Nowhere to Hide: Inventory Management Tool Trends

ToolWatch

Clearly, using tracking software that records tools as they are checked out and returned is easier than manually recording or using spreadsheets. Simple tool tracking has become asset management. For equipment, applications can not only monitor location, but also hours of operation and other factors that enable alerts when maintenance is due.

Numerous asset management programs are available. In this article, representatives of two providers in the electrical market—ToolWatch and AllTrak—review the latest asset management capabilities. Also, Milwaukee Tool discusses its One-Key tracking/management program.

“Computer-based tool tracking and management systems provide an easy solution for organizing and managing the company’s assets,” said Don Kafka, CEO and founder of ToolWatch, a cloud-based platorm based in Englewood, Colo. “They reduce tool loss by driving accountability and help eliminate unnecessary purchases. But, simply monitoring their locations doesn’t bring the critical benefits gained by managing them.”

Matthew Ramage, asset director, Trimble AllTrak, said there is a host of free tool tracking software, but it only provides the location of individual tools or a list of tools.

“Tool management allows management of tools and their interactions within an organization’s business,” Ramage said. “If you have a warehouse or central database of tools, you want to know who has them; if there is service needed; if rented, when due dates are; and how long they have been on the job site. They become business assets.”

ToolWatch

When you manage tool assets, you take control of them. You control their location, utilization, costs and safety compliance. You can even enable them to generate billable revenue.

“Actively managing tools and equipment will deliver higher utilization, reduced cost, increased revenue, improved safety compliance, and improved field productivity,” Kafka said.

With ToolWatch programs, assets are organized on a cloud platform. As items are distributed to personnel, job sites, or assigned to vehicles, transactions are recorded using RFID or barcodes that then are reflected throughout the modules to generate job cost and billing transactions, trigger alerts for low-levels and service notifications.

“We offer three days of training via live webinars and live training in our training center in Denver,” he said. “We also offer 24/7 access to our ToolWatch University self-paced online training.”

ToolWatch uses an asset-based pricing model.

“This enables growing companies with less than 500 assets to economically implement a program, as well as large organizations with over 100,000 assets to easily migrate to the next solution level with additional capabilities,” he said. “The system reduces the daily workload on operational, field and accounting personnel.”

Kafka estimates 40–50 percent of ECs operate some type of program.

“There are those that do not recognize just how critical their internal operations are to financial success,” Kafka said. “The organizations that are most successful with ToolWatch start with a commitment at the executive level. Once this has been established, operational personnel are trained, the system is provisioned and ready for assets. Most companies will start adding tools and materials to the system during their first week after training.”

Programs with three levels of capabilities are available: ToolWatch Essentials, ToolWatch Enterprise and ToolWatch Pro.

Trimble AllTrak Cloud
Trimble AllTrak Cloud

Trimble AllTrak

ECs have a particular requirement for a system to track and manage their assets, because they use many specialized tools.

“Many of their assets are very expensive, and managing these specialized tools is very important,” Ramage said. “Tools such as electrical testing equipment need to be calibrated at subscribed intervals, and if this is not done, the work becomes void. This is where having an advanced tool management system is essential and where you could see a requirement for your business independent of size.”

Users have the ability to browse by item type or job site to find any asset’s location, status and responsibility. Equipment, tool and consumable costs can be tracked using customizable rate schedules. Programs ensure only properly qualified workers use certain tools and ensure equipment is properly maintained, calibrated and certified. Users can better understand project costs and create a variety of inventory and service reports for planning, review and analysis.

AllTrak systems allow access to asset information from any web browser or the mobile application using the latest cloud technology.

“Most systems’ pricing is based on the number of users, so whether you are a small or large contractor, the system scales with you,” Ramage said.

The core of the system is an entirely cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS). A variety of tags are placed on tools, including barcode tags, RFID, Bluetooth and GPS.

“The more archaic systems have dedicated readers that you need to pay a premium to access,” Ramage said. “For example, RFID is expensive because you have to have a dedicated reader to read the tags. However, the most versatile systems are those that use smartphones, and smartphone attachments, to read barcodes and Bluetooth tags. Most systems are based on bring your own device, allowing users to attach a scanner to a phone or use an app in the phone for tool tracking.”

The cost is relatively cheap for tool tracking and includes the software system and the tags. A system can range in price, but most reliable and rich-featured tool management systems cost from $20–$40 per user, per month. The real investment is in the initial system. Everything that will be tracked has to be tagged, which can seem overwhelming.

Ramage said 95 percent of AllTrak Cloud’s features can be run from a mobile phone. Trimble provides a one-day training session supplemented with online videos that show the various features.

“We recommend that the best way to implement a tool tracking system is to do it in sections,” Ramage said. “Start with the items that have the highest value, and then gradually add as time goes on. This limits upfront investment and allows the system to grow as needed. It is only difficult if you try to tag everything right from the start and using a tool management software that is new to employees. But the software is incredibly intuitive, so on-boarding should be quick and painless. Once it is used, personnel will become more proficient. It is a lot easier than managing a spreadsheet and entering the data manually.”

Some are resistant to invest in an asset management system because they think they are doing a good enough job and are hesitant to make the initial capital investment.

“One mistake, theft, or lost piece of equipment could cost more than would be spent on the system,” Ramage said. “Profit could easily be eroded if tools are damaged, lost, stolen. It is hard to find another product that would share this ROI.”

Milwaukee One-Key
Milwaukee One-Key

Milwaukee Tool

Milwaukee Tool offers the free, simplified One-Key tool and equipment management program available on the web and a mobile application.

“The tool and equipment management feature within One-Key creates a central place for users to manage all of their tools and equipment, including non-Milwaukee brands, across their network of jobs and operators,” said Steve Matson, Milwaukee Tool group program manager. “This free-to-use platform allows companies to keep detailed records of each tool, in order to easily build a budget and manage their annual spending on equipment.

“Managers are also able to assign locations or specific owners to each asset, providing accountability and enabling easy information-sharing between the field and back-office. As a cloud-based program, updates and edits will be synchronized real-time throughout all levels of an organization,” he said.

Milwaukee also offers the Tick, a professional-grade Bluetooth tool and equipment tracker. Designed to withstand the harshest job-site environments, the Tick can be easily attached and hidden from sight on any product, regardless of brand, providing users an invaluable way to track anything in their inventory through the One-Key app.

Products with a Tick attached are paired through the app. Tool records and locations are updated when any device with the app comes within 100 feet of the tagged tool. Location updates are transmitted through any One-Key app that is in range, regardless of whether the app is open, enabling users to pinpoint missing tools quickly. In addition, users can manage all their tools through the app’s simplified tool and equipment management features.

“These features allow users to assign and store detailed information for all their tools and equipment whether it’s a tool equipped with a Tick, a One-Key enabled tool, or any other tool and equipment,” Matson said.

About the Author

Jeff Griffin

Freelance Writer

Jeff Griffin, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at up-front@cox.net.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.