When Tools Marry Technology
Tool control in any high-accountability environment is paramount. Any lost or misplaced tool is potentially a safety risk or a risk for foreign object damage (FOD). With tightly-regulated compliance processes, it’s not uncommon for some maintenance specialists to have “love-hate” emotions when it concerns practicing strict FOD control processes. After all, there are detailed forms to complete, mandatory education classes to attend, processes to follow and more — argh. Although “love-hate” may seem extreme, in reality it’s a culture that maintenance professionals, like it or not, do grasp. They understand safety procedures and practice them diligently and daily. As for tool control, it’s love when every tool is accounted for; however, it is more negative (maybe actually not hate) when your director of maintenance discovers a tool that is missing from the cabinet and your team is held accountable. While misplacement of tools is not intentional, even the most seasoned mechanic can miss some steps in the process to complete the task at hand.
Tool Tracking RFID Technology
For any such occurrence, that is where technology steps in to help. In recent years, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, when combined with robust software, secure dispensing devices, RFID infrastructure, and mobile devices such as the CribMaster system, has created harmony with users. CribMaster has simplified and automated these mundane processes. This system enables maintenance professionals to simply get the required tools to do their job and get on with their work without interrupting their workflow.
A cabinet located on the maintenance floor houses all of their tools. The user self-authenticates with their employee badge to unlock the cabinet and opens a drawer with RFID-tagged tools placed neatly in foam cut outs. The user then removes the required tools while the system records who took it, where it was used, and when it was returned. Authorized personnel are immediately notified when an item is missing from the cabinet, making FOD checks fast, easy and accurate.
Missing a Tool?
One hard fact in a maintenance facility is that tools do get misplaced. What happens inside the facility at that point can be as simple as running a report and making a quick search for the tool — or there could be a complete shutdown creating a wild goose chase, and ultimately costing hours or even days of lost productivity. What is the financial impact when deadlines are delayed because of a missing tool? The CribMaster system utilizes highly-accurate components to provide complete visibility for tools in and out of the cabinet and throughout the facility. Simplifying reports and quick search time becomes the norm.
Last-point-read monitors placed at strategic choke points in a facility will detect if the missing tool passed in or out of the area. The monitors read the RFID tag in real time and immediately record the transaction. Upon identifying the area where the missing tool was last read by the monitors, an RFID scanner is used to pinpoint the missing tool’s exact location, greatly reducing the search times.
A top question maintenance professionals ask with regards to this system is, “Does every tool have to be tagged?” The answer is yes. During the installation process, each tool is methodically tagged using tested epoxies and securing methods. Another questioned is, “What about sockets?” In the past, sockets have had the biggest FOD challenge for tool control. Why? The only way to monitor sockets with RFID technology has been with an RFID switch. When the socket is removed from its place in the drawer, the RFID signal is no longer being read. Just as in any RFID tagged tool, the system then knows the socket has been removed.
RFID-Embedded Industrial Hand Tools – A Reality
This leads to the question, “Could an RFID tag be embedded in each tool at the time the tool is manufactured?” Interestingly enough, when Stanley Black & Decker acquired CribMaster in May 2011, the development of an RFID-embedded line of industrial tools is exactly what the company had in mind. The teams began to go to work on the process of marrying RFID technology with the tool.
One year later, the game has dramatically changed for tool control in helicopter maintenance operations. The same professional-grade industrial hand tools used everyday are now smarter. CribMaster and Proto have developed PROTOid RFID-embedded industrial hand tools.
With the development and launch of PROTOid today, there are no additional tagging requirements to track your tools, no adhesives, no tape, and no tag application process. The PROTOid line of industrial hand tools including wrenches, nut drivers and sockets, is designed specifically to meet the highest quality aerospace standards, with the added benefit of being able to manage, monitor and track them wherever they are in your facility.
As with adopting any new technology, there can be IT challenges during set up. Plug and play is taken to a whole new level with this line of RFID-embedded tools. The system will automatically recognize the RFID-embedded tools while in discovery mode. The discovery mode feature allows the software to look for new RFID tags added to a CribMaster system and automatically inputs the data from each tool into the system.
Practicing tool control for the maintenance professional just got easier. As with any job or tightly-controlled compliance processes, there are always some parts of it that we like better than others. RFID tool-tracking technology has created a more harmonious balance between mundane processes and automation for all personnel supporting helicopter maintenance. Now that RFID technology has married the tools, it is a tool control marriage chock full of bliss and just think — the honeymoon is only getting started!
Susan Hebrank has been the marketing services coordinator for Marietta, Ga.-based CribMaster for four years. She focuses primarily on inventory management and asset tracking. Find her on Twitter: cribmaster9 or Facebook: cribmastersystem.