Tool Management Systems: A real world model with lots of options

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...

  • Shadowing toolboxes
  • Maintaining an inventory of tools and performing at least daily checks
  • ID marking the tools (i.e. with any unique symbol, initials, numbers, etc.)
  • Company-owned tools kept in a tool crib (or other controlled environment), inventoried, and signed for by the technician

Shadowing a toolbox
Products to shadow tools come in all varieties. Homemade versions can be made using Styrofoam or similar material. But these materials may not withstand the vigorous work of aviation maintenance. Constant removal and replacement of the tool and petroleum products can quickly erode Styrofoam. High-density foam tends to be more durable. Professional products are even more rugged and usually utilize a contrasting color design. FòmLoc®, specifically, uses a special kind of "resilient closed cell foam rubber" that is impervious to petroleum products and solvents.

Dennis Amoroso of FòmLoc, one of the original designers of the product, explains how it was conceived from frustration with other products. FòmLoc's foam allows you to reach for tools from any angle without unsnapping, unlatching, or unhooking; forms to fit the brand of tool you use; doesn't slide on smooth surfaces (like the wing of a plane); and won't scratch. FòmLoc also includes permanent text on its organizers, detailing what tool should be in a certain spot. When it's inspection time it is very clear when a tool is missing due to the contrasting "shadow" beneath the cutout, and what tool it is by reading the name below the empty space. It's an "interactive tool manger," Amoroso says.

Lista is also coming out with a foam product, but it will be designed as more of a do-it-yourself kit says the aforementioned Biggers. It will consist of two layers in contrasting colors (one plastic and one foam), a utility knife, adhesive, and templates. This kit will make shadowing "a lot more affordable," explains Biggers.

Most shadowing systems are modular and customizable. Companies such as FòmLoc, Cascade Tool & Foam Supply, Stahlwille, Stanley Proto, Snap-on, etc. can make 80 toolbox layouts the same, so inspection from toolbox to toolbox is consistent and efficient. It is also affordable for individual mechanics, especially with a modular design so pieces can be bought one at a time.

Checking tools in and out of the tool crib by a logbook or sign-out sheet and counting tools before and after the start of a shift or work order are both simple and inexpensive ways to increase the accuracy of your inventory and to keep from leaving tools behind. Computers can also be used to track tools. Computer programs commonly use an identification label of some kind on the tool that can be scanned or entered into the computer's tool database. This allows the computer to: identify the tool in the case of ordering a new one, track which tools are used most often, automate the checking of tools in and out, keep an up-to-date tool inventory, etc. Programs such as WALTER's TDM (tool data management) or TDMeasy can include as much as you want (or are willing to pay for). Some programs can also keep track of the calibration of precise measuring equipment to help ensure out-of-calibration tools are not in use.

ID of tools
Laser etching or engraving are both very common ways of marking tools. Most tool management companies also provide service. Etching tools are available for sale; however, with the investment of money, time, and practice you'll have to decide if it's worth marking your tools in-house.

Another choice for marking tools comes from Marking Methods Inc. and is an electro-chemical metal marking, which uses chemicals to mark metals, alloys, and platings permanently. You can even have Marking Methods Inc. do the process for you.

Label makers and labeling tapes are also available, but often aren't as permanent as etching and engraving. Solvents, hydrocarbons, and other chemicals may erode the adhesive on labels causing them to fall off. Look for products that are chemical resistant or attach without adhesive.

A tool management system should be adjusted to best fit the application and need of the facility. Many of the companies carrying tool systems provide customized service to give you exactly what you want and consultants to help you establish your needs. A tool management program is an important part of long-term cost cutting and overall safety. It's a win-win situation for the mechanic, management, and the customer flying on the aircraft.

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