A real world model with lots of options
By Emily Refermat
Nothing is worse than wasting time looking for something you know you have. Digging through a pile of tools in search of the right size socket wrench when work is waiting can delay turnover and hurt production, not to mention increase your frustration. It is a waste of valuable time. Plus, without the ability to take a quick inventory, how will you know you've gotten all your tools back from a job?
Leaving a tool behind can be worse than simply lost money and inconvenience, if that tool ends up in a sensitive area of the aircraft and creates FOD you might end up on the NTSB stand. FOD (Foreign Object Damage) is a serious problem in aviation and you don't want to be a cause of it. Damage by tools left inside aircraft is one of the most preventable types of FOD.
"It is very important for all maintenance personnel to understand that a tool control [program] is one of the most important tasks involved in maintaining aircraft," says Mike Branham, an A&P instrumental in the implementation of a tool management system at the Wal-Mart Aviation fleet maintenance facility. "Overall it improves the safety of aircraft and provides an organizational tool for the technician."
Branham explains that Wal-Mart's fleet had been expanding rapidly with the number of mechanics tripling in seven years, not to mention the number of tools needed to maintain it. "As a result of this growth, Wal-Mart felt the need to implement a tool inventory program . . . [as] an added step in keeping our aircraft safe and eliminate one step in the human factor chain," Branham says.
Bob Biggers, regional sales manager for Lista International Corp., also stands behind tool management. "Organization is critical," he says about aviation tools. Biggers explains that without a space for tools, they won't be returned. A successful program must make it easy to "inventory, locate, and . . . return [the tools]."
Beginning the process
So how do you get a tool management system started? Branham advises that the first step is to gain management support. "[You must] convince management that it is essential to the success of the company," Branham says. "By providing a tool inventory system, technicians can save time when completing a work order by quickly taking an inventory of their tools. If a tool is missing it can be recovered quickly and the technician can complete the job in a safe and efficient manner."
Once management is on board the "implementation of a successful tool system is a team effort," Branham says. The mechanics at the Wal-Mart Aviation fleet maintenance facility were apprehensive at first. Many feared there were too many tools to inventory or that the ID on the tools would trace a forgotten tool back to them. "As time passes and the technicians get used to the new system they can see the positive effects of having the system in place," says Branham.
Wal-Mart's specific tool inventory system consists of tools marked with ID and logged with the inspection department, the shadowing of toolboxes, and tool crib special tools.
"We chose this system due to the ease of implementation and the fact that it is simple to maintain," Branham explains. "We did not have a high tool loss but we could see where it had the potential of becoming a problem."
For the implementation process the company supplied mechanics with the equipment needed to ID their tools and the materials to shadow their toolboxes. Then there was the education on how to use the new system, why it was being implemented, and how it benefited them personally. In order to maintain the system each technician is allocated a quarterly allowance.
Be proactive, don't wait for an accident before you get a tool management system. These systems have many different components and Branham offers some possibilities for individualizing your own tool control system.