives and drill bits. This full-service business model is making industrial vending cost-effective for organizations ranging from Fortune 1000 corporations (nearly 10 percent of which are now using FAST 5000 machines) to small shops and local government agencies with as few as 20 employees.

"By providing a secure, 24/7 flow of supplies near the work area, it's helping organizations eliminate inventory costs, reclaim production hours, and cut product consumption - in many cases, by 30 percent or more," said Cory Jansen, Fastenal's executive vice president of internal operations. "In today's economy, those savings can make the difference between profits versus losses, or hiring versus layoffs."

The FAST 5000 units function similarly to traditional vending machines, but with sophisticated access controls and reporting. To receive product, workers scan their ID cards or enter a code; and if the request is accepted, the transaction is completed and tracked by the system. Users can also be prompted to enter pertinent data before vending - for example, a cost center or job number - allowing management to track usage accordingly. Because the system is Internet-based, managers can go online to adjust access settings, monitor machine health, and view real-time inventory and usage data.

The technology is key, but what really differentiates the program is the support provided by Fastenal stores and tech centers, which handle everything from machine installation and service to product packaging and testing (to ensure trouble-free vending). When stock for an item runs low, the system sends an automated order to the local Fastenal store for replenishment, eliminating stock-outs and paperwork. And through an optional consignment plan, customers pay only for dispensed items, allowing them to remove inventory costs from their books.

Fastenal has created more than 120 job positions to support its FAST program and plans to hire additional personnel to keep pace with the program's growth.