Where are my tools?

By: Don Tyler

The frustration increases as every person who comes into the shop is interrogated on where they last saw the tool.  Soon, calls go out over the radio and the investigation turns into an inquisition of historic proportions causing even the most organized mechanics to question their sanity.

As the manager gets involved in the search they are mentally calculating the combined cost of the employees’ lost time, the cost of the equipment setting idle, and comparing it to the cost of the tool.  The math always comes out the same—it’s expensive.

Unfortunately, we have to realize that employee’s attitudes about keeping track of tools are a reflection of the overall workplace culture that has been established over many years.  If employees have a sense of loyalty, neatness, organization, cost-consciousness and efficiency they will tend to treat tools and equipment with the respect and value they deserve.

Establishing the appropriate company culture in this area is essential, but unfortunately it usually takes several years to develop and reinforce the attitudes and behaviors we need.  In the process of developing that culture, here are a few practical techniques that can be very effective:

1. Assign a tool box for each person and/or vehicle and color-code the box and tools using high quality paint or electrical tape.

2. Use canvas tool pouches with a slot for each tool.  They are easy to pull out, unwrap and layout near the repair and can be quickly scanned to see if any tools are missing before being closed up.

3. Have a locked tool room for more expensive or rarely-used tools that must be checked out by a manager.  The upside is that these tools are easily tracked.  The downside—it takes the mechanic’s and manager’s time to check out the tool.

4. For tools and toolsets that need to stay close to a workstation or location, keep them in a cabinet that can be locked.  This can keep those tools more secure and readily available for the limited employees that will use them.

5. Use a method to clearly identify the tools that must stay in the shop—and those that can go out onto the yard.

6. Establish a place for each tool that is well-marked and easily reveals when a tool is missing.  Divided spaces in drawers, hooks on the wall behind the workbench, hangers on the shop walls and spools for cords and cables are all methods that work well.

8. Separate tools by frequency of use.  Have the tools that are used daily within arm’s reach, those used a few times a week in nearby drawers or cabinets, and those used less than once a week in locked cabinets a little further away.

7. Have a specific place for broken tools that need repair or replacement so they quickly get the attention they need.

Improving Accountability

Even the best system won’t work without discipline and accountability.  Here are some strategies that may be appropriate:

• Have one employee responsible for tools that are color-coded, at workstations and/or in vehicles.  Check the inventory of tools each month and hold that employee responsible for the missing tools.

• Include in an employee’s Performance Evaluations their ability to keep track of tools.  Those who cannot keep track of tools are not considered for promotions or pay increases.

• For some larger shops with several mechanics that each have personal preferences in tools, have them buy their own tools and pay them a lease.  They have to pay for losses and breakage.  Some specialty tools are still purchased by the company.  If the lease is paid on an hourly rate, then those employees who work longer hours get additional compensation for the increased use of their tools.

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