Fifteen years ago a manager from Rock Island Arsenal showed up at Creative Edge Master Shop, a state-of-the-art waterjet fabricator located in Fairfield, Iowa. He plopped a big wooden box on the desk of president Jim Belilove.
“This is the pitiful tool-kit we’re sending to our boys in Kuwait to service their tanks,” he said, opening the box to show Belilove a jumble of wrenches, sockets, nuts and bolts. “One of our troops even had to leave the base and go down to a Kuwaiti hardware store to buy a tool with his own money. And that was all because we didn’t provide the proper kind of tool organization.”
The manager asked Jim Belilove to use his waterjet machines to create an organized tool- kit, with an empty cavity cut out of foam to house each tool.
“We ended up making thousands of tool-kits for the Rock Island Arsenal to ship overseas to men in combat, for fixing tanks, artillery and other military equipment,” says Belilove.
That was the beginning of a company now called Tool Keepers Foam and Etch. Today Tool Keepers provides professional custom tool kitting services to government manufacturers from all branches of the military, including aerospace, helicopter and vehicle manufacturers, military mobilization manufacturers, and homeland security surveillance equipment manufacturers. In the private sector, Tool Keepers works with manufacturers of railroad equipment, agricultural equipment, drilling equipment, mining equipment, highway construction equipment, hydraulics manifolds, aircraft, wind turbines, oil rigs and auto and truck parts.
In the years since Tool Keepers began, industrial tool-kits have evolved to become an important part of Lean Management, Belilove says.
Belilove believes that any manufacturer that is interested in Lean Manufacturing can benefit from tool-kit management. He explains that the main principles of lean efficiency and the elimination of waste are supported when a manufacturer has their tools in order.
“You know how you go into some manufacturing facilities and there’s a circle on the floor and that’s where the trash can goes?” he asks. “Everything has a place and everything is in its place. That’s what we create with these tool-kits.”