Tools & Equipment: The Electronic Nail

The tool storage locker system

In large organizations, this type of device enables the operator to assure that tools and test equipment are available to the work force. Losses of strayed tools (left in a truck, on a bench, in a toolbox) are curtailed because an electronic record exists of the users, who can be contacted if an item has not been returned. These systems are designed to notify the designated supervisor of the device if an item is not returned in a given period of time via email. As you can imagine, tool loss is severely curtailed due to the operation and procedures incorporated into these monitoring systems. These machines can be compared to the nail in one’s garage where a particular item hangs until needed, one can refer to the device as an “electronic nail,” (the tool’s home spot!). In the case of a system whereby multiple tools of the same kind are needed, multiples are loaded. The system will simply select the next identical tool if the first choice is not available.

These tool storage lockers are used today in many settings such as machine shops for storage of machine tool components, at large organizations to store company radios and scanners carried by employees, at airlines, and in any application imaginable in which tools are needed to perform maintenance, repair, and manufacturing. The tool storage locker boosts efficiency because the “hunt” for the correct tool is eliminated. The electronic program allows the machine to function without a tool crib attendant to check tools in and out of a tool crib. The program also provides control of calibrated tools. These cabinets simply “lock down” an item when it is due for calibration.

Initial response maybe mixed

The presence of the electronic tool storage lockers initially was met with the standard resistance to change that we all experience. Later, after the users became familiar with the lockers, many roadblocks to the performance of their job functions ceased. They found that tools were always available; they were not forgotten in someone’s toolbox that was enjoying a three-day weekend. If a power cord or a connecting hose was missing, the last user was listed on the web site and could be contacted for the missing part. The standard statement given to the supervisor like “I can’t find the test box and can’t perform the job” is eliminated because now that test box and all other specific items critical to the operation are located on the “electronic nail.”

Web-based, electronic-controlled storage systems also include storage cages controlled in the same manner, electronic dispensing machines which dispense batteries, sealants, adhesives, drills bits, end mills, and other consumable items, and individual electronic-controlled drawers which are designated moderate control as the user must enter quantities removed. Cost control is a huge benefit to the implementation of these machines, as the program enables the operator of the system to view usage, internally bill individual departments for material, and control the usage of the product being dispensed. If usage is excessive, the operator can view this usage and replace the product with a higher quality product for example.

These electronic storage lockers are being used by several of the major airlines. One airline at Chicago O’Hare Airport utilizes lockers to store two-way communication radios and scanners used by terminal ramp employees. When a radio is inoperative it is placed back into a machine, identified as unserviceable and cannot be checked out again until repaired. Another airline operating in Minneapolis and Detroit uses vending machines to store critical tooling near the terminal gates, where it is close to the operation and the need. Battery drills, laptop computers, air data testers, and nav-com test sets are placed into the lockers with charging capabilities incorporated in the compartment so the items are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Time savings

Ultimately, this effort saves the most important asset that affects the operation — time. Time is reduced by not traveling to another hangar for test equipment. A technician can quickly remove the test equipment from a storage locker, immediately troubleshoot a delayed airplane, and in an expeditious manner turn the delay into a dispatched aircraft. A lost air data test set was known to have cost an operator a major delay recently, due to the fact the test equipment could not be found. Another unit was ultimately purchased due to the fact that it was critical to the operation of the company. The missing test set was later discovered in an unrelated storage cabinet. This company is now considering the electronic tool storage lockers.

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