CONNECTION Handheld devices scan and upload tool
data. (Photo courtesy of QuickPen Intl.)
It is no wonder that
firms operating many large, expensive machines on a daily
basis sometimes tend to overlook small items such as reciprocating
saws and battery-powered drills, which can slip through the
cracks of a jobsite at the end of a shift or when a project
But in today's economy, equipment
managers are recognizing the value of trying harder to hold
onto tools previously treated as more disposable assets. Now
more than ever, CFOs are pressuring managers to control spending
and tools are a prime target. "Right now is the best
time to be an equipment guy," says Mike Monnot, director
of equipment for San Antonio-based general contractor Zachry
Construction Corp. Monnot manages a $180-million fleet of
4,700 pieces of heavy equipment and 1,100 service vehicles.
Monnot also operates Zachry's "corporate
tool center," a storehouse of $35 million in tools. The
firm last year lost $2 million in tools, a startling number
that grabbed Monnot's attention. "What happens at the
project level is that we will issue tools out to a foreman
and won't inventory them until completion," he says.
"There is no control mechanism."
Bar-code labels are a popular method for tracking
small assets within firms. (Photo by Tudor Hampton for
Ten years ago, managers started
turning to bar-codes, scanners and database-driven software
as a first step toward modern tool management. These systemswhich
are still effective theft deterrents (ENR 3/13/00 p. 40)are
evolving and changing the way traditional equipment managers
perceive their role on the job. Replacing tools is one thing,
but labeling, tracking, cataloging, filing and coordinating
a myriad of tools is more complicated.
Last October, Monnot started phasing
in bar coding on a project-by-project basis, which will continue
through this year. He hopes the move will reduce loss, theft
and insurance claims. But more importantly, he believes the
real-time data will help him analyze cost of ownership, calculate
internal rental rates and assign cost centers with more accuracy
than before. The ability to "focus on every detail and
try to minimize costs and maximize return" has elevated
the equipment manager's perceived value from shade-tree mechanic
to equipment-logistics specialist, Monnot says.
"It is a lot sexier to manage
your tools and equipment now than it was, say, even a year
ago" because of tighter operating budgets, says Don Kafka,
president of ToolWatch, Englewood, Colo., an asset-management
supplier since 1991. Kafka, a former electrical contractor,
estimates that his bar-code and software package, which costs
roughly $15,000 to implement, can save firms 40¢ per hour
per employee compared with the 80¢ per employee-hour typically
lost by replacing small tools. Kafka says most bar-code systems
pay for themselves in three months.
CLIMB Modern tool tracking enhanced work for Rojas.
(Photo by Tudor Hampton for ENR)
In suburban Chicago, Jorge Rojas,
purchasing manager for F.E. Moran Inc., a mechanical contractor
based in Northbrook, Ill., remembers tracking assets from
a weathered clipboard hanging on his company's warehouse wall.
He says his company owns about $1.5 million in small tools
and portable equipment used to install fire-protection, security
and HVAC systems. "It was a nightmare," he says.
After every job wrapped up, the company was losing at least
50% in small assets, or about $300,000 annually.
Now, Rojas manages tools with his
computer. In 1989, he began bar-coding and databasing every
tool worth $20 or more. "When we put tools together for
a job, we gather them up and scan them with a portable scanner,"
says Rojas. "After we send them out, I download the scanner
into my computer system. When I need to get a tool, I find
it in the system, so I don't need to buy another one."
For Rojas, tool recovery from job
to job has reached an all-time high at 80 to 85%, saving his
company roughly $200,000 in lost or stolen assets annually.
His 14-year-old tool-tracking system with yearly upgrades
has cost about $8,000 to date.
Tracking also creates a psychological
advantage, as workers tend to change their behavior when they
know they are being monitored. "It's like checking books
in and out of a library," says Fred Cummins, president
of WaterWheel Software, Los Altos, Calif.
Forensic science or tool management? New "DNA"
paint appears under UV ray. (Photo courtesy of ToolWatch
Bar-code labeling differs slightly
from supplier to supplier and its capabilities are improving.
For example, Calgary, Alberta-based I.D.Ology Labs is partnering
with firms to market "forensic chemical marking."
It involves a a liquid solution containing a synthetic, molecular
"DNA" that users paint on tools. Specified opaque
or invisible, details of the code can be seen under ultraviolet
light or a handheld spectroanalyzer.
Other suppliers are researching
radio-frequency identification in which a tool houses a tiny
chip transmitting data to a handheld receiver. "We're
all moving in that direction," says Daryl Maggard, spokesman
for QuickPen International, Englewood, Colo.
But all of this technology
is not for everyone, says Bob Andrade, vice president of equipment
management for The Walsh Group, Chicago. Andrade notes that
his company, a large general contractor, looks at tool management
site by site, reserving high-tech investment dollars for the
larger assets. "The bigger jobs will have a tool crib
and bar-codes. The little jobs will have a guy with a list,"
says Andrade, who adds that "we do mark and identify