Smart Tool Management

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by Raoul Rapke

Advanced vending systems can help achieve higher productivity

Industrial vending machines bring major mutual benefits to the cutting tool provider, in particular the distributor or integrator, and the end user.

Sellers are eager to provide their customers with easy and reliable access to their products as a guarantee of repeat business, and are keen to exploit potential growth opportunities. A vending machine on a shop floor helps to stabilize the business relationship between the customer and vendor, and helps to ensure business is not lost to competitors who deliver cutting tools in a traditional, less convenient way.

In the last few years, there has been an exponential growth in vending businesses, with many of the major players investing heavily in new equipment installations. Average ROI is estimated to be six to 18 months, whilst data indicates that vending based distribution returns double the growth rate of non-vending based business.

The type of systems available vary from the basic helix style machines designed for simple supply and replenishment tasks, to sophisticated, high end systems that provide users with full control over hundreds of stock items in a single unit, together with the advantage of powerful tool management software. The latter is particularly attractive to more advanced users and medium-to-large customers, who need the kind of innovative functions, built-in flexibility and superior reporting capabilities, and not offered by more basic machines.

Fig.1-Some vending systems offer full control over hundreds of stocked items in a single unit.

Cutting edge systems have a number of key advantages: storage arrangements are based on more convenient drawers or carousels, and include multiple, individually locked bins per drawer or shelf. Each separate bin can store a different stock item, ideal for users who carry a large variety of cutting tools and other items in low-to-medium quantities. This format enables a more comprehensive management of stock, as many more products can be securely stored, and the issue of tools is effectively controlled and closely monitored. Also, the ergonomic nature of these systems means that space is fully utilized, so less hardware is needed, keeping capital costs down.

Fig.2-Systems can include multiple indvidually locked bins per drawer.(See Figure 2 and 3)

Recent advances in software functionality now provide even greater benefits to end users. The more advanced vending systems use clever logistics algorithms to maximize the availability of tools whilst minimizing stock levels and obsolescence. In a modern manufacturing environment, the importance of tool availability cannot be understated. Machine tools that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars are chosen for their speed and performance. Suppliers compete for orders based on speed of delivery. If the required cutting tools are not in stock, spindles remain idle leading to delays in supply of goods. The indirect costs and risk of inefficient tool management are unacceptable. Although predictability is a key factor in ensuring availability, the most recent software packages offer clever user-defined features that allow users to customize stock levels for items that are used infrequently. This can be achieved by overriding the calculated minimum stock level, or inputting changes in relevant parameters such as frequency, usage and lead time, automatically generating changes to the calculated minimum stock level. Changes can be achieved on the spot, rather than waiting for a weekly or month end process, so that the system is always up to date.

Fig.3-Tool vending systems come in an array of designs and sizes to fit different cutting tools.There have also been significant advances in a range of other areas that make these new generation systems extremely intelligent. It is important that only the right tools are used for a job. The Bill of Materials normally defines the required cutting tools, however, to be sure that only these tools are actually used, a limitation can be defined in the software, so that at the time of issue, the user inputs the part number, after which only the tools in the Bill of Materials can be issued for use.

Fig.4-Tool management software is an important part of a tool vending system and many systems can be interfaced with ERP systems.The issue of items based on cost centres, such as a part, has other important implications. It allows production planners and shop floor managers to track the ‘real’ cost per unit (CPU), rather than basing decisions on a theoretical cost. When interfaced with the customer’s ERP, production batch data can be imported, and some tool management software presents the CPU data and can also report deviations from a benchmark CPU. In this way, changes in tool life, due to the cutting tool, coolant management, machining parameters or maintenance, can be identified and corrected in a timely fashion. (See Figure 4)

As customers look for new ways to improve their productivity, intelligent vending solutions that incorporate easy to use, yet sophisticated management software, will become more popular and gradually supersede the simple traditional systems that have been used previously. SMT

Raoul Rapke is director of the CTMS Division, IMC Group


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