Another advantage of a small company, Plummer explains, is the attention to the customer’s needs. As an example, he explains the step-by-step process of creating a tool kit for a large airline repair center in San Francisco, where mechanics remove tires and make repairs at lightening speed to keep airplanes in the air. An organized tool kit can make all the difference in keeping the airlines on schedule, he says.
“Usually an onsite sales rep from a tool distributor calls us and orders the kit,” he says. “The sales rep will first send us an itemized list of tools so we can create an inventory. Because we’ve been in the business for a while, the scans of most tools are already in our database. If not, we ask that the custom tools be sent so we can make a scan and add them to our inventory.”
Plummer points to an array of metal tool storage chests and cabinets on rollers, some as tall as four feet, with drawers of various widths and depths, manufactured by companies such as Snap-On, Kennedy Manufacturing, or Craftsmen, etc. “The size of the tool chest and the number of tools is usually specified from the start by the customer or the tools rep,” says Plummer.
While the customer sometimes sends their own designs for the layout of each tool drawer, often the CAD designer is asked to create the layouts using his AutoCAD program, organizing the tools so all wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, etc., are grouped together.
“Because there may be 1200-plus tools in one kit, the CAD designer does his best to fit as many tools as he can in one drawer, with regard to ergonomics and available space,” explains Plummer. Once the designs are made, the electronic layout labeled with the measurements and serial numbers for each tool is sent to the customer to sign off on.
The layout is tested in Styrofoam next. Plummer picks up one of five rectangular Styrofoam sheets spread out on a worktable, each the size of a tool box drawer. One sheet contains orderly rows of cavities for various sized wrenches, another for screwdrivers.
“Using the waterjet machines to try out the layouts in Styrofoam first, we make sure that each tool’s form and function fits, before moving on to the permanent materials,” he explains.
Once the Styrofoam test sheets are tested, approved, or corrected as needed, the AutoCAD programs are sent to Creative Edge, where one of fourteen waterjet machines cut a cavity for each tool, usually in cross-linked/closed-cell, four-pound high-density black polyethylene foam, which is then mounted on a contrasting expanded PVC or foam backing.
“The contrasting color of the backing allows you to see instantly when a tool is missing,” explains Plummer.
Plummer points to a wallboard where the layouts for drawers of tool kits are tacked in neat rows. Like puzzle boards without the puzzle pieces, the shapes of screwdrivers, wrenches and sockets form colorful designs in sheets of grey foam with bright yellow expanded PVC backing.
Each metal tool can be etched with the company logo, the name of the tool, and its kit code using an on-site laser-etching machine, and the base of its yellow PVC cavity can also be custom-etched with these specifications.
For a drawer of wrenches with sockets, the size is also etched into the tool and the cavity. For example, a socket might have the parts number of 4140, but it can also be identified by its size, such as 1 ¼ -inch.
“If there’s a missing tool, you can instantly see which one is missing, because you can see that the yellow cavity is empty, and the part number or tool description is etched there for all to see,” says Plummer. “The etching capabilities at Toolkeepers include standard numeric, bar code, UID, 2D matrix, and custom serial numbers.”