Base automates tool tracking

Base automates tool tracking

Inventory management system zeroes in on 10,000 tools and 2,000 manuals

By Drew Robb

Special to GCN

Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., home of the nation's B-2 bomber fleet, has adopted a bar code inventory management system that runs under Microsoft Windows to automate the monitoring of its massive tool and manual inventory.


By using bar codes, the CribMaster Inventory Management System at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., monitors thousands of tools and manuals used to keep B-2 bombers airworthy. Officials estimate that the system is 75 percent faster than its paper predecessor.


With a price tag of about $1.3 billion each, keeping the 21 high-tech versatile bombers in tip-top flying condition requires about 10,000 tools and more than 2,000 specialized maintenance manuals.

'We were using the same old paper and chit system we'd relied on for decades,' said Sgt. Bob Goddard, consolidated toolkits custodian at Whiteman. Goddard's primary mission was tracking all the tools and maintenance manuals used on the B-2 squadron.

'Anytime a person needed tools, he had to fill in a sheet listing every item needed,' Goddard said.

About 1,000 paper receipts were generated each shift, with the data often incomplete or difficult to read.

Under the chit system, a tool removed from a tool crib was replaced by a numbered metal disk. At the end of a shift, all chits had to be accounted for or transferred to another user, and the appropriate paperwork had to be completed. Lines and delays were common.

Call the boss

'If there was any kind of discrepancy, you didn't find out about it until the end of that shift,' Goddard said. 'You'd have to grab the form, find out who was supposed to have what and either call them or their boss in and start a tool search if it was lost.'

If someone needed information about a particular transaction, he or she had to search through every receipt, a process that could take several hours.

In March, Whiteman officials decided to implement the CribMaster 4.3 Inventory Management System developed by WinWare Inc. of Marietta, Ga.

The company specializes in creating enterprise systems to manage tools and inventory for manufacturers. Created specifically to manage tools in tool cribs, the system can operate automated machines for tools, create purchase orders, generate detailed standard and custom reports, and track maintenance of all assets in any machine shop.

Whiteman's inventory system uses bar coding and portable radio frequency scanners from Dolphin of San Mateo, Calif., to track tools and users at any of the 21 aircraft hangars.

Each member of the various maintenance crews wears a bar coded badge that records name, rank, squadron, job and shift. Goddard and his staff of about 30 tool crib attendants scan users' badges along with the bar code assigned to each tool. The entire transaction is completed in seconds.

The data is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database and is accessible via a LAN. CribMaster uses an Open Database Connectivity model that allows user expansion. Seagate Crystal Reports from Seagate Software Inc. of Scotts Valley, Calif., generates CribMaster reports.

Numbered items are stored by location with bin identification numbers, letting users search the database for bin location or item number. CribMaster also groups items by type to simplify search and retrieval.

'We're probably 75 percent faster than we used to be,' Goddard said. 'Now we can get real-time updates on the computer, there's no more manual tracking, no paperwork to speak of, no chits and no more long lines.'

Write that down

Under the old system, if someone wanted to keep an item for more than a day, tool crib staff members had to record the information in an extended chit report. That required phone verification that the person still had the tool and added several hours to the weekly reporting process.

Now staff members print the data, and the maintenance person reconciles it in seconds. Similarly, other reports, such as end-of-shift reports, squadron reports and end-of-shift inventories are available on demand.

A thorough inspection of each toolbox is conducted every 30 days.

'With the B-2s, obviously, we have to make sure that all of our tools are in good shape, free of any rust or damage,' Goddard said. 'Using the scanners really helps us to keep an eye on things and maintain total accountability of all tools at all times.'

Goddard said the new system saves up to three hours a day.

'It's not that we're losing fewer things,' he said. 'It's that we instantaneously know who has it and where it was last.'

In addition to the 10,000 tools used by hangar crews, Whiteman also had to keep tabs on its library of 2,000 maintenance manuals. Each is stored in a specific location and is tracked like a tool.

Before the deployment of CribMaster, personnel had to fill out a card for each manual. If a card was misplaced, indecipherable or nonexistent, staff had to search for the missing manual.

Now the books are bar coded just like the tools, and all information gets recorded instantly.

The bar code system also lets Goddard and his crew conduct trend analyses to find out how often tools are used, how often they are broken and how long they last.

Goddard said he plans to implement more of CribMaster's capabilities, including greater supply-chain tracking.

By next year, he said, he hopes to give maintenance crews notebook PCs that will tie in to the main inventory system and allow management of remote minitool cribs.

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