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Get a Grip on Tools
Every profession requires its own set of tools. Just as chefs need pots and pans, front-line technicians in building maintenance and engineering departments need power tools to successfully and efficiently perform their jobs.
“I realized early in my career that to do a good job required good, up-to-date tools,” says Pat Stott, facilities operations manager for Lee County, Fla., so he knew it was to his advantage to buy the best tools available.
Managers count on their technicians to be productive and produce high-quality work. By providing them with the most appropriate tools, managers can help ensure success.
“There’s no substitute for quality and assuring that the front-line staff have the necessary tools to do their job,” says Edward Dudek, director of engineering and maintenance at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Providing them with the proper tools and technology to get it done is vital to success.”
Because power tools play such a critical role in maintenance and engineering, it is important managers ensure front-line workers and technicians properly maintain and adjust their department’s tool inventory.
The task of properly maintaining power tools can easily fall through the cracks when maintenance departments face higher-priority responsibilities, such as fixing leaking pipes or addressing HVAC complaints. But failing to inspect power tools regularly and ensure technicians are taking proper care of them can result in extra repair and maintenance costs.
Managers who haven't already done so should consider adding power-tool inspections to their preventive maintenance (PM) program.
“We have a PM for every shop foreman to inventory all of their shops’ tools twice a year,” Dudek says. Using the department’s CMMS, workers verify that all tools are accounted for, in working condition and safe to use, he says. Technicians inspect them for cracked or broken cords and make sure tools are grounded and cases are intact.
Stott's department also uses its CMMS to track power tool PM.
“We schedule preventive maintenance for the tools that require recalibration, checking and cleaning,” he says. For example, the department has several small, gasoline-powered tools. A mechanic inspects them according to the PM schedule.
“Every two to three months, he’ll go through them and make sure they’re working okay and the filters are changed,” Stott says.
Besides performing regular inspections, technicians can extend the performance life of power tools by using them as the manufacturer intended. Managers also might want to provide their technicians with training on the proper operation of power tools. When Stott's department purchases power tools, he ensures training is included in the purchasing contract.
“We’ll agree to buy a vendor’s product if they provide training on that product,” he says.
Dudek says his department’s main power tool supplier provides operation training, as well as an annual tool safety-training seminar for all front-line technicians.
Repairs and Replacements
No matter how well technicians take care of their tools, repair and replacement will be necessary eventually. When a tool breaks or is lost, managers should not immediately assume that the technician was careless with the tool or stole it, Stott says.
“In some places, I know managers will ask technicians to show them the broken tool before they replace it,” he says, but he adds that such practices can cause employees to believe the manager doesn’t trust them, thus bringing down the morale of the entire staff.
Since purchasing and repairing tools can add up to significant costs, the manager should investigate if broken or missing tools become an ongoing problem.
To keep tool-related expenses down, managers should compare the costs to repair and replace broken tools.
“Typically, we will repair the tool versus buying a new one because we have found it cheaper in many cases.” says Travis Luzney, manager of maintenance and repair for the Milwaukee Public Schools. Luzney's department participates in a repair program with a major tool supplier.
“We’ll send in the broken tool and, for $85, they’ll completely rebuild it and send it back like new,” Luzney says. The program has worked out well for his department.
“If I were to go somewhere else and try to apply what I’ve learned here, I would definitely see what repair programs the [original equipment manufacturer] of the tools provide,” Luzney says.
He also advises managers to develop good working relationships with vendors who sell and repair tools.
Says Luzney, “It’s not a bad thing to talk with them and ask ‘Hey, what’s gong on out there? Are you guys discontinuing anything? Have you been to any trade shows recently?’”
The larger the organization, the more difficult it often is for maintenance and engineering managers to track their department’s power tools.
“Theft or losing tools is always a problem in a large organization,” Dudek says. His department’s technicians work on a large campus, and often several individuals work at the same job site.
Managers should consider implementing software that is designed for tracking power tools. Technicians using the software log tools into a database by hand or using barcode labels and scanners. Each time a technician uses a tool, the system scans and records its location — by jobsite or by employee. This process enables the software to locate any tool any time.
Dudek says his department is considering trying to perform power tool scanning via the bar-coding module in its existing work-order system that the department now uses to schedule fire-extinguisher inspections.
“We’re going to see if we can use that module for tool inventory as well,” Dudek says. The system would collect tool data and generate an exception report when the technicians miss a tool during their inspections.
By getting a grip on tool maintenance and their department’s tool inventory, managers can help ensure their technicians work more cost-effectively and efficiently.
“Coming from a background of working in construction, I strongly believe that having appropriate tools for every job is a necessity,” Dudek says. “If you ask for productivity and quality, you need to provide the resources and tools to accomplish it.”