For the Anoka County Highway Department, vending machines aren't there to serve the 3 p.m. chocolate craving. Not these vending machines, anyway.

Instead, they serve as an express toolbox, suppling safety vests and grease tubes, among other things.

Workers plug in their employee identification number, select the item they need and watch it travel from the shelf to a bin, where it's retrieved.

Doug Fischer, highway engineer for the county, said the industrial vending machine is efficient and convenient for employees. The machines house a "whole smorgasbord of things that just we use on a regular basis," he said.

The county has several machines, all at its facility in Andover. The machines are available around the clock, automatically tracking usage and inventory and boosting efficiency by saving time and money.

Before, miscellaneous items were kept behind a lock and key where employees would have to wait. "It was very inefficient and took a lot of time," Fischer said.

Then the county came across a service that can stock vending machines with whatever is needed. The county bought the machines about a year ago and has noticed a lot of benefits.

The machines, which look like a snack vending machine, are centrally located, and employees don't have to wait for their items. "I haven't heard anything negative," Fischer said. "It's convenient and super-efficient."