How to Maintain Peak Productivity With RFID Tool Tracking

aircraft manufacturing - Tool Tracking

June 7, 2016

To anyone responsible for managing tools, equipment or supplies, it likely comes as no surprise that these items tend to get lost or stolen frequently. Whether in the plant, on the job site or in a supply yard, the problem of “disappearing” or misplaced tools is a costly and time-consuming challenge for a variety of industries ranging from construction, manufacturing and energy to healthcare and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO).

In some industries, theft is often the cause. In the U.S. construction industry alone, equipment theft costs an estimated $300 million to $1 billion per year.[1]

However, assets don’t have to be stolen to go missing. Small hand tools, in particular, are easily misplaced or lost, and can be subject to hoarding by workers. Alternatively, very large items such as precision tooling can be difficult to locate when spread across a large machine shop or multiple manufacturing facilities.

When equipment goes missing, the resulting costs to replace the lost items can significantly impact profits. Yet the costs go well beyond replacing expensive tools and equipment.

Time is Money

If the proper tools are not at hand when, and where, needed for the job, many man hours can be wasted searching for them. This is compounded by the productivity lost as workers wait around, unable to do their jobs. Even more critical is the risk of missing important production deadlines and contractual commitments, potentially damaging a company’s reputation and future business prospects.

For those industries that use highly specialized, precision tooling, such as aerospace and heavy equipment manufacturers, the inability to locate the correct tools for specific tasks can cause operational costs to quickly skyrocket. Specialized manufacturing tools are often custom-made and hard to source; therefore, a lost tool can be more detrimental to the production schedule than missing parts or components.

An Eye on Safety

In addition to increased costs and reduced productivity, the lack of efficient tool and equipment management can seriously affect safety across various industries. For construction or energy companies, keeping track of tool calibration and maintenance is critical to ensuring worker safety on the job.

Tracking production and MRO tools helps ensure safety as well. In aerospace and defense, for example, manufacturing tools used to assemble and maintain aircraft can become foreign object debris (FOD) hazards if left behind. Likewise, in the healthcare field, the loss of expensive surgical equipment not only costs time and money, but also can compromise the quality of patient care.

Real-Time Tool Tracking

In an effort to avoid stalled productivity, some companies maintain a large inventory of spare tools, adding to their expenses. Others have devised various methods of tracking tools and equipment, ranging from paper spreadsheets to barcode readers. The problem is that at best, they are spending time and money staffing a tool room, and at worst, their system is completely ineffective.

Automated RFID technology has been widely used in a variety of applications to achieve operational efficiency, cost reduction and real-time inventory visibility. Because RFID enables tags to be read at long distances without line of sight, this technology provides a more effective, cost-efficient solution for tool and equipment tracking.

One case in point is a metal-bonding facility for Cessna Aircraft Company, where more than 1,000 specialized assembly tools are tracked across 50,000 square feet. This complex aircraft manufacturing operation requires careful coordination between multiple production processes, but Cessna found that operators and tool controllers were spending hours physically tracking down specific tooling components.

In order to automate tool tracking and speed up production, Cessna worked with RFID solution provider OatSystems to deploy a complete RFID system including the Mojix STAR RFID reader for real-time, wide-area tool visibility across the manufacturing plant. Although the tools are subject to an autoclave curing process, RFID tags affixed to the tools are able to withstand the harsh conditions. Likewise, the durability of RFID tags make them ideal for tracking valuable assets on dirty job sites, such as remote oil fields.

The fully automated RFID solution delivers a complete, reliable system for real-time tool tracking and inventory management, helping Cessna meet the requirements of a complex production schedule to maintain peak productivity. With real-time tool tracking enabled by RFID, a wide range of industries are reducing costs and improving efficiency, accuracy and safety, thereby keeping productivity up and production lines flying at top speed.


[1] National Insurance Crime Bureau, “Heavy Equipment Theft Report”, October 1, 2015:


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