Tool tracking via radio frequency identification tags

Instantly know where tools are and who is using them

Software & Information Technology

U.S. Navy Researchers have conceptually invented a unique way to instantly track the location of tools and identify who was last using them using RFID tags. Companies that would commercialize the invention can license the patent.

Existing Technology
Many DoD organizations include numerous facilities, labs, and shops for prototyping, construction, modeling and simulation, maintenance and repair. Aircraft maintenance and repair is a prime DoD example where highly specialized and expensive tools are needed in a critical time-sensitive environment. Aircraft and range time is very expensive. Making necessary repairs and adjustments by highly trained technicians must be expedient. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets could be tied up waiting to start operation because one repair tool was missing. A system was needed that would allow tools to be monitored and tracked to ensure instant readiness.

For general industry, tools are often misplaced, borrowed, and sometimes not returned. Also, some work environments have extremely strict rules and regulations regarding tool use and safety hazards. For example, when NASA builds a satellite, all tools must be accounted for before the product is released, making sure that no tools were left on the space vehicle by mistake. The exact location is key.

For everyday tool applications, many organizations use simple cutouts or outlines made for each tool so that when a tool is removed there is an empty space until it is returned. Usually, a checkout sheet sits by the toolbox so that each tool can be checked off as having been returned each day. This, however, requires a very proactive stance in order to properly maintain.

New Technology
Researchers at China Lake have conceptualized a way to use existing technology to greatly improve and simplify this process. By embedding small, wireless, non-removable, transmitters (RFID tags) on tools, they can be automatically logged out by a user and their location can be tracked via ID numbers. ID tags can be attached unobtrusively in the handles of equipment. This technology allows technicians to find assets without cumbersome paperwork or annoying sign-out sheets that may be ignored and only habit driven. New technology can add a new level of efficiency to any workplace. It guarantees readiness and avoids major downtime via exhaustive tool searching. RFID tag readers can be posted at points of exit or entry to log what tools are being removed and by whom.

How It Works
As an added bonus, the RFID toolboxes can be networked to provide further capabilities such as identifying missing tools, finding the closest toolbox with a specific tool and tool use logs. The database containing the tools can easily be made part of a much larger asset tracking system. This makes it an advantageous fit for industrial inventory and product management systems for manufacturers and high volume tooling locations. It will work well in industrial and military environments that require absolute tool management for completion of tasks with zero fault tolerance.

Who Benefits
Any organization that has tools with a need to know where they are at all times. Military customers with fight lines, aircraft tool boxes, onboard ships and inside hangers, mechanics that need to track tools in shops, and manufacturers that need to track tools for production.

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