Industrial RFID Systems for
Tool Tracking RFID systems integrate hardware and software to track tools throughout their workflows and lifecycles.
Their adoption across industries is mainly driven by safety and productivity.
Xerafy's experience in Tool Tracking RFID systems straddles several critical environments: Aviation and Rail MRO, Maintenance operations, Automotive tooling, Industrial molds, Nuclear power plants, Construction sites.
THE CHALLENGES OF TOOL TRACKING
Critical environments simply cannot afford the FOD and FME risks that come with relying on employees to manually track and record the tools and equipment they use throughout the day. But tracking tools involves overcoming a number of application and technology-specific challenges.
Industrial operations have first-hand experiences of the drawbacks of manual Tool Tracking processes:
Loss of tools due to misplacement or outright theft, and therefore the direct cost of replacement.
Lost productivity due to personnel check-out/check-in of tools, searching for lost tools, or waiting for replacements to arrive.
Poor customer satisfaction from missed commitments, maintenance, and added costs.
Tool management has been steadily evolving towards wireless technology, with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags small enough to be embedded or mounted on even the smallest tools. They allow for wireless communication with scanners, from a distance, in all directions, and in bulk. This allows to survey an area for any missing tools for instance and can be performed manually or automatically.
USING THE RIGHT RFID SYSTEM
RFID technology has evolved to overcome the challenges of metal interference, harsh environments, and long-range read distance requirements:
RFID that performs well in environments with a high density of metal surfaces
RFID tagging form factors adapted to small tools in terms of footprint and profile
RFID optimized for tool tracking applications: Size-to-performance ratio, long read-range, accuracy, and reliability
Reliable tagging techniques that are proven in the field for shocks, fluids, chemicals
Scalable retrofitting methods adapted to tool inventories
RFID tags have been replacing older optical identification techniques such as Barcodes, QR codes, laser marking:
RFID tags can be scanned in any position when a barcode requires to be exactly positioned in order to be read.
RFID tags can be scanned covered or inside a container when a barcode requires a clean surface and direct line-of-sight.
RFID tags can be scanned in bulk when a barcode is read one at a time only.
Finding the right mix of RFID tags to use is critical and depends heavily on tool sizes, materials, and performance requirements. Thanks to a comprehensive range of form factors, Xerafy RFID Tags can be unobtrusively attached or embedded into tools and equipment for fast, accurate identification, even when tracking metal tools and other items that challenge traditional RFID technology.
How to retrofit a tool inventory? Once the right RFID tags are selected comes how to mount them onto each tool. Reliable and scalable attachment techniques all play a role in the project's success. A combination of Epoxy and Heat-Shrink Tubing seems to have the favor of a number of industries, while others sometimes use a carrier to add an extra level of protection against shocks, fluids, etc. Best Practices for Tool Tracking RFID Retrofitting are shared among our network of Xerafy Authorized Partners.
The next evolution? Connected tools, where RFID tracking is directly embedded in the tool. Tool manufacturers are responding to the demand for such connected tools, offering ranges of 'smart tools' that come with native RFID capabilities embedded at point-of-manufacture.
When it comes to Hardware, several RFID-enabled tool storage options are available in the market, offering smart mobile and fixed storage solutions (tool crib, tool trolley, tool cart, tool cabinet, tool room, toolbox). Traditional RFID hardware (such as handheld scanners, antennas, or portals) is readily available off-the-shelf to offer bespoke solutions in area coverage, choke points, workflows, etc. The trend is to take advantage of existing RFID infrastructure while offering bespoke solutions that minimize change management.
There are various Software solutions available in the market that are adapted to team sizes, industries, and configuration (onsite/cloud, mobile/ERP).
The Aviation MRO and Construction sectors in particular benefit from a very diversified offering. In contrast, other sectors might rely on more generic Asset Tracking software available or go for proprietary systems.
TOOL CONTROL: TOOL TRACKING FOR CRITICAL MAINTENANCE
In maintenance operations, incidents such as an unaccounted tool can have catastrophic consequences.
Tool Control procedures traditionally relied on visual checks such as tool foam organizers for toolboxes and drawers. Tool cribs and sign-in/sign-out procedures provided another level of control, but with limited efficacy and accuracy.
