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Tooling Strategies for Leaner Production

Modern car production line

Whether it be a new automobile, office chair or computer chip design, the tooling process is key in ensuring each fabricated piece is consistent with design requirements and can be produced effectively and efficiently. A cut or bend that is calculated incorrectly or finished improperly could mean lost time and money in rework.

Tooling, sometimes referred to as “machine tooling”, is the process by which a manufacturing facility chooses the machines and components that are needed for production.¹ Each element in the manufacturing process must be carefully planned to ensure quality and consistency of the manufactured product and to safeguard the competitiveness of the facility.

In the article “Secrets of the Top Machine Shops: Detailed Analysis”², author Warfield notes that the top four machine tooling strategies used in industry today include:

  • On-machine probing for tool breakage/measurement
  • Shopfloor tool vending systems
  • Tool Inventory Management
  • Tool Presetting

Let’s take a closer look at each of these top strategies.

On-Machine Probing for Tool Breakage/Measurement

Many shops use probe systems that monitor the wear and tear and functionality of tools used in the machining process. These systems identify when tools are not operating under maximum efficiency and serve as an early detection method for facility supervisors to mitigate the issue before costly errors in production occur.

Shop Floor Tool Vending Systems

These systems are similar in use as the name implies. Lock-box-like vending machines, many linked to complex computer software, are used to control tool inventory, usage and storage. Tool vending systems, some more complex than others, allow the manufacturing facility a means to monitor tool usage, providing a plenary outlook for costs associated with tool inventory needs.

Tool Inventory Management

While many facilities formalize their inventory management through the use of vending systems as mentioned above, some opt for a simple computer-based software method. Inventory management software provides a method of tracking use and transfer of tools both in- and outside the facility, using something akin to a bar code/scanner system. Like the tool vending systems, inventory management software allows the manufacturing facility to control inventory and plan for costs related to the use and replacement of tool and equipment assets valuable to the manufacturing process.

Tool Presetting

This particular tooling strategy explores the roles of two skilled professionals involved in the manufacturing process: a machinist and a crib attendant. In some shops a crib attendant is predominantly responsible for managing the tool inventory, with the actual machine set-up handled by a machinist. A growing trend used to increase efficiency in the machine set-up process, employs the use of a skilled machinist to both manage the tool crib and handle the tool pre-set process. This method allows a separate machinist to focus solely on the production process, ensuring that the tool pre-sets have been handled by a skilled professional and ultimately shaving time off the production process.

These are just a few of the top strategies used to help increase efficiency and reduce costs associated with manufacturing production, but each facility must determine which methods are best to employ. The key is to make sure some form of tooling strategy is planned to ensure the viability of the finished product and the manufacturing facility as a whole.


1. Cole, B. (2014, January 1). Tooling. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from Search Manufacturing ERP:

2. Warfield, B. (2016, September 8). Secrets of Top Machine Shops: Detailed Analysis. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from CNC Cookbook:

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