Monthly Archives: September 2014

Cashless Tipping Made Easy with DipJar.

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By Leo Lutero on September 19, 2014 in Retail 

Cashless Tipping Made Easy with DipJar

 “Sorry, no spare change” will soon be invalidated as an excuse to skip tipping your barista or food server with thisnew technology that allows small-value transactions in one quick step.

More and more people are using plastic instead of cash even for small transactions like buying the morning coffee or a brunch sandwich. DipJar acknowledges this shift by creating a quick way of tipping perfect for food service establishments, charities or even street performers.

The concept for the DipJar is simple. It is a cylindrical-shaped device (yes, it is shaped like a jar) with a receptacle where you can insert your credit card. The tip amounts are already set and embossed on the jar so there is really no need to do anything else. Just insert the card, take it out and you’ve sent a monetary Thank you to the service you have just received.

This is made possible through less stringent banking rules that do not require signatures for smaller transactions.


The DipJar is still not rolling out their device but are now accepting requests from interested establishments.

There will be no need to connect wires to any existing payment systems. You just plug it in to a power source and it is ready to accept payment. The DipJar sends data through 3G and boasts a system with zero maintenance spare the occasional wiping of dust.

Many involved in the service industry work at minimum wage and depend greatly on tips to supplement their income. The DipJar is a great system that addresses how credit cards negatively affect tipping. According to the company’s research, people who pay with cash tip with cash while those who pay with plastic don’t tip at all.

The system will also put in place anti-fraud measures such as protection against repetitive scanning from a single card. They will also encrypt all information and store them only until processing is complete.

The DipJar charges a monthly usage fee to the establishment and $0.08 per dollar transaction to the employee. The fees are to cover the payment processing systems, the lease of the DipJar device and the 3G connection.

Robots Work Their Way Into Small Factories

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Sept. 17, 2014

Taylor Glascock for The Wall Street Journal

 Robots aren’t just for the big guys anymore.

A new breed of so-called collaborative machines—designed to work alongside people in close settings—is changing the way some of America’s smaller manufacturers do their jobs.

The machines, priced as low as $20,000, provide such companies—small jewelry makers and toy makers among them—with new incentives to automate to increase overall productivity and lower labor costs.

At Panek Precision Inc., a Northbrook, Ill., machine shop, 21 shiny new robots hum as they place metal parts into cutting machines and remove the parts after they are done. It’s a tedious and oily task once handled by machine operators who earn about $16.50 an hour.

One new robot doubled the output from a machine that was previously operated by a worker “because robots work overnight and don’t take lunch breaks and they just keep going,” says Gregg Panek, the company’s president. In some cases, the robots, which are single articulated arms, can even hold a part while it’s getting cut since there is no danger of injury.

Robots have been on factory floors for decades. But they were mostly big machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and had to be caged off to keep them from smashing into humans. Such machines could only do one thing over and over, albeit extremely fast and precisely. As a result, they were neither affordable nor practical for small businesses.

Collaborative robots can be set to do one task one day—such as picking pieces off an assembly line and putting them in a box—and a different task the next.

Some are mobile and able to range freely inside a factory. The use of advanced sensors means they stop or reposition themselves when a person gets in their way, solving a safety issue that long kept robots out of smaller factories.

Small businesses often need flexibility “because they’re not just packaging cookies endlessly,” says Dan Kara, a robotics expert at ABI research, a market-research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

At least one company already makes humanoid robots, with arms and computer-screen faces that can flash emotions like surprise. But most lack charisma.

One thing still holding back the trend is fear. Some managers worry that workers will view the machines as competitors for jobs and fight their installation.

Mr. Panek says he realized his family-owned machine shop was ready for robots in 2012 after seeing one demonstrated at a machine-tool show in Chicago.

“The guy said you can walk into this thing” and it would stop automatically, he recalls, referring to the sales rep for Denmark’s Universal Robots A/S. “Then he let it swivel into him.” After the rep wasn’t injured, Mr. Panek says, “I knew that’s what I wanted.”

Each robot costs between $50,000 and $60,000. Mr. Panek plans to add 14 more by the end of next year, he says.

“Having the robots has allowed us to move our existing workers into more useful tasks,” such as running more-advanced machines that still require human tending, Mr. Panek says. In short, the robots allow one worker to oversee more machines. “We’ll always need people.”

Instead of operating just one large machine, nine-year Panek employee Jesus Hernandez now supervises several robots.

“At first, I had doubts the robots could do what I did, moving the parts around, handling the parts,” says Mr. Hernandez, 40 years old. That was until he timed himself against the robots. “I’m fast, but the robots are faster.”

 This time-lapse video shows a robot made by Denmark’s Universal Robots removing burrs from stainless-steel tubing at Panek Precision’s machine shop in Northbrook, Ill.

Workers at Stuller Inc.’s sprawling jewelry factory in Lafayette, La., dubbed their newest colleague Fred. He is an autonomous robot that looks like a tall water cooler on wheels that roams a section of the 600,000-square-foot plant, delivering tools to workers at their workbenches and putting the items away when they are no longer needed.

Managers thought the robot might be unpopular—since it eliminated what were once three jobs for human runners.

“But people have taken to him much more readily than we thought,” says Jeff High, the company’s chief merchandising officer. Some workers actually talk to the machine as if he was human, Mr. High says, even though Fred doesn’t understand what they are saying or respond.

Mobile robots have been around since the 1950s but they lacked flexibility since they had to follow rigid patterns—usually magnetic lines on the floor or walls. Even now, most systems have to be fenced off so they don’t run down wandering humans.

