Tool Control




Tool Control has been an important issue in the aerospace industry for many years. Now, as it becomes increasingly relevant in other industry sectors - and in food manufacturing in particular - some of the innovative solutions developed for aerospace applications are proving equally appropriate elsewhere.

If you are responsible for process risk management, process control, lean manufacturing, line maintenance and Six Sigma, then safety issues relating to batch contamination and foreign object damage, cost issues relating to product recalls – and the potential negative impact on your brand – are enough to bring you out in a cold sweat. And the impact of losing tools and equipment has the potential to be catastrophic.

All the major aerospace companies have operated some sort of tool  management system for many years – typically in their maintenance and new build facilities.

It may be as simple as laying out tools in bi-coloured, profiled foam inserts, so any missing tools can quickly be identified. Or it may be a fully integrated electronic solution including managed tool cabinets, such as the Fit to Fly® system.

Specifically developed to satisfy the rigorous demands of the aerospace industry, Fit to Fly uses a combination of electronic and visual control. Traceability and subsequent auditing of all tool movements is a key element of the solution, ensuring that when an aircraft or major build is declared as ‘Fit to Fly’ the system can provide documented and traceable evidence to demonstrate tool control.

Now, thanks to a collaboration between Stahlwille and George James Business Systems, the Fit to Fly  product range has evolved and now supports other industry sectors, including food manufacturing. Stahlwille is a German manufacturer of high quality hand tools, tool storage and tool control solutions, and George  James Business Systems is a highly successful bespoke software house and data capture company.

Their Fit to Fly system has recently been implemented by United Biscuits on its production line in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. The brief was to supply a solution that would satisfy the initial requirement for auditable and traceable tool control, but which is also fully upgradable and future proof.

The electronic tool cabinets are configured for access by authorised personnel using their existing magnetic swipe cards. Each cabinet is fully configurable, with each engineer granted access only to the individual drawers they are required to use.  Each time an access or attempted access is made, an electronic record of ‘who, what and when’ is secured by Fit to Fly. The cabinets currently operate as standalone units, though  they can also operate on a client/server database-driven architecture, being connected to the network via a cable or 802.11 wireless infrastructure. 

United Biscuits required a scalable solution with an entry point allowing a simple visualaudit, but with full transaction history. Stahlwille manufactured bespoke tool control foams to house the hand tools, which  provide an immediate visual indicator if a tool is missing. At the beginning and end of every shift the  designated senior engineer with authorised access to the cabinet performs a formal audit on the drawers to confirm that every tool is present, and if a tool is missing triggers an alert and notifies a supervisor.

The Fit to Fly system is then interrogated to ascertain the transaction history (‘who, what and when’) so that the issues relating to the failed audit can be resolved. United Biscuits took a structured and phased approach, enabling them initially to target key areas of the process, such as audits and structured tool control. This allowed them to realise ‘Day 1’ benefits, but with longer-term future proof functionality as the business requires – through the system’s flexible and upgradable architecture, through the core elements of the solution being identical for every product in the range, and through full upgradability and scalability for any product with the Fit to Fly name.

For example, laptops are increasingly being used during everyday maintenance and setup of production machinery, so their security is a growing problem. However, with Fit to Fly, data capture units can be linked so that specialist equipment can be scanned in and out of the box and, since the Fit To Fly Box individually locks and unlocks each drawer, high value items such as laptops can only be accessed by those with designated access to that particular drawer.

Other technologies such as RFID and barcoding are fully supported, giving a wide variety of options, and cabinets can be specified in various widths, heights, and depths, with a wide range of drawer configurations and colours – giving the greatest flexibility to suit customer requirements. There are also new and exciting developments on the horizon in the areas of remote tracking, centralised stock control, calibration of torque wrenches, and the introduction of a fully mobile Fit to Fly cabinet, with hot-swappable battery technology.