There's a War Over McDonald's Ice Cream Machines

There's something going on at McDonald's — a saga involving the chain's infamous ice cream machines that could shape the future of fast-food desserts for some time to come. It started a few years ago when a third party managed to "hack" the machines McDonald's stores carried. Jeremy O'Sullivan, 34, and his partner Melissa Nelson, 33, came up with a device that allowed the machines to operate much more smoothly. Better yet, their device — called Kytch by the duo — allowed McDonald's franchisees easier access to the menus of the machines sold to them by McDonald's distributors.

Now, it's the all-out war between equipment providers is starting to reach a boiling point.

With this device developed by O'Sullivan and Nelson, franchisees could perform routine maintenance on the machines without having to involve contractors and maintenance workers contracted by the corporate office. According to Wired, the Kytch devices saved many franchisees thousands and thousands of dollars each year the device was active.

That is, of course, until the Golden Arches found out.

You see, McDonald's ice cream machines are built by the Rockton, Illinois-based Taylor, and are sold to franchisees for around $18,000 each. Not only that, but the relationship between Taylor and McDonald's means franchisees have to choose parts from a network of "approved" vendors and distributors or rely on the maintenance contractors provided by Taylor.

Why's that important?

Because the menu options and settings on the Taylor machines are hidden behind a labyrinth of secret codes only the approved contractors — and Kytch devices — know how to bypass. Access to the settings behind the menu allows franchisees to perform routine maintenance while allowing them to tweak their machines on their own.

Shortly after Taylor found out many McDonald's franchisees were using Kytch devices to hook into their machines, the company went to great lengths in order to get their hands on one, and eventually, they did. Naturally, not before the damage was done.

Last November, the chain sent an e-mail to all of its franchisees letting them know it would violate Taylor's machine warranty to install Kytch devices on their machines. If the business owners wanted to know how and why their ice cream machine was down, they would instead have to use a fancy new device built by Taylor itself, one that essentially does the exact same thing Kytch does.

This set off a chain event that tanked the sales of Kytch and now, O'Sullivan and Nelson tell Wired they plan to file suit against the Arches and ice cream machine manufacturer, all because of the corporate espionage involved in getting people their ice cream on time.

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"There's the ice cream machine," O'Sullivan told the tech magazine. "And then there's the machine behind the machine."