Controlling Employee Tools

October 1, 2003
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Getting employees to give up their gages for calibration is no easy task.

Explain to employees what is going to happen to the tool during the calibration process, and that when the calibration process is through, the gages will be almost as good as new. Photo: Ono Sokki Technology Inc.


The key to getting machinists to give up personal tools for calibrations is knowing that their tools are being taken care of as though they themselves were taking care of them. Photo: Heidenhain Corp.

Some companies allow employees to use their own tools, even require it, while others strictly forbid the practice. Getting gages from employees, particularly employee-owned gages, for calibration poses its own set of challenges. Some employees are not willing to let their tools out of sight, but getting those gages calibrated and getting them calibrated on time can make the difference between a quality product and scrap.

The reason many companies do not allow the use of personal tools, says Carol Xandegar, quality assurance manager at Fabrication Technologies (Libertyville, IL), "is so there are no issues of giving up equipment for calibration."

In some companies, employees relinquishing gages for calibration can be cause for dissention. Xandegar explains that in her company, key employees, those considered to be setup personnel, must own their gages, causing some resistance by employees in turning over their gages. "There was a natural fear that they've put money into these and now they're going to hand them over to somebody else to do some maintenance work on them," she says.

Hershal Brewer, accreditation officer at Inter-national Accreditation Ser-vices Inc. (Whittier, CA) and former corporate metrologist for Newport Corp., says that machinists want to produce a good product and are fanatical about their tools. "If you can get them convinced that you are genuinely trying to help them provide a good product, you can get away with murder. And that's the key."

But it is also not without difficulties. To help ease the anxiety, explain what is going to happen to the tool during the calibration process, and that when the calibration process is through, the gages will be almost as good as new. Building confidence takes time, and once employees know what to expect, getting them to hand over the gages for calibration should not pose a problem.

Xandegar says her employees have become accustomed to the gages being taken every three months for calibration, but it took time to get to that point. If a company does not deliver the promised results, all credibility is lost. That is why Brewer says it is important for the person in charge of calibration to ensure the gages are taken care of and returned in like-new condition.



Building confidence

One way to help establish confidence in the calibration system is to allow employees to see their gages being calibrated. Brewer says the ideal situation is to get the calibration provider to set up shop right in the machine shop or in the office next to it. Then the machinists can watch as their tools get calibrated. It is not always possible because the machinists have to be producing parts in order to generate revenue to justify the calibration lab.

A more typical approach is to bring in the calibration pro-vider and have them in or near where the personal tools are kept. Brewer says at New-port most of the gages were calibrated in a single location, but there were also two or three other places the calibration provider would setup shop depending on the company's needs at that time. Often the calibration provider was situated on the way to the break room, so the machinists could walk by and see the work being done on their tools.

That was not the only thing done to help build confidence. Brewer says, "They also knew that I had been through every single gage, as had the shop supervisor before me, so they knew their tools were being taken care of. For machinists, that's going to be the biggest key for them: knowing that their stuff is being taken care of as though they were taking care of it. As long as they're convinced of that, getting the tools isn't a problem in either large shops or small shops. It's when they're in doubt of that that you run into problems getting the tools from them."

After the gages were calibrated, Brewer took a sample to ensure the gages were in proper working order.

Fabrication Technologies does the majority of its calibration in-house, which helps relieve some of the separation anxiety. "From the stand point, it's definitely much easier to get them to give up their gages for calibration," says Xandegar.



Keeping track

The number of gages a company has influences the way in which the company keeps track of its gages. Xandegar says that at Fabrication Technologies, a binder is used to track the company's approximately 75 gages. "The software I've experimented with tends to be more complex than it needs to be. We use the binder method. We have a sheet for each gage with the calibration history for each gage on it. It's a little cumbersome, but what it always comes down to is what works best for you."

Brewer says that not only is the number of gages a factor when determining how to track gages, but money is a factor as well. Of the dedicated programs he has used, Brewer says a single seat, the license to run a program on a single computer, is often too costly for smaller organizations. He suggests those companies that have too many gages to track in a binder or with an index card system and cannot afford a dedicated gage program, use Microsoft Excel to do the same thing. "It takes a little bit of playing with it, but it can be done."

So what is used to track gages is largely dependent on a company's revenue stream and how many tools they have. "The binders and the cards work well but once you get past a certain point, its diminishing returns and you're hurting yourself," stresses Brewer.

Xandegar says that while all of the employee-owned gages are tracked and maintained in Fabrication Technologies' calibration system, Brewer says whether a company picks up the cost of calibration generally depends on the shop. The shops that are more oriented to making a good, consistent high-quality product will tend to pay for the calibration. "That's not always true," he says, "Revenue streams are revenue streams after all. Other shops might have only the revenue stream to take of their own shop set for the final check. And if it's a small shop, and that's working for them, then that's the way it works."



Personal vs. company-owned

Responsibility for the care of gages is the reason Xandegar's company enforces the personal tool policy. "We do find that because they had to invest some of their own money into them, that they do take a little better care of them," she says.

Cost is another reason companies require employees to purchase their own tools. It is a significant amount of money to buy a shop full of tools and not allow personal tools. "But if you do all shop tools, you get tighter control of the tool, but there's a lot more money involved in establishing that control and maintaining that control. It's a cost benefit, but how much control do you need?" asks Brewer.

No matter if gages are employee- or company-owned, they still need to be calibrated on time to help ensure a quality product.



Sidebar: Tech Tips

1. The number of gages a company has will help determine how the gages are tracked.

2. When taking employees' gages for calibration, explain the benefits.

3. One way to help establish confidence in the calibration system is to allow employees to see their gages being calibrated.

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