Tool Reconditioning: Part of a Lean Program

Although many manufacturing processes have become automated over the past 20 years, a fair amount of manual or hand assembly and rework is still required. Gone are the days when electronics and industrial assembly required row upon row of technicians carefully assembling circuit boards, electronic modules or entire assemblies without the assistance of automated or semiautomated 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 electronics manufacturing , cutting pliers and cutting or precision point tweezers are still used extensively for a wide variety of applications. When you consider high quality cutting pliers can cost $40 to $150, and quality cutting tweezers can cost between $30 to $125, 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 four times. 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 regards 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 manufacturer’s 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 baseline 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.

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, this is 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?

— Jim Norton (guest blogger)

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow