Tired of tools going missing? Consider these tool-tracking systems…
Advanced wireless technology can help reduce losses and improve productivity
By John Bleasby
Wireless tool management systems are available today to suit the scale of any contracting business. This technology, incorporated either into overall building management systems or built into a growing range of portable power tools replaces spreadsheets and extra back office staff, with tablets and on-site management, resulting in reduced theft and loss, improved tool inventory control, new tool customization possibilities, and diagnostic monitoring.
Stolen or lost tools hit the bottom line hard
For large scale contractors with tool shops or centralized storage facilities, a tool tracking systems such as ToolHound and Passport might be the answer. “Our tool inventory products utilize state-of-the-art RFID, bar code and other wireless technologies to track the issue and return of tools to employees and contractors, as well as the transfer of equipment between job sites and tool rooms,” says ToolHound’s web site. “These wireless solutions allow businesses to monitor and gather information on equipment more quickly than has ever been possible in the past.”
Not scalable to your operation? How about direct tool connectivity.
Although claiming scalability from companies with large or multiple locations down to smaller operations and capable of monitoring everything from hand tools to larger equipment items, Toolhound and Passport for all their various modules and supervisory capabilities might not suit the needs of less centralized small and medium-sized home builders and renovators. Scanning bar codes or RFID tags to log the inventory ‘in’s and out’s’ might not be practical.
Secondly, those systems appear to deliver nothing in the way of individual tool control. For those important features, the increasingly popular and powerful cordless tools from leading manufacturers like DeWalt or Milwaukee now offer an option of built-in wireless tool management features, manageable remotely by a SmartPhone or tablet.
Control through the tool or control through the battery; which is best for theft control?
Both companies offer free downloadable proprietary software to manage the features of their respective programmes. Milwaukee currently offers their One-Key tool management solution, featuring built-in wireless connectivity through the tool body itself that automatically records the last time it was within 100 feet of the monitoring device, allowing the supervisor to pinpoint missing tools faster and increase the accountability of the crew. The feature also permits customization of the tool to a number of pre-set job functions by governing torque and speed maximums.
While Milwaukee currently manages cordless tools through the main unit itself, DeWalt delivers tool management and monitoring using connectivity to their 20 volt BlueTooth battery packs. DeWalt calls its system ToolConnect. These battery packs are fully compatible with any of their 20V cordless tools, thus allowing an existing inventory of 20V DeWalt tools to be upgraded to ToolConnect monitoring.
De-activiating a ‘wandering’ tool
By connecting through the power pack rather than the tool, not only can the tool’s last known location be determined, similar to Milwaukee, but if the tool ‘wanders’ off site or out of range, the battery can be programmed to shut down completely, making it inoperable. As a further theft prevention measure, a ToolConnect-enabled device, once ‘paired’ with an end user’s ToolConnect app, is only accessible through that user’s app unless it is ‘unpaired’. If an unauthorized user tries to access the device by using another ToolConnect app, the software reports the location of the device (ie. its battery) back to its authorized owner when within range.
In addition to theft deterrents, ToolConnect allows monitoring of battery diagnostics such as charge level and temperature.
Free tool management software, upfront connectivity costs
Such great features come at a cost, although perhaps well worth the extra investment for a professional operator. Consider it a one-time insurance premium. Although the extra is about $50 per unit, the upfront total costs are different due to each company’s individual approach to connectivity.
For example, DeWalt’s ToolConnect 20V Max battery packs with BlueTooth retail for about $150, about $60 more than the non-Bluetooth versions (ref. Lowes Canada on-line price). In comparison, Milwaukee’s OneKey tools can only be purchased as integrated units. A combo kit of M18 Fuel Hammer Drill and the M18 Fuel ¼ Hex Impact Driver with OneKey connectivity retails for about $599, $100 more than the non-One-Key counterpart (ref. Home Depot Canada on-line price).
Both manufacturers are constantly upgrading their offerings
What is current today is just the tip of an ever-increasing tool monitoring ice berg. Tool customization, theft control, battery monitoring, and personalized programming using wireless connectivity is only limited by an engineer’s imagination.
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