Maintenance operations have been early adopters of technology solutions for Tool Tracking and Tool Control, setting the standard for how other industries can address their own safety, compliance, and productivity challenges.
The introduction of Automated Tool Control (ATC) solutions is supporting the drive for safety, efficiency, and digitization:
Tool rooms equipped with RFID portals or kiosks for automated check-in-check-out
Smart RFID-enabled mobile tool units such as tool trolleys and carts, tool rooms, even toolboxes
FOD and FME prevention has been driving the adoption of RFID Systems for Tool Tracking in critical industries such as Aviation, Military, Power Generation, and Nuclear, where they support maintenance operations and processes, reduce compliance lapses, and drive operational efficiency.
The key to Foreign Object Debris (FOD) and Foreign Material Exclusion (FME) prevention is controlling the environment where the damage can occur. RFID is becoming an indispensable industry tool thanks to its ability to automatically monitor environments, detect foreign objects and prevent problems.
Aerospace manufacturing and maintenance organizations are embedding RFID tags in tools, parts, and materials to gain continuous, real-time visibility of their assets, helping them prevent FOD.
Unattended readers can issue alerts if tag objects are removed from authorized areas or left unattended and can be used for automated check-in-check-out procedures.
RFID can maintain the integrity of FME zones by automatically tracking objects that enter and leave a zone. Unattended read portals can automatically detect and record objects and issue alerts if prohibited items are entering or being left in the area. The more items that can be tracked with RFID, the more effective the system will be.
The adoption of ATC systems in MRO is not without challenges when it comes to Smaller Tool Tracking.
With sockets and ratchets accounting for up to 30% of a typical tool inventory in MRO operations, delivering a near 100% tool tracking coverage is critical in environments sensitive to FOD and FME incidents.
When tools are too small to retrofit individually with RFID, some projects resort to kitting as well as on/off sensors to keep track of the smallest items.
INDUSTRIAL TOOL TRACKING
Industrial operations rely on specialized tools and tooling. Securing tools from theft and locating them when they are needed quickly is critically important in their daily operations.
RFID systems substantially improve both the accuracy and the effectiveness of industrial tool tracking, reducing the substantial costs of tool availability and life cycle.
The drawbacks of manual tool tracking in industrial environments are well documented:
Loss of tools, due to misplacement or outright theft, and therefore the direct cost of replacement
Lost productivity due to personnel check- out/check-in of tools, searching for lost tools or waiting for replacements to arrive
Poor customer satisfaction from missed commitments, maintenance, and added cost
TOOLING IN AUTOMOTIVE MANUFACTURING
The automotive industry provides numerous examples of tool tracking applied to tooling equipment.
At General Motors, a dedicated team is in charge of tracking thousands of tooling equipment involved in the production of critical components. With tooling distributed across hundreds of sites within a complex production and supply organization, tooling tracking has become a key feature of GM suppliers' organization.
TRACKING INDUSTRIAL MOLDS
Industrial Molds are another example of a critical and costly industrial asset.
Tire production involves dozens of molds for a given product, making the tracking of molds a question of operational efficiency, as well as of protection of key assets. Tracking is also involved in maintenance during the mold's life cycle, which can reach over 30 years in some instances, with cleaning procedures scheduled to take place regularly, involving ovens, lasers, etc.
Likewise, industrial foundries require to keep track of each mold to maintain availability throughout the production workflow.
TOOL TRACKING FOR CONSTRUCTION SITES
Construction sites rely on a complex and fluid organization. RFID Systems for Tool Tracking brings them the situational awareness required to run smoothly and safely, helping with the location and availability of tools and equipment in the field.
Tools, equipment, teams, materials, sites: Maintaining a safe and efficient on-site environment is a daily challenge when it comes to the Construction industry.
Tool Tracking RFID Systems are helping to increase the availability of tools on site by reducing losses and delivery movements to different sites. Employees can easily check-in and check-out tools and equipment with a simple scan. RFID Systems extend to materials and yard management, for instance keeping track of rebars.
RFID is particularly suited to construction sites: The technology's traditional advantage over Barcodes and other optical identification methods are at their maximum when it comes to operations in the field.