March 4, 2005

Internet Resources

By Korky Koroluk

Tracking your tools

Last week, following a question from Mike Zaborsky of Bestco Construction, I highlighted a few tracking software packages that might help contractors keep track of where their equipment is and whether it had been properly serviced. Today, it’s time to look at tracking packages for tools and mixes of equipment.

Tracking small, relatively cheap things can be expensive because you own so many of them, and they all need to be labelled.

The typical system for tracking such things is anchored by software that runs on computers you already own. But barcode labels have to be generated and printed, then stuck to every tool you’re tracking. Then there is a handheld data scanner and a docking station that plugs into your computer.

It can get expensive. It’s easy to spend $15,000 on such a system, its set-up and staff training. And some systems are beginning to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which can include information like serial numbers, purchase dates, maintenance schedules and the like. Of course, such tags add to the cost.

Does that put computer-based tool tracking beyond the reach of all but the big players? Not at all. But it does mean you have to be careful about calculating the potential return on investment.

One of the problems with some software is that it is developed on the assumption that one size fits all. That can mean features you really need just aren’t there, or that there are many features you don’t want or need.

It’s worth noting that Don Kafka, the president of a company called ToolWatch, was a general contractor who, unhappy with tracking systems already on the market, decided to develop his own. Now, almost 15 years later, his ToolWatch has been installed in more than 6,000 companies in 20 countries.

If I were a general, I’d be inclined to look at a product developed by a general. I might not buy, mind you, but I’d look.

ToolWatch makes it easy to look. They’ll send you a free CD-ROM that shows what tool and equipment tracking can do for your company, illustrates potential gains in operating efficiency and productivity, and provides detailed overviews of the company’s products. You can order it from the ToolWatch Web site, which is at www.toolwatch.com.

I’ve found three other systems that seem to be growing in popularity. All offer a different array of features, with different modules that do different things. None, however, strays away from the basic sort of system I’ve described.

One is Tool Manager from an outfit called QuickPen, which is capable of printing out a wide range of reports. It also makes it easy to track your inventories of consumables. Find out more about Tool Manager at www.quickpen.com.

Waterwheel Software has a number of products in its Tracker line. Construction Tracker is a complete package for tracking tools, and, with the addition of extra modules, it forms the base for other products. For example, they offer Maintenance Tracker, which is the basic Constructon Tracker, but with a Repair and Maintenance module added for firms operating heavy equipment. You’ll find more information at www.waterwheelsoftware.com.

If you prefer to deal with a Canadian company, think of Houndware, in Edmonton. They offer packages for tracking any sort of “mobile assets,” including hand and power tools, vehicles, consumables, personal safety equipment — just about anything you want to keep track of. Look for more information at www.houndware.com.

There are plenty of other choices on the market, of course. But if you look at the Web sites I’ve mentioned here and in last week’s column, you’ll get a decent overview.

And, again, thanks to Mike Zaborsky, for prodding me on the whole subject of tracking tools and equipment.

You’re always welcome to comment on anything you see in this column, or suggest topics for discussion. You can reach me at: korkykoroluk@rogers.com

© 2004 by William D. Koroluk

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