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Kitted out with tools for the job

02 December 2016

Hand tools are used every day for maintenance, but their specification is often led by price or user brand loyalty. Rob Jephcott – product manager, Buck & Hickman explains how a thorough specification process can lead to greater productivity, cost reduction and even eliminate product damage

When compared to mechanical components such as motors or valves, hand tools are seen as a simple product to specify – a spanner is a spanner, a hammer is a hammer. In reality, there’s a great deal of science that goes into the specification of a hand tool for different production environments and while cost reductions can be made, the true benefit comes in the form of product protection and contamination reduction. 

Many manufacturers are now moving away from traditional tool kit management, where each operative is issued with their own set, as this can prove an expensive option. A solution growing in popularity is the introduction of zoned toolkits kept in numerous convenient locations, each of which serve a given area. Each kit is carefully curated to the maintenance needs of the machinery in that particular area.

This means engineers don’t need to carry their kit between tasks, preventing individuals carrying around equipment they rarely use, cutting down on unnecessary spend, and ensuring specialist tools are readily available at the point of use. Engineers know the correct tools are kept next to the relevant piece of equipment and, if at the end of a shift they are missing from the kit, can be quickly visually identified rather than tools being forgotten and allowed to potentially damage equipment.

The latter point is a major factor in the aerospace industry’s preference for this method of supplying tools. In the same way that the medical profession implemented measures to prevent instruments or swabs being left inside a patient post-surgery, shadow boards and central toolkits were introduced to ensure tools were not left in engines or assemblies (or in places where they could be knocked down and damage components).

Right tool for job 

Even when tools are properly accounted for, specifying the wrong tool for the job can still pose a risk to products, for example a tool with a standard black oxide or chrome coating. In certain environments this poses no problem, however if it is exposed to extremes of heat/humidity, the coating can flake away and leave residue in the production environment. This could contaminate products as well as equipment, by entering hydraulic or pneumatic systems, lubrication systems or water supply. Additionally, black oxide coatings can damage fasteners – if stainless-steel screws and bolts are used for hygiene reasons but coated tools are used to loosen or tighten them, the tools ultimately contaminate the fastener and encourage rust which can damage machinery and products. Stainless steel will not corrode, chip or flake, making it suitable for the production of food, pharmaceuticals, textiles or other sensitive products. 

Within high-care production environments, even a stainless steel tool with no coating could cause contamination. Clean lines are a must, with no crevices or embossing where bacteria or dirt could collect. Rubber-handled, ergonomically-designed tools may also be the cause of contamination in high-care production, as the material is porous and can absorb sweat, water, dirt and bacteria. Wooden handles can cause similar problems through chips or splinters while also being porous. Plain, stainless steel tools which can safely pass through a high-temperature autoclave and are easily cleaned with an FDA-approved wipe are therefore essential for maintenance on food-contact machinery, and indeed there is a case for food-grade tools throughout a facility. 

As in many industries using hand tools, maintenance engineers can be loyal to brands they trust. A key part of any re-specification process must be engaging with the eventual users to discover their preferences, analysing their regular usage, and including them in the selection process. Where possible, engineers should be invited to a hands-on viewing of the tools – allowing them to feel the weight and dimensions of tools is important, especially when moving away from rubber grips. 

Buck & Hickman conducts extensive audits of tool use as well as analysing user preference, building all the information gathered into its recommendations for the tool type and material.