Performing a tool audit creates a deeper understanding of tool usage and costs
June 7, 2012
Companies that are serious about tool control should perform a tool audit.
Many stamping applications call for a quick exchange of dies the press. And the ability to change those dies quickly helps minimize press downtime. But what happens if the tools needed to change the dies aren’t readily available?
Pulling a technician off the job to search for a missing tool kills productivity and keeps the press down longer than needed for maintenance. Time is money, and that affects a company’s bottom line.
As metalworking and fabricating companies continue their push to operate leaner, many have begun examining their tooling needs as a way to improve efficiencies. An effective tool management program allows companies to gain a better understanding of their tools and equipment, identifies critical and commonly used tools, and ultimately saves money by reducing the cost of lost tools.
Performing a tool audit and implementing a more effective tool control system will go a long way toward achieving a leaner operation.
If a company is serious about tool control, one of the first things it should consider doing is an audit of its tools and equipment. Performing a tool audit provides a comprehensive review of all tools and equipment in inventory. It also identifies which tools are used most often, as well as which ones are seldom used.
Another part of the tool audit is reviewing maintenance practices on facility equipment. The goal here is to identify the specific tools needed to perform changeovers and the preventive maintenance required to minimize equipment downtime. It also ensures those tools are on hand and in the right quantity to meet maintenance expectations.
For example, the tool audit may reveal a key tool is needed as part of a preventive maintenance procedure on a stamping press, but the company has only one tool in inventory. This could become a problem if the company operates several stamping presses, some of which could be down for spot or preventive maintenance at the same time. The company may want to consider purchasing an extra tool to ensure maintenance isn’t stalled because of tool shortages.
All toolboxes should be inventoried and tools inspected to ensure good working order. Any tool that is damaged needs to be identified and replaced.
Technicians auditing tools and equipment should:
Once the tool audit is complete, the current inventory of tools needs to be properly housed and secured.
Most technicians probably have a toolbox in which one drawer is the catchall – a drawer the collects everything from tools, pens, and gadgets, to a sandwich. Trying to find a specific tool in the catchall drawer is time-consuming and nearly impossible. And who knows if the tool the technician is looking for is even in there. Perhaps a tool was lost or left behind after a job, endangering personnel and equipment, and the technician wouldn’t even know it. There are several ways to address tool security – and it starts with the toolbox.
All tools should have a specific place in the toolbox, and one way to do that is with foam cutouts. Foam provides a visual reference if a tool is lost or missing, alerting the technician to retrace his steps to retrieve it. This also provides an extra layer of security in preventing tool loss. A person might think twice about taking a tool he shouldn’t if he knows an empty foam cutout is showing the evidence of a missing tool.
While foam is a low-tech method for tool control, the process of creating foam cutouts has come a long way from the days of tracing and cutting by hand. Some suppliers cut foam to their customers’ exact specifications.
One way the toolbox owner can do this is by laying out tools in a mock drawer with a camera positioned over it. The drawer is presized to fit the existing toolboxes. They then arrange tools in the mock drawer to their liking, and take a photo of the layout. The process is repeated for each drawer. Once the photos are taken, they are sent to the supplier, where the photos are converted to a CAD drawing and fed into a CNC cutting machine. The foam is then cut to the exact layout of the tools in the pictures.
One type of toolbox allows technicians to see all their tools, even without opening the drawer. The visual tool control clear-view box doesn’t have drawers, but rather houses tools on one level and protects them with rigid Lexan® glass. The goal of a clear-view toolbox is to allow the technician to manage his tools visually just by looking through the glass.
Most toolboxes are on casters, giving them the flexibility to move around with the technician. This reduces the time to walk back and forth to the stationary box to retrieve tools. They also can have an electronic locking system to control who has access to the box.
Taking the mobile box a step further, some suppliers are designing toolboxes with keyless tool control, in which an electronic keypad or scanned ID badge gains entry into a box. These types of boxes, which can have several drawers, are still fairly compact enough that they can be moved easily.
One advantage a keyless tool control box has over traditional key-locked tool boxes is that technicians don’t need to worry about losing a key to open the box. It can be accessed anytime, anywhere, achieving the same level of security as a lock and key system, while eliminating the inconvenience that keys often produce.
While rolling toolboxes offer efficiencies in moving tools from one place to another, they also provide a much greater level of tool control, which in itself leads to enhanced productivity.
As manufacturers continue to evaluate their processes to become leaner, many are adapting the 5S lean enterprise principle: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain.
The goal is to make the workplace visual and easy to manage. A tool control program is a large part of that. Foam cutouts in boxes act as a visual management system for tools because they help technicians locate tools quickly and identify any missing components.
But tool control doesn’t stop with foam and electronic controlled access. Some suppliers are going high-tech with digital imaging technology to provide the ultimate level of tool control and accountability.
Automated tool control consists of a toolbox outfitted with digital imaging scanning software that scans drawers in real time to give the technician an accurate look at which tools have been removed from the box. The software produces a visual record of each drawer after it has been opened and closed and stores that information to document the actions of each technician who has accessed the box.
An LCD monitor affixed to the top of the box provides a visual reference of all tools removed and returned, and all tool movements are audibly announced to further alert the technician of tool use. Where the tool box earns its money is when a tool isn’t returned. For example, if a technician checks out 13 tools, and two hours later returns only 12, the toolbox alerts the technician that a tool is missing by showing a picture of the empty foam cutout in the drawer; a voice alert is also issued about the missing tool as well.
This type of tool control is ideal for applications in which tool management is critical to the operation — applications in which a forgotten tool could cause serious damage to personnel and equipment and kill productivity.
When technicians know where their tools are, they’re more efficient … and that keeps the operation running lean.