Tool Inventory Management: How and Why? 

Elizabeth Ruiz

Posted 2/28/2024

Industrial Equipment News reported that the cause of significant engine damage to an F-35 US military fighter jet was found to be that it had “ingested a flashlight.”

The maintenance team was scheduled to check for leaks by removing a panel and inserting a metering plug into an engine fuel line. The engine test run was completed with no visual evidence of the problem, but the team reported hearing a noise after the engine was shut down. Another inspection was conducted—and the flashlight was found. 

The report explained that the maintenance team had been subjected to weather delays caused by high winds, rain, thunder, and lightning. This, along with an incomplete tool kit inventory and failure to comply Joint-Service Technical Data guidance prior to starting the engine, were blamed for the damage. The incident caused almost $4 million in damage and could not be repaired locally. 

This incident is one of many that highlights the important of a good, organized tool inventory. This article will get into why it is important to have a good tool inventory and tips to keep your tool inventory organized and efficient. 

warehouse tool inventory

Importance of an Organized Tool Inventory

Having good tool inventory management in your plant, mill, or mine is an important piece of avoiding unplanned downtime, breakdowns, and dangerous safety incidents. What are some of the specific consequences your team can face from a poorly organized tool inventory? ToolHound has provided a list of five things that can happen if your storeroom is not managed properly2

1. Poor Productivity: Every organization needs tasks done on time and correctly. A mismanaged tool inventory can cause deadlines to be missed and person-hours to be wasted. The time it takes to find or replace a lost spare part or tool halts production and wastes time of plant managers and tradespeople. Reactive/emotional behavior such as overstocking can result from this as well. Make sure you have a good CMMS to locate tools quickly using a comprehensive database. 

2. Hazardous Environment: Lost or missing tools can create a hazardous job site. Team members could trip over a tool left on the floor, tools could be unknowingly damaged while left around and cause a malfunction during use, or, as we read above, tools could be left in a place where they can cause damage to components or equipment.  

3. Increased Cost: Replacing missing tools can get expensive. Check that you have the right tools in the right place at the right time to avoid downtime. Make sure your team isn’t keeping “emotional stores” – creating undocumented personal collections of tools and/or parts. 

4. Growing Pains: If your organization experiences expansion, a lack of well-established tool inventory and storeroom management will make it difficult to take on more tasks at one time and hinder growth. 

5. Word Gets Around: If the tools and equipment needed to perform tasks on time and correctly are not available, employee morale will plummet, potentially damaging your organization’s reputation among both workers and customers. This will not help your ability to hire the right people and sell your product. 

warehouse tool inventory
Warehouse Tool Inventory image courtesy Moeller Precision Tool

Tips for Effective Tool Inventory Management 

Now that we have gone over why we need good tool inventory management, let’s look at some best practices on how to improve. Moeller Precision Tool provides these five tips3:

1. Carefully Organize and Prioritize: Tools can be categorized by die, type, style, material, etc. Tools can be prioritized by how often they are used, how critical they are to have in stock, and known delivery speed.

Information for image courtesy Moeller Precision Tool

Moeller Precision Tool suggests using ABC grouping as a starting point and tailoring it to your organization’s specific needs.

2. Perform Regular Tool Inventory Audits: Count the inventory manually and ensure that it matches the equipment database. Complete these audits annually, monthly, quarterly, or even daily (or a combination of these) depending on the needs of your organization.

3. Stock High-Quality Tools: Improve tool inventory management by reducing the amount of tool wear. Higher-quality tools cost more but do last longer which helps keep them in stock and avoid frequent replacements.

4. Evaluate Tool Supplier Performance: If you have investigated and don’t find an internal issue, it may be time to examine the supplier. If there are repeated problems with long lead times, delivery methods, or quality of tools, it might be time to explore different options. 

5. Use a Specialized Tool Inventory Management System: An inventory management system is a digital tool that automates inventory management tasks. They can provide out-of-stock alerts, help with faster location of tools, and automate sorting and organizing, among other benefits. Tool inventory management systems can streamline efficiency and do some of the work for you. There are many solutions on the market to fit your organization’s requirements. 

Conclusion

In summary, the incident involving the F-35 fighter jet underscores the critical importance of maintaining a well-organized tool inventory. Poor management can lead to significant consequences such as decreased productivity, hazardous work environments, increased costs, hindered growth, and damage to reputation. 

To improve tool inventory management, prioritize organization, conduct regular audits, stock high-quality tools, evaluate supplier performance, and consider using a specialized inventory management system, further enhancing overall efficiency and safety.


Sources:

1. Forgotten Flashlight Causes $4M in Damage to F-35. Ben Munson and Eric Sorensen, Unit 202 Productions. Published Feb. 26, 2024 by Industrial Equipment news on ien.com. 

2. 5 Consequences of Poor Tool Control. Admin post. Published April 28, 2016 by ToolHound on toolhound.com.

3. 5 Tool Inventory Management Tips. Admin post. Published by Moeller Precision Tool on moellerpunch.com.


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