"Knowledge is power, when it comes to tool management," or so says Mike Swaffield, managing director at point-of-use dispensing specialist Tooling Intelligence (01926 484511). And it's a view endorsed by Paul Hollands, director of Stroud-based CR Hollands Industrial Supplies, who has long experience of tool vending systems and works with Tooling Intelligence. Image: Tooling Intelligence's SupplyPro is first choice for Hollands Industrial Supplies Around 85% of CR Holland's business comes from cutting tools and the company is one of the UK's largest distributors of Sandvik Coromant products. Technical competence at Hollands is underlined when clients look towards automating the management of production consumables. "We always aim to supply the most capable, reliable and effective solutions for their needs, with SupplyPro equipment from Tooling Intelligence as our system of choice," says Mr Hollands. "But all tool vending installations represent a significant investment. They therefore need to pay their way, so it's important to get it right." PAY AS YOU USE CR Hollands currently provides a consignment stock service at 20 user sites. Under such agreements, the firm replenishes items as they are used, effectively safeguarding the availability of tools and, with it, continuity of production. In parallel, customers are able to minimise their inventory costs, since they are only charged for parts as they are released to production. "We normally aim to restock systems on a weekly basis, so accurate reporting is important to us," explains Mr Hollands. "All vending systems provide some form of usage recording. But data can vary from simple PDF lists to detailed real-time overviews of customer operations, with costs allocated by operator, job or part number, manufacturing machine or cell, or any other required parameter." Mr Swaffield adds that installations are tailored around a range of industrial grade vending hardware, all driven by a touch-screen interface that is "as simple to use as a cash machine". However, arguably the key differentiator of these solutions is SupplyPro's patented, web-based data management engine, SupplyPort. This software allows users to access real time information and perform system administration from any web-enabled device. The application functions independently from the end user's own IT infrastructure and is hosted on behalf of the customer at two global data centres, which run round the clock, seven days a week. SAVINGS IN TOOLS SPEND Another supplier singing the virtues of tool vending is WNT UK (0800 073 2073). With over 250 Tool Service vending machines installed nationwide, WNT says the most significant benefit for users is stock control. Every tool that is issued can be identified to an individual and a particular job. Therefore, costing becomes much more precise, and problems of high tool usage can be quickly identified and dealt with. According to WNT, users typically report annual savings of 10-20% of their annual cutting tool budget as a result of the efficiencies made. Image: WNT's vending solution can help slash 10-20% of customers' annual tooling bill With this benefit, along with the fact that customers do not pay for any cutting tools until they are vended from the machines, WNT says Tool Service is growing in popularity, offering an increase in sales revenues of more than 30% in the past 12 months for WNT. Similarly, the approach deployed by QuickVend Systems (01684 294921) is to make sure the vending requirement matches the needs of each customer and then fulfils the in-built potential of information that can be gained from various itemised reports that include operator access, product use and cost centre audits. For instance, manufacturers with QuickVend installations have a choice of controlled access methods for operators, including smart card, PIN code, biometrics, bar code, magnetic stripe and E-key. A typical smart card provides unique operator identity and access to stored items. Each time the card is used, a basic range of data will be stored automatically, including card number, product description, machine ID, date, time, unit value, issue quantity and total value. ONLINE AVAILABILITY This data is available online for analysis 24/7 and, over a period of time, can build a profile that enables productivity savings, as well as reductions in inventory, item use, procurement and contingency measures. QuickVend cites a recent installation at a large manufacturing facility with over 4,000 operatives and a high daily demand of consumables. Here, workers could queue for upwards of 20 minutes at manually operated stores to withdraw items such as cutting tools. The solution was the installation of 15 glass-fronted QuickVend machines, each providing high visibility of product and available stock. The vending process also created individual accountability and improved productivity, because of the reduced 'walk and wait' times. Of course, there is always the capital outlay to consider, but, according to Seco Tools UK (01789 764341), which offers the SecoPoint range of vending systems, this shouldn't deter potential customers. "Some manufacturers, unaware of the benefits of vending technology, may be put off by initial costs, the upheaval created in implementing the systems, and the time, effort and resource required to integrate and administer them," says Peter Chadwick, manager of SecoPoint Systems. "However, in our experience, these systems pay for themselves very quickly. Controlling consumption, improving accountability, managing inventory better and eliminating waste, and making access to materials more secure – all improve performance and productivity. We estimate that SecoPoint systems help reduce inventory consumption by as much as 20-40%." Another issue that has affected the