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Student Projects Explore Self-Serve Vending Centers for Airplanes and Buses

BOONE–Students in an industrial design class at Appalachian State University have created a mock-up of a proposed self-service vending center that one day might be installed on commercial airplanes and motor coaches. The students will demonstrate their design to a Southwest Airlines representative on May 3.

Visiting professor Len Singer, an industrial designer, has guided the students through the project. “We develop physical solutions to problems, concepts and dreams,” Singer said of the industrial design process that turns drawings into models of the design. If an idea or dream has merit, we work with engineers, architects and others take over and turn it into reality, he said.

For now, the concept takes the form of full-size mock-ups of rear sections of a Boeing 737 and an MCI motor coach. The models are constructed from corrugated paperboard over a wooden frame. Display materials also include acrylic plastic, floor tile, carpet and adhesives. Materials were donated by Pratt Industries in Statesville and Piedmont Plastics of Charlotte.

The vending center is located on the back wall of both mock-ups. Fitting into existing galley space of a 747 would mean less cabin congestion from careening food trolleys pushed down the airplane aisle by flight attendants. “It’s in keeping with the overall unobtrusive integrated cabin design, not and add on,” Singer said. The unit, with a horizontal configuration, features revolving trays behind lighted windows foe ease of selection, and secure, cashless access to the items. “With this concept, we regrouped existing equipment and added some new features to free up space.” Also, by locating the unit along the back wall, it ties into the existing overhead air conditioning system to keep food fresh and beverages cold.

Singer, a frequent flier, believes many passengers would welcome an on-board vending center, particularly on the low-cost airlines that are fast gaining popularity among travelers. Part of the no-frills aspect of a low-cost airline means little if any food service, so travelers facing long flights must either bring their own snacks, pack a lunch or try to get a fast bite before boarding. An airborne vending unit that offers a fresh, tasty baguette sandwich at a reasonable cost might go a long way to ease the frustration and hunger, he said.