Controlling Jobsite Tools

Sept. 28, 2010

It’s easy to assume that a company that has designed and manufactured hundreds of gas and steam turbines throughout North America should not be at all concerned with the whereabouts of a 19-millimeter socket, right?

It’s easy to assume that a company that has designed and manufactured hundreds of gas and steam turbines throughout North America should not be at all concerned with the whereabouts of a 19-millimeter socket, right?

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. According to Felix Voser, manager – Technical Support Gas Turbines for Alstom Power Inc., the ability to pinpoint the location of a tool and the person using it is not only critical to managing an outage efficiently, but is particularly important when it comes to making sure a tool hasn’t been lost or misplaced.

Alstom has traditionally managed its tool program by purchasing any necessary tools from outside vendors and then deploying such tools to customer sites in fully loaded "tool cribs" Despite Alstom’s best efforts to manage the tools, at times Alstom had a lesser ability to control the crib’s inventory once it was delivered to the job site. Identifying a more comprehensive means to accurately deploy and manage jobsite tools became a top priority.

"We felt something had to be done to improve tool deployment and jobsite control," said Voser.

A New Approach

Voser said this initiative was important enough to Alstom Power management that it was incorporated into the company’s Six Sigma program. As a result of the Six Sigma study, Alstom Power turned to an outside source to help develop and manage the company’s tooling program for the first time. Because this was such a drastic change from the past, Voser said he wanted a partner that could handle everything from start to finish – from identifying the necessary equipment to providing the tools and managing the program.

He turned to Snap-on Industrial and the company’s Mobile Tool Solutions program. Already known for providing the highest quality tools, the company is also a valued partner in solving tool management challenges such as the ones faced by Alstom Power.

Snap-on Industrial was able to deliver a complete custom-built turnkey tool crib system, designed to meet Alstom’s specific requirements. The modular system included Snap-on tools, storage and control systems, cabinets, shelving, as well as the electrical components, lighting and air conditioning. But the real key to this initiative was using the company’s Level 5Ô Tool Control System to achieve complete tool management.

The Level 5 software offers CAD tool control layouts and electronic keyless entry systems, in addition to a sophisticated database management system that enables complete and accurate tool tracking.

According to Voser, the Snap-on Industrial solution was an "eye-opener" to what can be accomplished if a tool crib is properly managed using tool management software.

Alstom Power’s first Snap-on mobile tool crib was sent to an outage in Milford, CT. Other sites in Burgin and Trapp, KY, soon followed. Upon completion of both jobs, Snap-on reported a much improved return and accountability rate of the inventory initially sent.

"Using an outside resource like Snap-on Industrial was a complete departure from how we managed our tools," said Voser. "Snap-on was in charge of the project from start to finish. They came up with a lot of good ideas, and we implemented them. What we learned from the initial test run is that Snap-on’s approach works, and for us, a tool management process is absolutely necessary."

Experience Is Key

Realizing the power generation industry has unique requirements, challenges and customer expectations, Snap-on Industrial employed industry veteran George Mora to help stock Alstom’s first mobile tool crib with more than 1,500 tools necessary for servicing turbine power-generation facilities.

With 29 years of experience within the power generation industry managing outages, his experience proved invaluable in both identifying the proper tools and managing the overall implementation. Through Mora’s expertise, Snap-on delivered a solution that can be used at any one of Alstom Power’s outages across the country.

"I don’t believe there are any pieces of equipment in Alstom’s tool cribs that I’m unfamiliar with or haven’t seen used at one time or another," said Mora. "To outfit the cribs, we used Snap-on tools whenever we could and outsourced anything Snap-on doesn’t make."

"What’s also important to note is that Snap-on Industrial will work with Alstom to devise specific tools for a particular job," continued Mora. "You can’t ask for a better partner, a company that provides some of the finer tools in the country, and has the backing of their engineering department to help develop the tools you need."

Continued Support

Snap-on’s level of involvement doesn’t stop once the tool crib is stocked and hits the ground at a remote location. Snap-on Industrial can also provide a tool crib attendant, such as Linda Willems, to manage the trailer. A retired Snap-on employee, Willems has worked at two of Alstom Power’s three job sites that use Snap-on Industrial Mobile Tool Solutions.

Although she sits behind a counter, Willems’ job goes way beyond filling the candy dish that adorns her desk. She knows the tools, where they’re located in the crib, and ultimately, where they are in the field. Her main objective is to keep highly skilled professionals working with tools rather than wasting time looking for tools.

At the onset of each job, Willems will enter all of the site’s workers into the Level 5 Tool Control System software and assign them a barcode. A quick scan of the employee’s barcode, followed by a scan of the tool, will accurately keep track of the equipment that’s left the crib and who’s responsible for it. This was extremely difficult in the past.

"Let’s say a worker gets the tools he needs for a particular job, and he gets called over to help with another job. The tools are left at his previous location because he intends to go back at some point," said Mora. "He needs tools at the new location, too. Before you know it, the tool room is empty, tools are scattered all over the job site, and no one knows where anything is. I’ve been in this industry long enough. I’ve seen it time and time again and that has a direct affect on productivity."

While the main function of the Level 5 Tool Control System is to keep track of tools, the software also enables the tool room attendant to track usage trends and output valuable management reports. This allows Alstom Power to ensure it has enough of the more frequently used tools on hand.

In addition, it provides a clear indication of what truly is available in inventory. This prevents a company reaching a point where it has no idea what’s available, and it becomes easier to buy new tools all of the time than spending the time performing the unenviable task of searching the warehouse to see what’s actually there.

When new tools are delivered, it’s easy enough to quickly assign the new equipment a bar code and update the system to reflect an accurate count.

Howard Bird is a millwright working at the Alstom Power facility in Trapp, KY. Bird has been involved in heavy industry for more than 30 years, and spent the past seven years working for Project Industrial Consultants on outages around the country. The Alstom Power facility is his first experience working within a controlled tool management system.

"My past experience with tool trailers typically consisted of spending the first part of the outage running around from drawer to drawer looking to find the tools you need," said Bird. "You never knew where anything was. In this tool crib, we ask for a tool and it’s given to us."

Because good, quality tools were so much trouble to find, Bird felt it was easier to bring his own – a transporting 600 to 700 pounds of tools from job to job. With the Snap-on Mobile Tool Solutions Crib, he’s been pleased to have quality tools available and feels like he’s making better use of his time.

Final Approach

Just like Howard Bird, when one job is complete, the Snap-on Mobile Tool Solutions Crib is ready to move onto the next location. Mora said everything is designed to be quickly secured and stored as the crib is loaded onto a tractor trailer. At the same time, Alstom Power receives a printout of what tools need to be replaced, recalibrated or recertified before the tool crib moves on.

Voser said this greatly enhances the company’s safety program, too, because accurate safety records can be kept for equipment such as rigging. It also alleviates the company’s concerns when it comes to measurements and calibration because Alstom Power can quickly check if its measuring tools have been calibrated at scheduled intervals.

"The mobile tool crib with the tracking system has been a tremendous improvement for Alstom Power," said Voser.