Bar Coding Cuts Waste

Companies are becoming aware that a good shelf-ready bar-coding system can provide an edge in the marketplace. By computerizing their equipment-management operations with a tool-tracking system, contractors can boost productivity and optimize asset utilization, and decrease incidents of missing items. A tool-tracking system can reduce the amount of paperwork and time spent recording and reporting on tools and equipment operations. It also eliminates or reduces reporting errors and confusion rega

Jan 1st, 1997
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Maggie Connors

Companies are becoming aware that a good shelf-ready bar-coding system can provide an edge in the marketplace. By computerizing their equipment-management operations with a tool-tracking system, contractors can boost productivity and optimize asset utilization, and decrease incidents of missing items. A tool-tracking system can reduce the amount of paperwork and time spent recording and reporting on tools and equipment operations. It also eliminates or reduces reporting errors and confusion regarding maintenance needs of, and accessories for, specific tools and equipment. Bar-coding software saves contractors time by enabling them to locate every tool or piece of equipment at any given moment.

One type of system--the ToolWatch Tracking System by ToolWatch Corp. (Englewood, CO)-- uses a portable pen-type device for scanning the bar codes. With every scan of a label affixed to a tool, the operator captures critical information such as date, time, location and the employee to whom the tool is assigned. If a label is missing from a tool, the operator can log in another painted or engraved identification number.

Later, these tool transactions are downloaded into the company computer as a permanent record. To download the data, you place the pen into a "docking station" (which also recharges the scanning pen) and, with a click of the mouse, all the data is instantaneously transferred, thus eliminating paperwork and data entry generally associated with tool tracking.

"Now that I`ve got everything up and running, the system practically runs itself," says Peter Malone, president and owner of a $3 million company serving Chicago and its suburbs. Malone`s company employs 36 people, operates 10 work trucks and $150,000 in tools and equipment to service the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

Reduce tool losses

Before installing ToolWatch two-and-a-half years ago, Malone says he spent $50,000 a year replacing lost, stolen and wrecked tools: "That`s one-third of the value of our tool and equipment inventory. Now our lost, or stolen, tool ratio has dropped to zero. We`re not losing any tools now, and we`re not buying replacements except when they break down," says Malone.

According to officials at Chapel Electric (Dayton, OH), before using this tool-tracking system, 15% to 19% of their tools and equipment inventory ended up missing each year. That figure has dropped to 3%.

The Waldinger Corp., with offices in Des Moines, IA; Wichita, KS; and Omaha, NE, has been using ToolWatch for two years and, according to Dave Miller, vice president of operations, "Our tool costs are definitely coming down. It looks as if we`ve had 30% to 40% reduction in tool costs as a result of using the bar-coding system."

Waldinger has also been monitoring tool- replacement costs company-wide and, based on research so far, the company claims it is saving about 40 cents per employee-hour with its improved tool- and equipment-management system.

Other applications

With a range of logical information screens and printed reports, searching for tools is as easy as clicking on pop-up lists. Using the tool-tracking system, you can trace a tool to a specific project, and the record shows which employee is authorized to use it.

Malone`s company went one step further and affixed bar-code labels to its 10 work trucks, using the system for fleet-management purposes as well.

"Now, the trucks and the tools are assigned to individual workers," says Malone. It eliminates confusion and frustration because one employee is not taking equipment from another`s truck. Each worker is personally responsible for the tools assigned to him or her, and this has reduced the incidence of damaged tools.

"Employee morale is improved also, because having the correct tools in good condition, workers can do the job more efficiently in less time," he explains.

Another company that has reduced tool-replacement costs is veca Electric (Bellevue, WA), which initially set up ToolWatch solely for tool management. However, company managers began to use the system to help police locate, identify and return stolen tools and equipment. If there is a job-site break-in, they can provide the police with a computer-printed report of the missing tools, including a history of each tool`s assigned users and job sites, maintenance records, serial number, purchase date, identifying marks and other pertinent information.

ToolWatch software can generate 20 different reports on tool and equipment use by individual or by project, and it allows easy customizing and network interfacing. "Right now, we use the system primarily for tracking and maintenance, but we`re still learning more and more about using it for other things," says Malone.

Click here to enlarge image

Every time you scan a bar-code label with the ToolWatch pen, you capture the date, time and location of the assigned tool.

Maggie Connors is a freelance writer for several commercial clients and trade magazines and has written extensively on bar coding and other automatic identification technologies for many different industries.

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