Software Automates Tool Inventory Tracking

Nestled in a farming community of 1,500 people, MetalQuest Unlimited (Hebron, Nebraska) is a 40-person shop serving the petroleum, energy distribution, hydraulics, agriculture, electronics and automotive parts sectors. At its inception in 1996, the company had one multi-axis CNC lathe. It has since added a variety of multi-functional CNC machining centers and lathes.

Case Study From: 9/13/2005 Modern Machine Shop

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Retrieves a metalcutting tool from the ToolBoss

Using a light pen or stylus, Scott Volk, vice president of MetalQuest, retrieves a metalcutting tool from the ToolBoss. The e-storage tool inventory control system enables the company to save time by tracking tool inventory and providing data about tool usage.

Multiple items stored in one drawer

Multiple items, including non-Kennametal tools, can be stored in a one drawer. The company currently stores more than 2,500 tools in its four-bay unit.

Mentioning the state of Nebraska might conjure images of farmland, goldenrods and cornhusks. From a manufacturer's point of view, the state is home to facilities of all sizes, some of which are located in small towns.

Nestled in a farming community of 1,500 people, MetalQuest Unlimited (Hebron, Nebraska) is a 40-person shop serving the petroleum, energy distribution, hydraulics, agriculture, electronics and automotive parts sectors. At its inception in 1996, the company had one multi-axis CNC lathe. It has since added a variety of multi-functional CNC machining centers and lathes.

Desiring a better method of managing its tooling inventory, the company turned to ToolBoss from Kennametal Inc. (Latrobe, Pennsylvania). Scott Harms, president and founder of MetalQuest, became acquainted with ToolBoss, an e-storage tool inventory control system with imbedded tool management software, when attending the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in September 2000. By July 2002, MetalQuest had purchased a one-bay unit. Six months later, a second bay was added, and in early 2004, the company purchased two additional bays. Today, using its four-bay unit, the company stores more than 2,500 tools and controls keys to other cabinets that contain hundreds of other items.

"We were seeking an efficient method of gathering tool usage information at point-of-use so that we could better understand the consumption rate of metalcutting tools for particular jobs," explains Mr. Harms. "The new program has allowed us to automate our inventory tracking system and improve cash flow by reducing tooling inventory levels. The system has proved to be a wise investment because it empowers us to compete and thrive in the global economy."

Capabilities such as tracking tool inventory, raising operator accountability and providing data about tool usage have provided the company with a means to save time and money. As another result of using the new system, the company reports that machine operators now have an orderly place to store inserts, tools, tool parts and unrelated tools that are commonly used in the shop.

Another benefit is the ability to store multiple items, including non-Kennametal tools, in one drawer, and in a more organized fashion than before. The company has noticeably improved its real-time knowledge of inventory levels. As a result of this upgrade, machine operators can locate tools in 30 seconds, compared to 5 minutes of searching through drawers, toolboxes and canisters on the shop floor. Likewise, it is virtually impossible to run out of tools because restocking of inserts, drills, taps and end mills occurs on an as-needed basis.

Customers also have the option to use job status or "setup" sheets, as well as the optional bar code reader to accelerate setup and production times. This can reduce probable operator errors, such as choosing an incorrect tool for a particular job.

MetalQuest has integrated ToolBoss with its setup sheets, which instruct operators as to how to prepare machines for specific jobs. The appropriate inserts, toolholders, and toolholder parts needed are conveyed to operators. To obtain the necessary tools, users can search or scroll down the computer screen.

"The program was well received on the shop floor," says Mr. Harms. "Within a couple of days, our personnel had familiarized themselves with how the system works and had integrated it into their routine."

During the past several years, the company has transformed itself from a shop producing maximum orders of 500 pieces to one that now produces 500-piece minimum orders. Additionally, its operator-to-CNC lathe ratio to has been reduced to 0.5:1.

The company speculates that if its operations resembled a traditional custom-machined parts manufacturer, it would need to employ ten additional machinists.

The Pentium class computer is loaded with Microsoft Windows 2000 to run Kennametal's Automated Tool Management Solutions (ATMS) software. The menu includes a real-time ordering option that complements the system's tool kitting, presetting and tool assembly management features.

MetalQuest says the network card allows it to maintain the database on its existing network for checking stock, doing analyses and placing orders from other computers.

Although the company has a four-bay setup, each system can control as many as ten bays in one unit, all of which are programmed to store an infinite number of items.

There are plans to use the program for job costing based on operator and materials costs, the company says. "The data that ToolBoss provides can be helpful in indicating, with as much certainty as possible, that we are maximizing productivity and profitability on each job," Mr. Harms explains.

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