Payback From Customized Mobile Tool Management Systems
EP Editorial Staff | July 1, 2009
Equipped with quality tools and personnel to manage them, these mobile units continue to deliver for Alstom Powerin planned outages across North America.
This article is an update that first ran in Power Engineering magazine.
Not having the right tool when you need it most can mean the difference between success and failure of even the smallest task—or project. Therefore, if you don’t think a company that has designed, built and installed hundreds of gas and steam turbines isn’t concerned with the whereabouts of a tiny socket wrench, think again. Being able to pinpoint the location of a tool and the person using it goes far beyond making sure that the tool isn’t misplaced or lost, it’s critical to managing an outage efficiently.
Alstom Power traditionally managed its tool program by purchasing necessary items from outside vendors, then deploying such tools to customer sites in its own fully loaded “tool cribs.” Despite its best efforts to manage tools, at times the company had a lesser ability to control the crib’s inventory once it was delivered to the jobsite. As a result, identifying a better alternative became a top priority.
Seeking the best solution
According to Felix Voser, manager, technical support gas turbines for Alstom Power Inc., this initiative was important enough to Alstom Power management to be incorporated into the company’s Six Sigma program. As a result of the Six Sigma study, the organization turned to an outside source to help develop and manage its tooling program for the first time. Because this was such a drastic change from the past, Voser says he wanted a partner that could handle everything from start to finish—from identifying the necessary equipment to providing the tools and even managing the program.
He turned to Snap-on Industrial and the company’s Mobile Tool Solutions program. Already known for providing high-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 and shelving, as well as the electrical components, lighting and air conditioning. The value-added, however, was inclusion of the company’s Level 5TM 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.
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,” Voser says. “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.”
Value through experience
Snap-on knows that the power-gen industry has unique requirements, challenges and customer expectations. Thus, it called on industry veteran George Mora to help stock
Alstom’s first mobile tool crib with more than 5000 tools necessary for servicing turbine power generation facilities.
Based on his 29 years managing outages in the power generation industry, Mora has the type of experience that proved invaluable in both identifying the proper tools and managing the overall implementation. Through his expertise, Snap-on delivered a solution that could be used at Alstom Power’s outages anywhere in the country—and over the past year, it has been used at quite a number of these events.
“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,” Mora notes. “To outfit the cribs, we used Snap-on tools whenever we could and outsourced anything Snap-on doesn’t make. What’s also important is that Snap-on Industrial will work with Alstom to devise specific tools for a particular job. You can’t ask for a better partner, a company that provides some of the finer tools in the country, and have the backing of their engineering department to help develop the tools you need.”
Snap-on’s level of involvement doesn’t stop once a tool crib is stocked and hits the ground at a remote location. It can also provide a tool crib attendant, such as Linda Willems, to manage the unit. A retired Snap-on employee (see Sidebar), Willems has worked in her former company’s mobile tool cribs at two Alstom Power job sites. And she’s good at her job—real good.
Willems knows the tools in the mobile unit, where they’re located in the crib and, ultimately, where they are in the field. Her main focus is on productivity—that is, keeping highly skilled professionals working with the appropriate tools rather than wasting time looking for what they need to do their jobs.
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 bar code. A quick scan of the employee’s bar code—followed by a scan of the tool—will accurately keep track of the equipment that leaves the crib and who’s responsible for it. That’s not as easy as it might sound. In fact, for Alstom Power, it used to be extremely difficult.
George Mora describes the problem this way: “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. 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,” Mora continues. “I’ve seen it time and time again and it has a direct effect on productivity.”
“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.”While the main function of the Level 5 Tool Control System is to keep track of the 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. Moreover, it gives a clear indication of what truly is available in inventory. This keeps a company from finding itself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing what tools are available—which, in turn, makes it easier to buy new tools than spend the time to search through the warehouse to see what’s actually there. That can be a very costly place to be.
With the Snap-on mobile cribs and their controlled tool management systems, it’s easy to quickly assign bar codes to the new equipment and update inventories to reflect an accurate count when tools are delivered.
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—including having spent the past few years working for Project Industrial Consultants on outages around the country. The Alstom Power facility was 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,” Bird recalls. “You never knew where anything was.”
Because good, quality tools were so much trouble to find, Bird felt it was easier to bring his own—transporting 600-700 lbs. 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.
The mobile approach
Just like Howard Bird who moves from job site to job site, when one job is complete, the Snap-on Mobile Tool Solutions Crib is ready to move on to the next location. George Mora points out that 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 unit moves on.
This approach can greatly enhance a company’s safety program, since accurate safety records can be kept for equipment such as rigging. It also can help alleviate a company’s concerns when it comes to measurements and calibration—for example, in Alstom Power’s case, it can quickly check if its measuring tools have been calibrated at scheduled intervals.
As Felix Voser puts it, “The mobile tool crib with the tracking system has been a tremendous improvement for Alstom Power. I am a strong supporter of Snap-on Industrial, and I look forward to working with Snap-on in the future.” And he has.
To date, Alstom Power has used Snap-on’s Mobile Tool Management Systems at 18 outages across the country. MT
Dale Alberts is business development director of Snap-on, based in Kenosha, WI.
Snap-on draws from a treasured pool of retirees to serve its customers today and tomorrow.
How do you build a labor pool that has tool experience, is willing to deploy to a job site on very short notice and only wants to work part time? For assistance with its Alstom Power projects, Snap-on has called upon a number of treasured retired employees.
How it started
Many of the retirees at Snap-on get together for a monthly breakfast. Back in the summer 2007, company management visited with them at one of their get-togethers and approached them on what they thought of working part-time, doing a little travel and helping out a customer who would be having intermittent jobs.
The idea of traveling throughout the U.S. and working in their former employer’s mobile tool cribs was appealing to the Snap-on retirees. Approximately 25 of them were recruited for the work and trained on both the software program they would be using to manage the tool systems and some of the specialty tools they would be encountering at the job sites.
Since the inception of this program, the Snap-on retiree corps has been sent to Alstom job sites from Connecticut to California. On average, they work 12-15 weeks a year—which allows them time with their families, as well as the opportunity to earn some extra money.
Win/win/win all the way around
Snap-on is thankful to its retirees for all they have contributed to the success of the company during their years of employment. The company also appreciates the continued support of its retirees for their assistance with projects such as that referenced in the accompanying article.