Proper Tool Management Pays Dividends

Tracking and managing tool inventory can be an important factor in keeping costs low and setup times short. By implementing ToolBoss, an automated inventory control system from Kennametal, this shop completely overhauled its approach to tool management.


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Without an effective tool management system, shops often find themselves doing one of two things, says Paul Treml, global marketing manager at Kennametal Complete Services. They either rush orders of new cutting tools when inventories are unexpectedly depleted, or they stock more tools than they need to keep from running out in the first place. Both can significantly add to costs and cause problems on the shop floor.

Hy-Tech Machine, a Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania manufacturer of pneumatic tools, sockets, fasteners, siphons and hydrostatic test plugs, chose the second route. With no reliable tool management mechanism in place, the company had to stock significant inventories. Only jobs were tracked, not actual tool usage. In fact, the company’s tool-tracking procedures depended solely on the previous shift communicating tool consumption and status. This created unproductive downtime when the incoming shift found needed cutters and inserts missing or in the wrong place, says Tom Ober, CNC coordinator for Hy-Tech.

To solve this problem, the shop invested in the ToolBoss system from Kennametal. ToolBoss is an unmanned, drawer-based system that regulates and audits tool usage, performance and procurement. Now, the shop buys metal cutting supplies on an as-needed basis rather than stocking a large inventory of cutting tools. Since implementing the system, the company has saved both time and money.

The shop installed five ToolBoss units in strategic locations at its main plant in Cranberry Township to provide tool dispensing at the point of use. Another unit resides at its sister plant in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The 25-year-old company has 102 employees and splits its applications evenly between milling and turning. The company says it has particular expertise in hardened, ground parts, although machined materials include mild carbon steel; stainless steel; alloy and tool steels; castings; virtually all grades of aluminum; copper; brass; and bronze.

For storing and tracking the different tools required to machine this variety of materials, the shop needed more than just a cabinet with drawers. ToolBoss delivered. The system comes standard with Kennametal Automated Tool Management (KATMS) software, which not only provides tool tracking, but also enables consolidated ordering and reporting among multiple ToolBoss units. That is, the five units, or bays, in Hy-Tech’s Cranberry Township plant are all interconnected, allowing the software to keep track of every tool in the shop and issue notices to the purchasing department when more tools are needed.

Users program specific job data into the system to ensure that operators take only the tools they need and to ease the process of locating the right materials, Mr. Treml says. Security systems on each unit allow only authorized users to access the tool drawers. When the user enters which job he or she is working on at the embedded computer, the system displays pictures and data on the needed tools, while LEDs illuminate the drawers in which the tools are stored. Other LEDs within the drawers indicate the correct compartment. Each compartment contains only the number of tools needed for the job, allowing the shop to dispense its most costly tools as needed.

At the end of each shift, the software runs detailed reports, which include information such as the number of tools used by which operator for which job. In addition, programming job data into the system allows the software to issue a notice if something is out of place—for example, when more tools than expected are used for any given job.

"If you’re working on aluminum and you need to drill 500 holes, the system knows that a particular coated drill can handle all 500 holes," Mr. Treml explains. "If for whatever reason you end up using three drills, it’s going to prompt you to question what’s wrong—if you are drilling at the wrong speed, if the drill is not performing the way it should, etc."

Each unit is custom built to suit users’ individual requirements. Mr. Treml says ToolBoss can be configured with a virtually unlimited array of drawer sizes, cupboards and lockers to accommodate various items and packaging

Hy-Tech’s relationship with Kennametal extends beyond the ToolBoss system. The shop has come to rely heavily on Kennametal cutting tools for many of its parts, especially for high-volume work, says Herb Poore, Hy-tech facilities manager. To further optimize Hy-Tech’s processes, Mr. Poore says he hopes to continue and expand that relationship. "We want to someday have a uniform supplier line-up—one toolmaker, one OEM, one toolholding system—so that everything is set up the same each and every time, each and every shift," he explains. "Our partnership with Kennametal, and in particular, our usage of ToolBoss, is helping us to realize our vision."


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