Northern Apex Corporation

How to Take Full Advantage of Tool Tracking Systems

Jeff Garver - Thursday, January 11, 2018

One aspect of getting full value when adopting Tool Tracking technology is tying a specific tool to its corresponding important data, such as calibration dates and expected life cycles. This makes the data visible and readily accessible by all stakeholders in the use and monitoring of these tools.

The challenge in this area is determining the best way to identify the tool itself. Barcode is one possible solution, but it somewhat limits the ability to take advantage of “smart factory” technology. Barcodes often require human interaction and direct line of sight to physically scan the barcodes and they can easily be rendered illegible by wear and tear or oil and dirt.  A far better option is to use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). There are several types of RFID tags that can be attached to, or even embedded in tooling. This ties a specific tracking number to each tool throughout its lifecycle.

For example, a wood manufacturer needed to track their shaper bits. By embedding an RFID tag inside the tools they can not only track how many board feet have been produced with each tool and when it needs to be recalibrated but they can also ensure that the right tool was used at the beginning of the process, saving costly errors and waste. It is even possible to automate that process by simply adding a reader to the tool changer to verify tool choice. 

Now that we have established that the mechanical part of tracking a tool can be tackled, the next question is what do you do with this data? The goal of “smart factory” applications is to provide usable data. Since each RFID tag has a unique identifier, it is easy to tie other data to that tool. In addition to calibration and life cycle, you may wish to track things like date of purchase, supplier, and original cost to name a few.  All of this can be accomplished if you purchase the right system. 

Tool tracking is gaining in popularity. It increases productivity and makes financial sense




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