When a new $800 diamond concrete cutting saw disappeared from a Kaikor Construction jobsite, then mysteriously reappeared 3 weeks later, not a single worker could (or would) own up to the loss. Garrett Sullivan, president of Kaikor Construction, was accustomed to losing tools as part of the cost of doing business in the construction industry. But the lack of accountability among the crew was the last straw. He knew he had to find a way to make workers assume more responsibility for expensive tools.

Honolulu-based Kaikor Construction specializes in building concrete structures. With 40 employees working on projects all over the Hawaiian Islands, the home office had no way to keep track of who had what piece of equipment. Then Sullivan learned about electronic tool tracking.

Since installing his automated tool management system in April 2004, not only has the entire organization become more efficient, Kaikor Construction has also decreased theft by requiring employees to account for tools. No more “someone must have taken it” excuses. “Using a computer-based tracking system puts more personal responsibility on our employees to know where their tools are,” Sullivan noted. “The result is a more efficient, accountable organization.”

In addition to the big-ticket items like diamond concrete saws, Kaikor Construction has thousands of small tools such as saws, drills, electric cords, ladders, and power washers. Until the company implemented its tool management system, Sullivan had no idea how many small items were in inventory. Then he checked out a shovel for a project at home. “It blew my mind that the shovel was tool number 1000,” he said.

Left: A hand-held PDA being used to scan a tool. Right: Kaikor's errant cutoff saw has returned to stay.
Left: A hand-held PDA being used to scan a tool. Right: Kaikor's errant cutoff saw has returned to stay.

Good tool management can provide a competitive advantage. A tool tracking system with advanced capabilities gives contractors an advantage over competitors still sorting through file cabinets stuffed with records. They can prepare for jobs more quickly and efficiently, while making sure their inventory remains where it should. In the 9 months it has been in place, the system has paid for itself, Sullivan said.

Several systems are marketed, each offering its own array of features. Most use proprietary software, optical scanning, and bar codes that inventory the tools and consumables. Inventories are stored in databases that can be retrieved and analyzed as needed. When considering a purchase, look for versatility. The best systems offer broad-based, fully integrated software that not only tracks tools' whereabouts, but also manages repair schedules, warranties, and rental information. Some offer hand-held computer systems that take inventory management directly to the field. The most advanced even offer permanent tool marking that cannot be removed without destroying the item.

Take it from Garrett Sullivan, tool management pays off. “I used to be frustrated with tool losses. Now, I feel confident, because I know nothing is missing. Tool management has become an integral part of our field corporate culture.”

Don Kafka is the president of ToolWatch Corporation, a technology company offering tool tracking and management systems. For more information, visit www.toolwatch.com or call 800-676-4034.