The Advantages Of “Machine-Owned” Tools

One concept I have been advocating of late is machine-owned tools, or community ownership of the specific tools required for machinery and equipment. There are many ways to manage this type of program, but the most effective means I have found is a shadow board.

Columns From: 12/2/2003 Modern Machine Shop,

One concept I have been advocating of late is machine-owned tools, or community ownership of the specific tools required for machinery and equipment. There are many ways to manage this type of program, but the most effective means I have found is a shadow board. A shadow board is any type of board featuring the outline of tools. This outline clearly conveys the proper location for specific tools, including tools that are not there.

Although a shadow board concept is very effective, anything that promotes community sharing of tools will likely be met with resistance. This is because the concept is very different for people who are used to having their own tools, stored “uniquely” in their own tool boxes.

I have found machine-owned tooling offers numerous advantages, including the following.

  1. A machine-owned tool is easier to find. There is only one proper location for a machine-owned tool, and that is either on, or very near, the machine. Everyone on every shift should know the proper location of the tools required for each machine. Therefore, instead of looking for tools in remote cabinets or drawers or even in personal toolboxes, operators can simply go to the designated location. In a well-managed machine-owned system, tool search time will decrease dramatically.
  2. When kept at a machine, a tool will have a greater likelihood of being available to the next operator. Although many people have difficulty believing it, if a tool is maintained at a machine location, there is a greater likelihood that it will be there when needed. With tools available at every machine, there is no valid reason to remove a tool from a machine’s work area, unless the tool breaks or needs repair.
  3. You know immediately if a machine-owned tool is missing. I like to ask the following question when working with companies to organize their workplaces: “When do you know that a tool is missing from your toolbox?” The typical answer is “When I can’t find it.” That sounds simple enough, but how long do you spend searching in the toolbox before you realize that it isn’t there? Perhaps you can reach this conclusion in just a few seconds because your toolbox is so well organized that a missing tool simply stands out. However, for most people, it will take some significant search time to reach this conclusion. In the event that a machine-owned tool is missing from its designated area, you know as soon as you look there.
  4. Machine-owned tools ultimately reduce the time required to complete setups and minor machine adjustments. If we eliminate the time spent searching for tools and carrying them to a machine, we can spend more time doing productive work on that machine.

The most common argument against machine-owned tooling is, “The other guy doesn’t put tools back where they belong, so it will never work!” It’s interesting how many good ideas never get implemented because of the behavior of this elusive “other guy.” Hoarding tools in personal toolboxes to ensure that they are available is expensive and ultimately is an inconvenience for everyone.

I recently worked with a company whose machine operators hoarded boring bars in their toolboxes. After some persuading, the operators returned most of the boring bars to a centrally managed area. In reviewing the collection, we found a multi-year supply of some boring bars and others so special that they would never again be used by this company.

The key to an effective machine-owned tooling system is convenience. The system must make it easier to put tools in their designated locations than not to do so. If it is easier for operators to lay the tools on a table or in some other general location, then that is what will happen. Therefore, we must come up with creative ways to ensure that tools are put in their proper locations.

One company I know of has made a conscious effort to do away with horizontal surfaces because they were viewed as a catch-all, promoting disorganization. Work benches have been removed in favor of free-standing boards containing only what the operators have identified as necessary for doing their jobs. Even window sills have been modified with plywood to create angled surfaces that cannot be used as interim storage areas.

Once people recognize the simplicity of a machine-owned tooling system and experience how easy it is to work with, they, too, will become advocates.

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