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Visual Communication for Tool Crib Management

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Quick Start Guide

Written by Jack Rubinger

When you can’t do your assembly job because your buddy is missing an important tool, you’re hurting your company’s production goals.

“No one wants to stop production and change schedules because tools aren't available,” said Maury Lehman, Salt Box Systems.

“Employee theft is an epidemic that directly reduces bottom line profitability. Dark, less accessible areas of the warehouse are prime areas in which product will disappear. Same goes for inventory near exit doors,” said industrial theft consultant, Lee Schwartz, The Schwartz Profitability Group.

At some point, someone will say, “I know we had 15 of these items. Where are they?”

Is there ever an “acceptable” level of theft in facilities? Living with security, inventory and damaged goods are a way of life for tool crib managers – the unsung heroes of the industrial workplace.

Free Kanban Guide for Tool Crib Management

Learn about Tool Crib Management and other Kanban Techniques

Who are these guys? They’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tools. They maintain inventory, verify receipts for purchases, monitor spare parts and drive forklift trucks. They must lift 75 pounds safely, be responsible for their own personal protection equipment (PPE), repair and recalibrate tools and are expected to demonstrate excellent organization, customer service and communication skills accommodating every request when needed.

With hundreds of workers spread out over multiple shifts, the tool crib manager is busy. While no two tool cribs are exactly alike, they all share a need for improved organization, whether it’s to prevent theft or manage inventory.

Shelves, drawers, cabinets, locks and hooks are used to store and organize tools which range from hammers and screwdrivers to highly sophisticated calibration and test equipment. Some tool cribs look just like the kind of office you’d see on The Office TV series. Others are oversized cages.

Typically, a manufacturing facility tool crib is a separate room with limited access administered by one or several persons. On off-shifts, selected foremen may have keys to the tool crib. In larger facilities, there may be several tool cribs. Managers run tool cribs many different ways depending how many tools need to be tracked, which kinds of tools need to be tracked, how many shifts are employed at the company, who has access to the tool and whether tools stay on site or go off site.

“Securing the space, taking frequent inventory counts and getting accounting departments to charge losses to users are three ways tool crib managers can reduce theft and increase security,” offered Don Benson, The Warehouse Coach.

Using Visual Communications To Improve Tool Crib Management

Fortunately, there are high-performance labeling supplies to help tool crib managers sort, manage and identify tools. Scannable bar code labeling, for example, is widely used in tool cribs.

DuraLabel bar code labeling supplies come in multiple high-contrast colors, allowing for color coding and bar coding using the same label. They use aggressive adhesive and provide the multi-year life spans needed for heavy industrial applications. Unique specialty bar coding supplies, such as Poly cling -- a clear, thin, repositionable supply are also available.

“All our items are identified with bar code labeling. Tool cribs are physically secured and all items issued are scanned to an employee’s identification badge,” said Danny Smalley, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.

Using a thermal transfer printer, users may print black and white employee identification photos on clear or white vinyl.

Magnetic supply is movable and durable, and can be extremely helpful in a warehouse environment. Tool crib managers can create custom labels, apply them to metal drawers or shelves and then just lift up the label when needed. Custom labels are also great for pipe marking and arc flash applications.

Tamper proof/tamper-evident destructible tapes are also worth noting. Tamper-evident VOID tapes permanently record the word VOID onto the label’s adhesive and leave a lasting mark on adhering surfaces. This prevents labels from reuse as incorrect identifications.

Embossable poly tape is specially engineered to provide extra protection for labels requiring handwritten information. Once marked with a ballpoint pen, this tape retains a written impression -- even after the ink has faded. A silver metallized film provides a very strong and attractive canvas for displaying both printed and handwritten information. Embossable poly tape is also used for inspection labels, form labels, security labels, QA labels and other asset management labeling applications where written information must be protected from alterations.

The most commonly used type of labeling supply is vinyl tape. There are several types of vinyl tape in multiple colors that are also perfect for identifying shift teams, hard hats and tools.

But the bottom line is that you have to know what you have, where it’s going and where it’s been.

There are three strategies used to conquer mismanaged tool cribs.

Solution One: Free to Roam. Believe it or not, some companies have a free-to-roam system. If you need a tool or a part, you just go in and get it. This can get a little out of hand, so some give keys to only a select few.

Solution Two:  Stocked and locked. Only tool crib clerks have access to the tools.

Solution Three: Count the inventory – over and over again. Some companies cycle-count 3 – 5 times a week.

Technology is making its way into facilities, too. More and more facilities are using automated tool crib vending machines and inventory tracking software. Salt Box Systems software enables users to:

  • Monitor locations of tools
  • Leverage bar codes which ties tool crib transactions to inventory control – an important element of the 5S philosophy
  • Gauge stock levels
  • Keep on top of maintenance records


What will the tool crib of the future look like? From a visual communication perspective, expect to see mobile print stations, touch screen monitors, all inclusive OSHA-ANSI compliant software and rugged supplies which will perform under the harshest conditions including mines, construction sites, warehouses, distribution centers and oil rigs.


The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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