Thursday, May 1, 2003
Keeping Tools in Their Place
Snap-On and Stanley-PROTO offer programs to help technicians avoid leaving tools behind when the aircraft is closed up.
When Hayden Malone started out to do an inspection on a Cheyenne II’s vertical stabilizer he expected to find some light corrosion, some dirt build up, and maybe even a worn cable.
But what he didn’t expect to find was a screwdriver wedged in the passage where the cable traveled up to the elevator. "It looked like it had been in there since the airplane was built," he said.
"The troubling thought is, if it had slipped just a little bit further down it could have easily bound the control cable and jammed the elevator. The result could have been catastrophic."
So how could something like this happen? "The problem was, up until very recently, tool control was not a very well defined process," explained Joe Chwan, business development manger for Snap-On Industrial. "To save time, people would bring more tools than they need into a work area. Then they would accidentally drop a piece into an airframe or maybe set it on something and forgot about it when they closed the section up. In many cases there was no incentive to go look for the missing tool because they were either in fear of punishment or, more likely, no one was going to stop them from going home that day just because a tool was missing."
But in today’s business environment technicians, and their employers, cannot afford the risk associated with a missing tool causing considerable damage to, or loss of, an entire aircraft. Simple, common sense tool control is becoming a very hot topic. "To my knowledge, the first actual initiative to control and create accountability for tools as a core process for reducing foreign object damage started with a request from the U.S. Navy," Chwan added. During a six-month cruise of one of its carriers in the 1960s, crewmen had to push two jets over the side because of what Chwan called ‘exploding’ engines. "When the jets were pulled out of the drink, both exploded engines were found to have tools inside them." The Navy figured it was cheaper to track tools than to keep replacing jet fighters.
"Snap-On worked with the Navy to develop the first foam drawer inserts with silhouetted tool cutouts," he said. "It was the first product developed to help a technician to be able to quickly scan a tool drawer to see if anything was missing. It proved to be especially valuable during shift changes."
It would seem like a technician’s best friend: a quick and easy way to verify that every tool was accounted for at the end of each job. But unfortunately, what worked in theory didn’t prove out so well in the field. "Tool control is a very strange bird," Chwan added. "No two technicians like to lay out their tools in the same way so there was some resistance because it wasn’t economically feasible to ‘custom tailor’ each tool layout to meet the technician’s needs."
Both Snap-On and Stanley-PROTO have recently introduced services that will help individual technicians lay out their foam inserts exactly the way they want. "Now with the aid of specially developed software and the Internet, we can quickly and affordably create ‘custom made’ foam drawer inserts," explained Russ Dilts, product manager for Stanley-PROTO. "It’s a really big benefit for smaller shops where the individual technician is responsible for tool control. Since they know where each tool is supposed to be, it’s even easier to see if something is missing."
With the ease and speed of planning programs like Snap-On’s new Snap-CAL (computer aided layout), creating these customized cut outs has been reduced from a long, drawn-out process down to a couple of mouse clicks.
As Chwan explained it, the technician just makes his tool selection for each drawer and Snap-CAL automatically positions each tool in the drawer in the most efficient way. The program then lets the technician make final adjustments. Once he’s happy with the layout the computer validates it for cutting requirements and then it’s emailed to the foam cutter. The finished product is delivered to the end-user in a very short time.
"We’re also working on a way that technicians can visit our web site and do their designs all on their own," Dilts added. "It’s been expanding slowly but surely and now that it’s even more available and cost-effective every technician can benefit from professionally created tool control solutions."
Tailoring cutouts to a technician’s way of working makes it "a lot easier to get an increased commitment to making tool control work" from the technician, Chwan said. "They are the beginning and end of any solution."
Customized foam inserts are just one products companies have created to help companies and individuals create an effective tool control program. Another is Snap-On’s Flight Line FOD Bag customized tool control system. "The Flight Line FOD bag is a solution that was created with the customer setting right there," Chwan added. "They had a problem with technicians taking metal tool chests and boxes out to the airplanes. There were too many instances of scratched paint and scuffed interior components."
The soft-sided Flight Line FOD bag lets technicians take exactly the tools they need to the job in a package that’s small, light, and won’t damage any aircraft surfaces," he said. "The individual ‘drawers’ can be custom tailored to meet the specific tool needs of any type of job so the technician isn’t taking a lot of extra tools out to the plane. If you’re not using a tool, it’s a lot easier to leave it behind."
While any Flight Line FOD kit is fully customizable, Snap-On has used its customer experience to create "pre-packaged" flight line bags to meet specific inspection and repair needs.
"If a customer calls and wants a kit for maintenance on a GE90 engine on a Triple Seven, we can send them one," Chwan said. "But the real power of our new tool control products is being able to quickly and cost effectively create an engineered solution that meets a technician’s exact needs. The better it fits their needs, the more likely they are to use it."