Control Consumable Chaos for Truly Secure Processes

Product designers, applications engineers and machine programmers can spend hundreds of hours optimizing critical parts to maximize output. Other manufacturing professionals spend less time optimizing individual jobs and focus on using machines and tools designed for the utmost in production flexibility and throughput. But no matter how a shop arranges its manufacturing environment or designs its parts, one thing remains true: selecting the wrong tool will shut down production.

Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever for these mistakes to occur. For contract manufacturers and other shops, a large number of low-volume jobs – or even single-piece production – is quickly becoming the norm, with more job changeovers and tools in use for additional one-off operations. An experienced workforce can help shops keep up and make the correct tool selections, but the skills gap continues to get wider, and it’s only becoming more difficult to find metalcutting veterans.

The result of these developments in the manufacturing industry is that less-experienced operators are forced to make more tool selections than ever before – and to the untrained eye, every triangle-shaped insert looks the same. At best, this means more unexpected downtime to switch out tools and restart processes, but it frequently leads to more rework, scrapped workpieces and even crashed machines. And as shops maintain larger tool inventories to keep up with specific production requirements, simply keeping consumables well-organized and stocked can be a challenge.


All of these problems, however, point back to the unpredictability of human error, and the manufacturing industry has decades of practice in achieving truly predictable processes through automation. Inventory management solutions can now make it virtually impossible for operators to select the wrong tool – and provide an array of data for further improving processes and optimizing inventory levels.

At its most basic level, an inventory management system works like a vending machine for tools. It’s even easier than ordering a can of soda: An operator scans a bar code to dispense whatever tool is linked to the job. With little additional effort, these systems yield even more productivity, however. Entire tooling packages can be kept together as a unit for repeat jobs, while one-of-a-kind custom tools can be restricted to only the operators who need them. And at every step of this process, data collection makes it even easier to further optimize inventory levels.

Automated report generation simplifies the inventory management process even more. How many tools did I dispense this week? How does that compare to weekly output numbers? Shops can answer these questions and more on a daily basis. Furthermore, these systems are brand-neutral by design, using databases such as ToolsUnited to easily import and display up-to-date product data. These systems also return reports on tool replenishment and consumable refills that can be reviewed internally or automatically sent to suppliers.

Even in the largest shops, these systems usually take only about two days to implement: one day to install the dispensing units and shop floor interface, and another to set up the administrative tools and provide some basic training on their use. Setting up the technology itself is simple: Individual items can be dispensed together as kits for specific jobs, user groups can be established to control access to high-value tools and more, all through the simple web-based administrative portal. Every item has its right place, and the setup process is as easy as putting it all away.

These systems also typically pay for themselves in relatively short order, as they eliminate virtually all downtime associated with inventory, whether it’s selecting the wrong tool or needing a consumable that’s not in stock. By using a wide range of APIs to integrate the management system with a shop’s existing electronic data interchange (EDI) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, order processing and acknowledgement also become significantly faster. Custom developments can also be deployed that allow these systems to work with an even greater range of software – or enable new functionalities that allow inventory management to automate processes or handle more complex reporting.

In the end, this level of inventory control is a must for shops that seek to eliminate waste and proactively address downtime. Automated management for tools and consumables simplifies every aspect of the process, from ordering new tools to gathering data on their lifespan following use. It’s perhaps the single best way shops can bring order to the consumable chaos that wastes so much of their time.

Find out how to realize these benefits – and discover more use cases for inventory management technology and all the issues it can solve in your shop. Head on over to our Inventory Management pages to see how our solutions can help you.


Inventory management systems don’t just gather data, they automatically generate reports using a complete range of standard or custom KPIs. Here are five of the most impactful reports you can generate using this technology – and how it will make a difference to your bottom line:


    Robots might be able to do every job the same way every time, but human operators cannot. By looking for individual machinists – or even entire shifts – who are using too many consumables, you can quickly eliminate a significant amount of waste.


    Scheduled maintenance can keep machine tools running for decades, but inventory management solutions go beyond this by showing insert consumption over time – and when a machine’s consumption pattern changes, it can be a very early warning sign of problems that wouldn’t have been noticed until a crash.


    More than half of the consumables in an average tool room are obsolete. An inventory management system flags items that spend most of their time on the shelf, simplifying the process of reaching optimal inventory levels.


    Some non-consumable inventory items, such as measuring equipment, requires periodic calibration or maintenance. Instead of handling this bookkeeping manually, however, an inventory management system tracks these items in the background – and prevents a poorly calibrated device from causing unexpected downtime.


    Maybe the most important report is the one users will see the least. Out-of-stock items quickly become a thing of the past with automated ordering technology, but if anything happens, daily reports ensure that nothing goes out of stock without notifying someone who can order more.

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