adoption of vending technology systems is the perception that they will interfere or compromise the operation and/or security of a manufacturer's IT infrastructure and operating systems. "SecoPoint systems do not log into a manufacturer's network or communicate with any other server, and each SecoPoint device only communicates with a single data centre IP address or URL," says Adrian Walker, technical support engineer, SecoPoint Systems. "Devices can be connected to a standard network, a guest network or a DSL line, depending on what's best for a customer. Furthermore, any customer transactional data is stored in a secure website, protected from unauthorised access." Although Apex Supply Chain Technologies (01905 388194) only entered the European vending market in June 2011, the company says it has taken more than 60% market share in the USA in just five years. To get things up and running on this side of the Atlantic, the wholly owned UK limited company already has over 160 installation engineers in its network in the UK and Ireland. Apex says that its systems provide some key differentiation to existing solutions. For instance, management reports and controls are cloud based and work in real time from any browser – hence there is no requirement for any computers or software at point-of-use, as all data is stored remotely. According to Apex, its Trajectory cloud-based technology negates all the glitches that come with standard computer-controlled vending machines, linked to conventional networks. Customers can also forget about "interference with existing systems, downtime, waiting for engineers to return, delays and hassle". With Apex 'Connect and Go' technology, there is no software to install and nothing for the IT department to support. Stock control is in real time, so, as a cutting tool is vended, a message goes to the central hub, which immediately approves the transaction. Whatever system offers the most appropriate solution, with increasing demand for best practice and lean manufacturing, the economic benefits are seemingly difficult to ignore. Box item Dispense with inefficiency WNT UK says new changes to the back office systems of its Tool Service vending machines will enhance the reporting and stock control elements. The original system operated using a stand-alone back office system, but this is now being upgraded to a full SAP-integrated back office system that will run in-line with WNT's Europe-wide SAP supply chain management software. From a customer perspective, this means enhanced security of stock availability, the ability to create a 'bespoke tooling catalogue' with exactly the same layout as WNT's existing printed catalogue, and the peace of mind that the system is fully backed up and secure, further reducing the existing risk of any business interruption. Another interesting development regarding stock control comes from Tooling Intelligence, which for small, high value items such as drills, taps and cutting tool inserts, now offers the new 48-compartment SmartDrawer (www.machinery.co.uk/34953). This provides secure, high density storage for up to 384 items in a standard cabinet. It features a specially designed moulded tray for easy retrieval of small items, even while wearing gloves, and is fully interchangeable with existing 2, 4, 8, 12, 16 and 24 lid variants. Further peace of mind comes from SupplyPro software's remote monitoring and diagnostics capabilities, which will quickly identify any communications malfunctions, for example, and report them to the system's support team. The option of installing a secure remote service package is also offered by Tooling Intelligence, which maximises system availability and virtually eliminates the need for on-site diagnostic service visits. Also new from Tooling Intelligence is SupplyBay 3.0, an entry-level dispenser for controlling parts in high volume. Its rotating, helix-based design is ruggedly engineered to deliver reliable dispensing of items such as industrial consumables. The unit is equipped with 60 spirals, as standard, and can be easily reconfigured to suit user requirements. In addition, SupplyBay incorporates a returns slot for re-useable parts or items selected by operators in error. Elsewhere, and looking to offer a package of structured, integrated service modules covering customers' entire process chains, tooling supplier Walter GB (01527 839450) has introduced Multiply (www.machinery.co.uk/32947). The intention is to provide customers with a one-stop 'complete service', starting with planning and extending through to best-practice production, tool maintenance and training (at the Walter Academy in Germany or on-site with the customer). The service embraces, for example, such detail as tool and process design, tool logistics (vending and tracking), quality structures, programming and production simulation. The Walter Multiply production and logistics module focuses on the provision of the correct tools, incorporating tool data management, tool management and recycling. The Walter Tool Management Software organises tool dispense, automatic procurement (goods inward and outward) and quality control, while also offering a range of measures to improve management – for example, an automated tool dispenser or a supply management service, which sees Walter supplying the tools as appropriate. "The customer no longer pays for the tools, but for the components produced," says Walter GB managing director, Gerry O'Hagan. "Cost per part is the ruling principle of Walter Multiply and, in particular, the tool management aspect. Accordingly, we are providing pure productivity and, even as a tool manufacturer, we have an interest in customers using the best tools and consuming as little of them as possible." First published in Machinery, February 2012