Tool Reconditioning Fits Nicely with Lean Manufacturing

Wed, 10/02/2013 - 3:09pm
Jim Norton, President, Custom Products & Services Inc.

Although many manufacturing processes have become automated over the past 20 years, there is still a fair amount of manual or hand assembly and rework required. Gone are the days when electronic and industrial assembly required row upon row of technicians carefully assembling circuit boards, electronic modules, or entire assemblies without the assistance of automated or semi-automated equipment. Today, lean manufacturing procedures are accepted and implemented by most companies to help reduce expenditures, improve quality, shorten lead times, and improve the bottom line. Cost saving measures need to be carefully reviewed to ensure they can deliver without sacrificing quality.

One cost saving option that seems to fly well below the radar within many companies is hand tool reconditioning. Now, the term “Hand Tools” covers a very wide spectrum, so let’s zero in on just a few items for consideration. Within the electronics manufacturing industry, cutting pliers and cutting or precision point tweezers are still used extensively for a wide variety of applications. When you consider a high quality cutting plier can cost anywhere between $40.00 to $150.00, and quality cutting tweezers can cost between $30.00 to $125.00, it becomes obvious that simply disposing of these tools when they get dull or no longer function properly is a waste of money. The same issue applies to crimpers, probes, and other similar tools. Refurbishing or reconditioning services are available that, when done properly, can provide extended service life to these tools by as much as 4x. Typically, the cost to refurbish a tool is about 75% less than the cost of buying new, and in many cases, the refurbished tool will function as good as (or often better than) a new tool. In addition, reconditioning pliers will usually include resharpen jaws, new grips, new springs, and a complete buff and polish. In effect, the tool is like brand new at a fraction of the cost.

Before you consider a reconditioning program for your electronic or industrial hand tools, do your research. Most tool manufacturers do not offer or promote reconditioning tools, for obvious reasons. High quality (and expensive) cutting pliers and tweezers are manufactured to very high standards, especially in regard to the cutting edge itself. Reproducing the original cutting edge profile, without affecting the temper of the steel, is a true science and requires a technician with vast knowledge of grinding techniques and equipment, as well as an extensive knowledge of the various manufacturers’ specifications. When considering a reconditioning service, ask the vendor to recondition a few of your tools for evaluation and test, at no charge. This will provide you with a base line of what you can expect in the future, and you can then compare the functionality of the reconditioned tool as compared to a new tool. If refurbished properly, tool life should be equal to or better than new. You should expect nothing less.

Taking a few moments to audit your tool expenditures for any given year will help put these cost savings into perspective. Saving 75% of your “new” tool expenditures over a given period should fit nicely within most lean manufacturing formulas. As mentioned earlier, this is truly a cost saving consideration that continues to fly under the radar within many companies. I’m betting your tool crib has bins full of non-useable tools. Or are they?


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