An easy to use software interface is critical to tool management success given the shortage of skilled workers. Image: CMTS-IMCClick image to enlargeby Staff Writer

An effective tool management strategy is the best way to eliminate waste, reduce tooling costs, and avoid the downtime that results from unexpected cutting tool stockouts. 

No one can blame a machinist for hanging on to a box of inserts or a few packs of drills. For one thing, keeping cutting tools handy in the bottom of the toolbox is far faster than walking to the crib every time you need a new one. And few of us can forget the time that the shop ran out of a critical end mill because someone forgot to order more. Having a few spares for the proverbial rainy day is only good planning, right?

Maybe so, but it’s more likely that this way of thinking is what led to the unpleasant event just mentioned. Yes, everyone likes to have their own stuff, be masters of their destiny, and control their manufacturing fate. But it’s more important for machinists to remember that hoarding hurts everybody, and the end mills and 80-degree diamond inserts they’re hanging onto belong to the company, not the machinist. Sorry for the sermon. 

Scolding aside, developing an effective tool crib management strategy is often a big hill to climb. Machinists want nothing more than to keep their equipment running at all costs, while management wishes to avoid excess and unused tooling inventory while controlling spending. So what’s the answer?

Shop Metalworking Technology asked Bill Stark, a system implementation specialist for Commodity and Tool Management Services (CTMS) Canada—a division of the IMC Group—for some suggestions. Here’s what he had to say: 

SMT: Can you provide an overview of your tool management solution? 

Stark: Our Matrix product line offers a large variety of storage solutions, everything from drawer-style cabinets to modular lockers and even individual tool dispensers. That means we can control cutting tools, pre-set tooling assemblies, MRO items [maintenance, repair, and operations], workholding and hand tools—pretty much any item you want to keep an eye on. 


SMT: Where does the control part of this come in? Isn’t there a software component to this? 

Stark: Yes, everything is managed by the Matrix software, which is both user-friendly and easy to learn. It allows you to gather details on specific jobs or projects, evaluate tool life for large numbers of products, connect to external systems like offline presetters and ERP systems…the list goes on. It also lets users create all manner of reports, then generate them automatically at preset intervals or send them to external suppliers. In fact, I’d say that our software is probably the best reason to go with the Matrix products. 

SMT: Does your software also have a tool life management function? 

Stark: Absolutely. It’s one of our built-in features. Let’s say you want to keep track of how many holes you’re getting from that 20 mm carbide drill that cost you a small fortune, and then set an alert to send it out for resharpening before it reaches the point of no return. We have a lot of capabilities just like that. 

SMT: Is this only for larger shops with a dedicated tool crib? 

Stark: Not at all. Matrix is flexible enough for any size shop. We work with high production manufacturers as well as job shops, OEMs, and repair facilities, and we have dedicated support teams for each. Basically, it’s designed for anyone who needs to control their tooling inventory and reduce costs. 

SMT: Does this mean I have to spend a ton of money on tooling cabinets?

Stark: We have several options. CTMS does sell cabinets directly to customers, but our distributors have the discretion to develop their own strategy. Some have developed leasing plans for the hardware, some sell them directly like we do, while still others will offset or discount the cost if the customer reaches a certain monthly spend level. 

SMT: What if I already have cabinets? What then? 

Stark: Assuming they are lockable, we simply give them a location in our software and then store the key in a separate bin. When the item in one of those cabinets is needed, the software instructs the bin to open and dispense the key. This gives you the same level of traceability and control as our standard Matrix offering. 

SMT: Does this mean I can only use IMC brands of cutting tools?

Stark: From a technical point of view there is nothing that forces the use of a particular brand of tooling—our bin sizing and cabinets are standardized to hold any brands. Of course, as an IMC member we prefer to promote our own tooling but we leave this up to the end user and their representative. Our cabinets are used to build and grow a relationship with the IMC brand and their customer, but more importantly when it comes to tooling selection is the performance, and savings (both in cost and efficiency) of the tools. Yet another reason we prefer the IMC family of tooling.

SMT: That all sounds fine, but the last thing machinists want is the hassle of trying to control every single drill and insert. Why change? 

Stark: There are a couple of parts to this. As to why you want to get your tooling under lock and key, the primary purpose of our system is to minimize downtime. That means ensuring that the tools needed to complete a job are always available. By putting everything into cabinets, you eliminate risk. There’s less time searching, frustration levels come down, the machines stay running. Each of these gets harder to accomplish as shops get bigger and there’s more tooling to deal with. 

SMT: Does that mean the tool crib attendant is out of a job?

Stark: No, it means they can spend their time on more important work. For example, our software has robust reporting tools. That makes it easy to track stock levels, make sure that whatever’s needed for the next week or month is on hand, look for obsolete inventory, and identify areas for price reductions on fast-moving items. It gives them better tools to do their job and more time to do so. 

SMT: This all sounds expensive. What about cost?

Stark: Within three months of installing one of our machines, many customers report that their tooling purchases drop by up to 30 per cent. Granted, some of that is because they’ve gathered everything up and now have it in a central place. But after that, there’s no more hoarding. The system only issues what’s called for on the job. There’s no chance that a machinist will grab the wrong tool and scrap out a bunch of parts because of it. If you haven’t used an item in a set length of time, Matrix can send an alert so you can return it to the vendor. You can fine-tune min/max levels. There’ s more, and all of it reduces the shop’s operating costs. And like I said earlier, many of our distributors offer leases on the equipment, while the software itself comes on a subscription basis, making it easier to get started. Regardless, it’s essential to recognize that a tool management system typically means higher OEE [overall equipment effectiveness], better process control, and improved employee efficiency. Best of all, there are no more surprises. How can you place a dollar figure on that? SMT

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