These problems have the potential to be solved with the implementation of an effective automated inventory management system, which can compile and categorize information for easy access. The result is a more efficient warehouse, and in turn, a more efficient company.
Many options exist for those companies seeking automated tool management software. Most employ some kind of unique identifier, such as a barcode label, which is attached to individual items that are to be tracked. This barcode label is scanned to check items in and out of the warehouse, assigning them to a specific job or employee. This information is then transferred to the main database through a docking station, computer USB port or even through a wireless connection.
A more recent addition to the world of tool tracking is radio frequency identification (RFID) to manage tool inventories. This technology works similarly to barcode labeling, but the RFID tag is inserted into a tool rather than applied to its exterior, making the identification tag difficult to remove. The RFID tag holds an identifying number that can be read with an RFID reading tool. This information is then transmitted to the main database in like manner to the barcode information. RFID can be integrated into a barcode scanning system, allowing the company to choose the most appropriate option for each tool. Some companies offer scanning tools that can read both RFID tags and barcode labels, so the technologies can be used side by side.
The software controlling the main database is the core of the tracking system. When an item is scanned, its unique barcode is linked to a host of information within the database. It is then possible to track not only a tool's location, but also its repair history, warranty information, maintenance schedule and billing information. Users can generate reports from the database that show every tool assigned to a job, what has been billed to a particular job or tools that are due for certification.
Warehouse and Field Efficiency
Any tracking system is, to a certain extent, prone to human error. Even well-trained data entry employees experience entry and read-error rates equal to approximately one error in every 300 characters using manual data entry. However, an automated tool tracking system that employs barcode labels and laser scanning or RFID tags and readers reduces this factor: Errors rates have been shown to drop to approximately one error in one million characters. Such a significant reduction in data entry mistakes ensures that information available to the company is reliable and ultimately saves money because companies know where items are exactly when they need them.
For example, when a large general contractor in the South implemented its tool tracking software, it found that 30 percent of its assumed inventory was missing, and another 25 percent was broken. Just getting a realistic view of the actual tool inventory is a valuable result of a tool tracking software purchase.
Using an automated tool tracking system can also increase employee efficiency in the field. Project managers can receive weekly lists of tools assigned to their jobsites. If a tool goes missing, project managers then immediately can talk with the employee last responsible for the tool, cutting down on wasted time searching for missing tools and allowing employees to focus on their jobs. And if a tool is lost, the company has a reliable record of who had the tool last and where it was supposed to be.
Increasing Safety on the Jobsite
For some companies, an automated tool tracking system is attractive because of its ability to track such information as the calibration of certain items in the tool inventory. Many safety tools used on construction sites must be regularly tested to ensure they are working. Other tools must be correctly calibrated to be effective in the field. Many of these tests are monitored by regulatory agencies such as OSHA, and companies can be held responsible if they fail to comply or cannot prove compliance.