Paperwork vs. No Work: Bridging the Gap Between Physical and Digital With Tool ID

Keeping a well-organized tool crib can quickly become a full-time job – or the work of an entire department – as shops grow in size and start working with a higher mix of materials and applications. Things only get more complex in high-mix/low-volume production environments, where the number of tool references can quickly lead to a total breakdown in organization without careful, painstaking management. Meanwhile, operators struggle to keep up, switching from one batch and program to the next, each with its own highly specific set of tooling. Poor efficiency and frequent mistakes are seemingly inevitable, particularly when the skills gap makes finding experienced operators harder than ever.

Given this, it’s no surprise that manufacturers have sought out digital solutions to the tool selection and setup problem. Seco, for example, has largely replaced its thick print catalogs with a range of cloud resources and applications that give manufacturing professionals instant access to tooling data. Unfortunately, tools themselves can’t be digitized; inserts have to be carbide, not data, to cut metal.

There’s always been a gap between digital tooling resources and the tools themselves. However, the solutions for bridging that gap have often been too expensive and too complicated to meet the needs of small and medium-sized shops. RFID and Bluetooth technology has changed that – and put tool identification solutions within reach for virtually any shop.

Today’s tool identification systems require no expensive retrofitting or lengthy training to implement. If you can put a sticker on something, you can install the RFID chips – the only difference is the strength of the adhesive. Synchronizing data is as simple as scanning a chip using a handheld, Bluetooth-connected reader and searching for its code in a smartphone or tablet application.

Following installation, tool-related paperwork becomes a thing of the past. There’s no need for routing slips, printed labels or hastily written notes. There’s no need to double or triple-check the tool’s serial number to make sure you have the right insert. With a single scan, everything – 3D models, compatibility details, product specifications, custom notes by team members and more – is instantly accessible. This, on its own, tends to lead to substantial productivity improvements.

But a fully digitized tool library offers benefits that go far beyond eliminating wasted time. All of the data are collected in a central dashboard that includes a complete list of tools and every time they were scanned. Through this gateway, tools can be organized into groups or assemblies, such as a set of tools that can only be used on specific machines or all of the tooling necessary for a given job.

Less downtime, faster setup times, fewer scrapped workpieces and easier tool selection make tool identification solutions an easy investment decision for virtually any shop. Perhaps more importantly, though, this technology truly bridges the gap between physical tools and their electronically stored data. It’s an easy first step to take on the journey toward full digitization, and the data captured as tools are scanned can be brought together with data from other sources. The end result is a comprehensive picture of everything that goes on in a facility without any need for paperwork whatsoever.


For a wide range of reasons, few shops tend to use only a single supplier or rely on just one brand. That this is even possible is thanks to the efforts of industry groups and the work of ISO, NIST and other national and international standardization organizations. Nevertheless, knowing what tools are compatible at a glance can be tricky even for veteran operators, so checking compatibility is required.

How much does checking for compatibility slow operators down – and how much faster can it be done with tool identification? Here’s a quick comparison:

Paper Slips Tool ID
Find the serial numbers or labels 1-2 min. Scan the first item 10 sec.
Look up the first item in a catalog 2-10 min.
Find relevant tool data 1-2 min. Scan the second item 10 sec.
Look up the second item in a catalog 2-10 min.
Find relevant tool data 1-2 min. Confirm compatibility 10 sec.
Confirm compatibility 2-10 min.
TOTAL 9-36 min. TOTAL 30 sec.

This single application may represent hours of saved time over the course of a shift or two for many shops – time that operators can use to catch up on reports, watch training videos or add value elsewhere in production. When you factor in the myriad other ways tool identification technology makes it possible to save time and improve productivity, it’s almost like adding another operator to a shift, or another shift to the day.

All of this is possible with a quick installation process that can be handled by anyone skilled enough to put stickers on tools. Find out more about how Seco Tool Identification can transform your operations with simple IIoT technology here.

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