PC-based tracking system streamlines tool crib management

Tracking tools is a lot simpler for Caterpillar's Large Engine Center, Lafayette, IN, thanks to the recent installation of a PC-based bar code-driven system. Up until 1995, the plant had an open-door policy in its tool crib.


Tracking tools is a lot simpler for Caterpillar's Large Engine Center, Lafayette, IN, thanks to the recent installation of a PC-based bar code-driven system.

Up until 1995, the plant had an open-door policy in its tool crib. Tools were issued on the honor system. No procedures were in place to track the thousands of assets in the plant's inventory. This inefficient method was discarded when the company decided to install Tool Hound from Software Integration Services, Ltd., Edmonton, Alberta.

The system operates similar to a library issue/return program. Tools are marked with individual bar code labels. Tradespeople also are assigned an identification number. When an employee checks out a tool, his ID number is entered in the computer along with the tool bar code. The process is reversed when items are returned.

Like a library system, the program tracks who has a tool, where it is, how often it is used, and when it is due back. A variety of reporting capabilities are available, offering data on inventory value, asset locations, and equipment use.

Tool crib attendants label assets in one of three ways: as tools, as parts, or as kits assembled for specific maintenance tasks. Tools and kits are expected to be returned to the crib after use. Parts considered consumable are tracked to monitor item availability.

Issue and return transactions are completed at the PC. The tool crib operator signs out articles by keying in the employee and inventory bar code numbers. He also runs reports to monitor who has what and if anyone has an overdue item. The recordkeeping lets tools be found quickly if needed.

Although the keyboard enables users to process transactions, a more efficient way to use the system is with handheld, radio frequency laser scanners. The RF scanners let crib attendants communicate with the PC in real time from anywhere in the crib. Operators can scan employee and tool data off the bar code labels and instantly send the information directly to the database.

Information about the status of both the equipment and the employees are transmitted from the PC to the handheld unit in real time. For example, if an employee at the counter has an overdue tool, or if he is not certified to use the item he is trying to sign out, the PC sends that information to the scanner instantly and displays it on the screen of the handheld device. The procedure heightens the company's control of its inventory, and makes the workplace safer by flagging items due for service or employees not properly certified to use a given piece of equipment.

The company plans to implement the RF scanner capability in the near future. At the time the system was installed, the plant was more concerned with the tracking ability of the system than with the speed of the process. Now that the tracking system is in place, the scanning feature can be incorporated into the process simply.

The plant reports the system was easy to learn and has introduced an accountability into the operation that had not been there before. By enabling management to know where tools are, who has them, and when they should be expected to be returned, the system gives the company a user-friendly, effective way to control assets.

Software Integration Services, Ltd., may be reached at 17707 105 Ave., Suite 205, Edmonton, AB T5S 1T1 Canada; 403-454-3001; Fax: 403-454-3096. For more information, check out its web site at www.sisltd.com or circle 201 on card .

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