Fred, produced by Adept Technology Inc., ADEP -0.25% is programmed with an internal map and sensors that allow it to move through crowded corridors. If its path gets blocked by an unexpected stack of boxes or people on a factory tour, it calculates a new way to reach its destination.

“If you block it, it will find another way—and if you step in front of it again to mess with it, it will say, ‘Excuse me, can I get through?'” Mr. High says. Stuller plans to deploy a second mobile robot, which costs about $50,000 for the equipment and related software, in its stonecutting department later this year. They haven’t picked a name for it yet.

At K’NEX Brands LLC, a toy maker in Hatfield, Pa., the new robot is called Baxter.

Sold by Rethink Robotics Inc., a Boston company that grew out of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Baxter has two arms and is designed to roll easily from one spot in a factory to another. It is the most humanlike of collaborative machines now on the market. Baxter—they are all called that—has a computer screen face that can signal emotions. If puzzled, for example, the eyes will cast a quizzical look by arching its eyebrows.

K’NEX, which received the $20,000 machine in February, has used it for everything from packing boxes to inspecting plastic parts on the assembly line. “When something comes off the line and has to be handled, it becomes labor intensive and that makes us not globally competitive,” says Michael Araten, the closely held company’s president and chief operating officer. “So it’s important to make that automated.”

Baxter’s current task is putting together window locks, made of three plastic pieces. K’NEX’s manufacturing operation makes things other than toys for other customers. Mr. Araten says it is easy to program Baxter, but the process is far from perfect. “Calibrating speed is a key issue,” he says, since Baxter’s arm has to move at the right speed to catch each part and sometimes misses.

“I look at Baxter like the iPhone one—it was good” but it was just the beginning in the development of smartphones, he says.




Your Eyeballs Are Your Password

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Photo: Eva O’Leary and Harry Griffin



Threats like the Heartbleed web bug mean we need more secure ways to do our work online. EyeLock, a New York–based company, has responded with Myris, a palm-size device that scans your irises to log you in to your favorite sites. While eye-scanning tech isn’t new, Myris, which costs $279, is likely the first for folks without Level 10 FBI clearance. The process is as simple as taking a selfie:

  1. Look into the USB–connected Myris as if it were a mirror. A camera briefly ­records your eyes, turning 240 iris traits into a unique ID.
  2. Enter the URLs and credentials for your most-frequented destinations–from Facebook to American Express.
  3. Log in to the sites by clicking an icon and glancing at the Myris, which boasts a 1 in 2 trillion error margin. Say cheese!

Steps to Take to Adjust to A Fast Changing Market Place.

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It’s amazing what happens to your brain when it is refreshed after two weeks of vacation. I worked my way through a stack of Wall Street Journals and magazines and noticed a number of articles pointed in the same direction.

In one WSJ article Procter & Gamble is contemplating selling many of its brands, even such iconic ones as Ivory soap.  Another article mentions that retail stores are seeing a decline in traffic and they believe it’s because of increased online shopping.  And today I see a WSJ article about Home Depot having decided to spend over $1 billion in improving its online infrastructure instead of building new stores.

These happen to be examples of large companies dealing with significant changes in buying behavior.  The changes are so significant that they challenge the core of their business models. 

It is refreshing to see Home Depot making a significant change in its prior strategic direction. They are not alone. I also found an article in BloombergBusinessweek in which GE is mentioned as wanting to act more like a startup through its FastWorks project. However, many companies are not acting at all or are too slow. 

 Let’s take a look at what  is happening and different ways companies can react to it.  The trends are:

Even large companies with many brands do not have the resources to make all of them stand out in the crowded marketplace.  Those brands that do not stand out cannot make it.  Ivory soap was recognized by many women all over the world for decades as the  brand  to trust  but millennial’s  do not relate to it and its disappearing in the noise generated by other brands such as Unilever’s Dove. What Ivory soap did for years was to rely on TV ads to keep its brand in front of people. These days advertising on TV is not enough anymore. How do you manage all the media adversing platforms and stay relevant?

Younger generations have very different shopping behavior and one of them is that they prefer to shop online. We are now in the stage where major retailers are starting to see that 20 and 30-year-olds are determining store traffic.  It has been some time in the making. That means that stores need both physical and web presence to succeed. 

This younger generation is also used to using apps on their phones to manage their life. They do their shopping with apps and get their information from apps. A Wall Street Journal article of August 25th mentions that McDonalds has lost the appeal of Millennials and that it wants to increase communication about their social responsibility through newly developed apps. A necessary step but very late. 

How can companies react? 

  • They can make sure that they have a web presence and a physical presence so the customer can decide what channel to use.
  • Set up a separate team that looks into simplifying your business. Make a frictionless, easy-to-use, effortless app  that draws new customers, the younger generations.
  • Do what GE does.  GE has made arrangements with companies that could disrupt its business such as Quirky.
  • Buy an online presence or app and integrated with the rest of the organization. Not an easy approach since cultures often do not mix.

It is critical to first realize what the threats are. A good approach is to watch the customer and make sure you stay close to them.

This means that companies need to make strategic decisions.

  1. What is the best way to defend existing business and set up for growth? Does it include a digital leg for the future.
  2. If you decide to have a digital leg, do you develop it, buy it or cooperate with others?
  3. How broad do you want the approach to be? Do go narrow or broad? Both carry risks.
  4. What resources are critical to develop a digital future? Hire or use consultants?
  5. What organizational structure works the best to be successful in the long term? Within the organization or separate?


These trends will take some time to play out. Don’t rest because you will need the time to figure out how you need to react and get it implemented well.